Steven Casciotti

El Toro, DL, Sr.

El Toro Coach Mike Milner called Steven Casciotti “the best defensive lineman I’ve ever coached in my 31 years.” An undersized defensive end at 6-0, 200, Casciotti used his strength, quickness and incredible change of direction to record 24 tackles for losses, including eight sacks. “We moved him around so they couldn’t run away from him,” Milner said. A first-team All-South Coast League selection, Casciotti had 65 tackles--40 unassisted--and pressured the passer 13 times.

Travis Pendleton

Esperanza, DL, Sr.

Esperanza line coach Bill Pendleton said his son was “a very unathletic young kid who really found himself in football.” Travis Pendleton, an offensive lineman as a freshman, became a dominant defensive lineman by improving his footwork and strength each year. The Sunset League defensive lineman of the year was constantly double-teamed, but still had 84 tackles, 45 of them unassisted. Pendleton, who also had five sacks and 14 hurries, has made a commitment to West Point.

Steven Fifita

Fountain Valley, DL, Sr.

Steven Fifita, at 5-11, 240, was a nightmare for offenses whether he played nose guard, tackle or end. Fifita, the Barons’ defensive points leader, had 17 tackles for losses, 7 1/2 sacks and 64 unassisted tackles. He also recovered four fumbles, returning one of them for a touchdown. Fountain Valley Coach Eric Johnson, who spent 10 years at Mater Dei, doesn’t remember seeing a quicker nose guard: “Whenever he wasn’t double-teamed, he’d throw the center aside and tackle the back for a loss.”


Eliu Fatu

Santa Ana Valley, LB, Sr.

Santa Ana Valley defensive line coach Jeff Leyva paid Eliu Fatu the ultimate compliment for a linebacker: “He’s like a modern-day Dick Butkus. He’s just a big, nasty kid who loves to hit.” Fatu, a 6-3 1/2, 235-pound middle linebacker, recorded 146 unassisted tackles in nine games. He also had eight sacks, caused nine fumbles and blocked three punts. At H-back, he caught 40 passes for 427 yards and 13 touchdowns. Fatu is being sought by Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Syracuse and Utah State.

Paul Publico

Los Alamitos, LB, Sr.

Paul Publico was the brains and the brawn behind Los Alamitos’ defense. “He’s probably the smartest guy we’ve ever coached,” said Barry Sher, the Griffins’ defensive coordinator. “He’s smarter than the coaches.” Publico, who plans to attend an Ivy League school or service academy, would often call the defensive signals and then have his number called for making the tackle. He had 156 tackles--56 solo--six forced fumbles, three interceptions and a blocked punt, which he returned for a touchdown.

Mike Patterson

Irvine, LB, Sr.

Mike Patterson played the role of Mike Singletary in the “46 defense” and he played it better than anybody ever has at Irvine--setting single-season records for assisted tackles (82) and total defensive points (291). “That spot is made for a playmaker like Mike,” Irvine defensive coordinator J.C. Clarke said. “Mike’s speed is what set him apart. He’s not the biggest guy we’ve seen [6-1, 195], but he’ll stuff you.” He had 70 solo tackles, eight sacks, three caused fumbles and one interception.

Tyler Kruse

Mater Dei, LB, Sr.

Tyler Kruse was a good middle linebacker during the first half of the season, but he became great once he fully understood the scheme. “He became more of team defensive player than a freelance player,” Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson said. “He dominated the inside and his God-given speed is tremendous.” Knowledge and speed allowed Kruse to make 79 solo tackles, seven sacks and eight tackles for losses. Kruse is being wooed by several Pac-10 schools, UNLV, Boise State and Portland.

Nick Stagnaro

Brea Olinda, DB, Sr.

Nick Stagnaro intercepted 11 passes, one short of the school record, but his total would have been higher had he been challenged more. “Valencia Coach Mike Marrujo didn’t throw one ball in his area all night,” Brea Olinda Coach Jon Looney said. “He told me, ‘Why should I? I’m just asking for trouble.’ ” Stagnaro still found a way to give Marrujo fits, catching two touchdown passes in Brea’s victory. Stagnaro, a first-team All-Division IX pick, had 77 tackles and scored on a fumble and an interception return.

Rudy Acosta

Loara, DB, Jr.

The only junior on the first-team defense, Rudy Acosta (6-0, 158) played the backfield like Ken Griffey Jr. plays center field--setting a school record with 11 interceptions. Sometimes it seemed he knew where the ball was going before the quarterback did. Acosta also returned one interception and two kickoffs for touchdowns. A first-team All-Division VI selection, Acosta also caught 35 passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns and ran 10 times for 80 yards.


Junior Palacios

Mater Dei, DB, Sr.

Junior Palacios’ ability to lock up receivers almost was obscured by the 1,372 yards he gained as a running back. But high school coaches didn’t overlook his cover skills. Long Beach Poly never threw a ball his way in the Division I title game and that was how most coaches dealt with Palacios, who still had three interceptions, 22 passes defensed and 24 solo tackles. He brought back one interception for a touchdown and scored 16 more as a running back. Oregon, Wisconsin and UNLV are after him.

Matt Grootegoed

Mater Dei, DB, Sr.

Irvine Coach Terry Henigan said he doesn’t remember any defensive back ever hitting like Matt Grootegoed. A lot of wide receivers and running backs would probably agree. Grootegoed played the free safety position like he invented it. He had 95 solo tackles, seven tackles for losses, 11 pass defenses, two caused fumbles and six interceptions. He returned two of them for touchdowns. He was just as devastating on offense, scoring 11 touchdowns, averaging 7.8 yards a run and 15 yards a catch.

Shane Harris

Woodbridge, P, Sr.

One of the county’s best all-around players the last two seasons, Harris excelled wherever he played. As a punter, he averaged 41.1 yards with a net of 38 yards. At least five of his punts were hit with his left foot so he could avoid the oncoming rush. As a free safety, he had 78 tackles, four caused fumbles and two interceptions. At quarterback, he passed for 207 yards and three touchdowns. As a running back, he rushed for 926 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also kicked three field goals.