Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun reporters Ray Brewer and Steve Silver celebrate the start of high school football season the only way they know how -- debating whether or not Palo Verde, Bishop Gorman or Las Vegas will win the state championship.
The Las Vegas Valley has seen more than its share of talented high school football players in recent years.
The area, which was rarely scouted by college coaches a decade ago, has become a hotbed on the recruiting trail with athletes playing significant roles for teams in major college conferences.
It started with St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson, who drew little interest after rushing for 2,764 yards and 34 touchdowns for Eldorado as a senior in 2000.
He wound up at Oregon State, where he found immediate success in opening the door for other locals. Last year, 15 earned scholarships to Division I schools.
"In years past, before Steven Jackson, you might have two or three guys (go to Division I schools) and they were under the radar," said Darwin Rost, Palo Verde High's coach and the president of the Southern Nevada Football Coaches Association.
"After Steven, you are getting 10 to 12 guys going, and some to bigger schools like in the Pac-10 or Big 12."
This year's crop of players is equally talented.
The Sun's preseason team, which features the top 24 players in Southern Nevada's large-school classification, includes five who have already committed to Pac-10 schools. The group is led by Bishop Gorman High tight end Xavier Grimble, who is ranked as the nation's top tight end by recruiting Web site Rivals.com. Also on the Sun team from Gorman are a pair of Stanford commits in defensive end Alex Turner and linebacker Evan Palelei, and offensive lineman Geoff Gibson, who committed to Cal.
Also headed to the Pac-10 is Valley High wide receiver Garic Wharton, who is the Sun's kick returner and the state record holder in the 100 meter dash (10.39 seconds) and 200 meters (21.1). He committed to Arizona in June.
Gorman, which is 26-2 in the last two years, has seven on the Sun's team. Perennial Sunrise Region power Las Vegas High has four on the team, Palo Verde and Desert Pines highs each have three and Silverado has two.
Rost remembers when he coached at Eldorado in the early 1990s and how most teams were lucky to have one recruit each year. Now, with the number of teams in the large-school classification more than doubled, certain teams have multiple prospects.
"The top teams like Clark, Valley and Chap had one or two kids year in and year out (in the early 1990s)," Rost said. "Everyone else was lucky to have a kid every other year."
Here’s the complete team:
QB — Dalton Leilua, senior, Desert Pines: Leilua enters his third year under center for the Jaguars. He has 19 career touchdown passes and more than 2,300 yards passing.
RB — Stephen Nixon, senior, Cimarron-Memorial: Nixon, a two-time state champion in the 100-meter dash, rushed for 1,907 yards and 23 touchdowns last year. He had 299 yards and four touchdowns in a victory against Centennial and added 254 yards and two score the following week against Legacy.
RB — DeShae Edwards, senior, Legacy: Rushed for 1,351 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall to lead Legacy to its first playoff berth in the school’s three-year history.
WR —Marquan Major, junior, Las Vegas High: Major had 59 receptions for 742 yards and six touchdowns last fall to help Las Vegas win its sixth straight Sunrise Regional title. Just a junior, he’ll be a major college recruit.
WR — Eric Tuiloma, senior, Desert Pines: Tuiloma, a three-year starter, will be heavily counted on to help beat Northeast Division rival Las Vegas High. The Jaguars’ most dangerous threat, he will run the ball, catch passes and return kicks. Tuiloma also plays defensive back and had a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown last year against Valley.
TE — Xavier Grimble, senior, Bishop Gorman: Grimble, the nation’s No. 1 rated tight end according to recruiting Web site Rivals.com, verbally committed to Southern California last spring. At 6 foot, 5 inches, Grimble should thrive in Gorman’s new pro-style offense.
OL — Geoff Gibson, senior, Bishop Gorman: Gibson, who verbally committed to Cal this spring, is a three-year varsity performer.
OL — Tim Gulley, senior, Bishop Gorman: Arguably the most underrated player on Gorman’s all-star-caliber roster, Gulley will help anchor the Gaels offensive line. Don’t be surprised if his name is mentioned among the program’s top performers when the year is done.
