Having completely recovered from a broken right leg he sustained prior to the 2010 season, St. Francis High football player Ryan McAleenan came into the 2011 campaign ready to make an impact on both sides of the ball.
Despite his injury, McAleenan didn't miss any games last season and the senior linebacker/tight end found himself handed numerous responsibilities while looking to lead the talented Golden Knights back to the CIF Southern Section Western Division playoffs.
Having done that, McAleenan's body of work landed him a special accolade — co-most valuable lineman in the ultra-competitive Mission League.
"I never planned on getting [the honor]," said McAleenan, one of 13 St. Francis athletes to receive all-league honors after the team went 9-3 and 3-2 in league for third place before advancing to the quarterfinals. "I had no idea I'd be in the running, but it's an honor.
"I came into the year wanting to be at full strength and doing whatever I could to help my team win."
McAleenan, who shared the honor with Taylor Hindy of Chaminade, did plenty of things to keep St. Francis in the mix for contending for league. The 6-foot-3 McAleenan finished with 86 tackles, including 52 solo tackles, and averaged 7.2 per game.
St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said McAleenan, who caught 23 passes, many of them coming in clutch situations, for 308 yards and a pair of touchdowns, was worthy of being bestowed with the tribute.
"He was a force for us consistently throughout the season and he just made a ton of tackles," Bonds said. "He really stood our for us.
"You had to recognize him out there on the field. Getting that particular honor was well-deserved."
Four St. Francis players were named to the all-league first-team offense. Senior linemen Joe Marrone and Kristion Grbavac, senior running back Austin De Los Santos and place kicker Billy McCreary were honored.
"Joe and Kristion gave us a lot of experience and they were able to help out the younger guys on the line," Bonds said. "They were both sound physically and they opened up holes for Austin to run."
De Los Santos had a stellar campaign, rushing for 1,049 yards in 203 carries. He scored five rushing touchdowns to propel the Golden Knights.
"He'd run through a wall if you asked him to," Bonds said. "He brought that desire and determination to practice and then into the games.
"We just found out he broke his hand against Arroyo Grande [in the playoffs]. He didn't want to come out of that game."
McCreary provided excellence on special teams for St. Francis. He made 10 field goals and 34 extra-point attempts and also handled he team's punting most of the season.
"With Billy, it was never pretty, but he was clutch in finding a way to get the ball through the uprights," Bonds said. "He made a couple of big kicks for us, including our [season-opening] win against Arcadia."
A trio of Golden Knights picked up first-team defensive honors. Senior linebackers Luke Anderson and Raul Castillo and defensive back Travis Talianko were picked.
Anderson once again proved to be a steady threat on defense, picking up 97 tackles. He finished with 71 solo tackles and averaged 10.8 per contest despite missing four games with a neck injury.
Castillo recorded 59 total tackles, including 4.9 per game.
The San Jose State University-bound Talianko registered 56 tackles, as he settled in as a safety. At receiver, Talianko caught 44 passes for 687 yards and three touchdowns.
"Our linebacking core was the strength of our defense," Bonds said. "Luke and Raul gave us that experience up front.
"Travis was our safety valve. He did a great job for us going both ways for the first time."
Two St. Francis athletes garnered all-second team offense accolades in junior quarterback Jared Lebowitz and senior wide receiver Christian Hess.
Lebowitz, who transferred from Vermont, completed 156 of 307 yards for 2,234 yards and 21 touchdowns. Hess caught 24 passes for 546 yards and nine touchdowns. He also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
"With Jared, he gradually improved every week," Bonds said. "He seemed to get more comfortable with every game and the game slowed down for him, helping him come into his own.
"Christian made some big catches for us and he matured. He was a benefit for us being on the other side of the field from Travis and he found a way to get behind the defense."
St. Francis senior linemen Tyler Marona and Matthew Casciani and senior linebacker Joey Dowling were picked to the all-league second-team defense.
Marona finished with a team-best 11 sacks. Casciani collected six sacks and 40 tackles.
Dowling rose to the occasion constantly for the Golden Knights, registering a team-high 105 tackles. Dowling finished with 67 solo tackles and averaged 8.8 tackles per contest.
"Tyler came back from a concussion last season and stepped right in handling the job inside," Bonds said. "Matt proved to be one of our top pass rushers.
"Joey seemed to be in on every tackle and our defense made lots strides because of him."