OL — Austin Woo, senior, Las Vegas High: Woo will be a three-year varsity starter on a Las Vegas High line that is consistently head and shoulders better than the competition.
OL — Seth Bohman, junior, Silverado: A strong and aggressive blocker, Bohman is one year away from being Nevada’s most sought-after offensive line recruit.
OL —Dallin Van Buskirk, senior, Las Vegas High: A first-team All-Sunrise Region selection last year, Van Buskirk is called an athletic and intelligent lineman by Wildcats’ coach Chris Faircloth.
PK — Nolan Kohorst, senior, Green Valley High: Kohorst connected on 10 field goals last year with a long of 54 yards and was 21-of-22 on extra points. A first-team All-Sunrise Region selection the past two years, he made field goals of 51 and 54 yards in a victory against Coronado. He was 10-of-14 on field goals as a sophomore in 2007, also making 21 of 22 extra points.
KR - Garic Wharton, senior, Valley High: Wharton, who is the state record holder in the 100 (10.39 seconds) and 200 meter (21.1) dashes, returned three kicks for touchdowns last fall. A wide receiver and defensive back, Wharton verbally committed to Arizona earlier in the spring.
DL — Trey McElhaney, senior, Las Vegas High: McElhaney, who took second in the 215-pound division in state wrestling last winter, is the ultimate competitor. He rarely gets moved off the ball and uses his wrestling background to get in a good position.
DL — Alex Turner, senior, Bishop Gorman: The Stanford commit has been a mainstay on Gorman’s defensive line since his sophomore year. He had 56 tackles last fall.
DL — Jalen Grimble, junior, Bishop Gorman: The junior already has scholarship offers from major Division I programs - Southern California, UCLA, LSU and others. He’s the cousin of Gorman tight end Xavier Grimble, who is committed to USC and is the nation’s No. 1 ranked tight end. Jalen Grimble will be Nevada’s top player next fall.
DL — Daniel Godkin, senior, Palo Verde: Godkin had 90 tackles and five sacks last year to help the Panthers blank three opponents in 13 games and hold another four teams under 10 points.
LB — Kyle Anderson, senior, Silverado: Anderson had 66 tackles last fall, including 15 against rival Foothill. He has a scholarship offer from Northern Arizona.
LB — Evan Palelei, senior, Bishop Gorman: A three-year starter for Gorman, Palelei committed to Stanford this spring. He returned a fumble 84 yards for a touchdown to help Gorman win the 2007 state title and had 43 tackles and eight sacks last fall. He’s the son of former NFL lineman Lonnie Palelei.
LB — Keorris Berry, senior, Desert Pines: Arguably the top defender in the Sunrise Region, Berry has been starter for the Jaguars since his sophomore year. He has received interest from a handful of colleges and should see his stock increase after another solid season.
DB — Taylor Spencer, senior, Bishop Gorman: Spencer had 26 catches for 585 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. He has scholarship offers from UNLV, Utah and Northern Arizona. He also had nine tackles and one interception in limited action at defensive back last fall.
DB — Evan Weinstock, senior, Del Sol: A wide receiver and defensive back, Weinstock might not come off the field this fall for the Dragons. He runs a 4.6 40-yard dash and has a 38-inch vertical leap and has the potential to dominant the Southeast Division. He a scholarship offer from Northern Arizona.
DB — Ernest Hall, senior, Palo Verde: The Del Sol transfer was a first-team all-Sunrise selection at defensive back last fall. He also rushed for 1,207 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Dragons.
S — Tyrone Blake, senior, Palo Verde: Blake, who is entering his fourth year on varsity for the Panthers, is one of the area’s best all-round players. He has 23 total rushing touchdowns and could double that number this fall as Palo Verde’s top offensive threat. His future, however, is more than likely on defense, where he’ll be a three-year starter. He had 124 tackles last year, including 18 against Arbor View. He will move from linebacker to safety this fall.
P — Nolan Kohorst, senior, Green Valley High: Kohorst will also punt for the Gators this fall.
Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected].