At midseason, it's time to look at who's doing well, who's exceeding expectations and who's come out of nowhere to make an impact on the 2007 high school football season.
Player of the year: This choice is easy. Quarterback Matt Barkley of Santa Ana Mater Dei has been nothing short of spectacular. He's having the same kind of junior season that Jimmy Clausen pulled off at Westlake Village Oaks Christian in 2005, and he's doing it against much stronger competition.
"He's made strides in so many areas of his game," offensive tackle Khaled Holmes said. "He's making throws he wouldn't have been able to make two or three years ago. I can't imagine any quarterback in high school playing better."
Barkley is benefiting from a perfect storm of talent that arrived to make Mater Dei's offense seemingly unstoppable. The offensive line hasn't allowed him to be sacked in six games. His receivers catch everything within their reach. And the running backs, Robert Mojica and Jaron Hytche, have never met a tackler they didn't want to run over.
Asked how he'd try to stop Barkley & Co., Sherman Oaks Notre Dame defensive coordinator Joe McNab said, "Pray."
Mystery team: Compton. At 6-0, the Tarbabes have outscored their opponents, 312-55. They are a legitimate threat to end Long Beach Poly's 15-year reign as Moore League champions. But Compton hasn't played any teams ranked in The Times' top 25, leaving some to question just how good it really is.
Understand this: Running back Donald Green is flourishing in the double-wing offensive attack, averaging 13.9 yards a carry with 1,200 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns.
"He's playing awesome," Coach Calvin Bryant said.
Comeback player of the year: Receiver Mark Gerski of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. On July 12, Gerski got hit in the stomach by a knee during a summer passing tournament, after which he was transported by ambulance to a hospital in Long Beach where he underwent three hours of surgery to have 30% of his pancreas removed. He needed four units of blood and spent five days in intensive care. Some thought he'd never make it onto the field for his senior season.
FOR THE RECORD:
High school football: Eric Sondheimer's column in Friday's Sports section had the wrong first name for the Sherman Oaks Notre Dame receiver it called the comeback player of the year. The player is Mike Gerski, not Mark.
"I was never told I couldn't play again, but they never said I could," he said of the early prognosis.
On Oct. 5, he made his season debut, catching four passes for 72 yards against Anaheim Servite. "It's the best feeling in the world playing with all my friends," he said.
Rising prospect: Chris Brown of Newbury Park. After a 4-6 record last year, Newbury Park is 6-0, led by Brown, a junior running back who has rushed for 197, 218 and 218 yards in his last three Marmonte League games.
"He's got speed that we haven't had in a long time," Coach George Hurley said.
Surprise teams: Wilmington Banning (6-0), Anaheim Esperanza (6-0), Newbury Park (6-0), Saugus (5-1).
Most underrated small schools player: Quarterback Andy Magee of Palos Verdes Peninsula Chadwick. Magee, a 6-foot-2 senior, has completed 74% of his passes while throwing for 2,082 yards and 34 touchdowns in helping his team win its first six games.
Best special teams player: Kicker David Brown of Ojai Nordhoff. Brown has made eight of nine field goals, with a long of 51 yards.
Biggest day in November: Somebody might need to rent a helicopter to see parts of the must-see games on Nov. 2: Orange Lutheran vs. Mater Dei at Santa Ana Stadium, Long Beach Poly at Compton, Garfield vs. Roosevelt at East L.A. College.
Coach of the year: Ed Croson of Lake Balboa Birmingham. Any City Section school that can knock off Long Beach Poly, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Dorsey in the same season is coached by a genius.
That's Croson, who ignored the pleas that he was playing too many tough opponents and now has his team in position to contend for a state Division I bowl berth.
Most memorable performance: Corona Centennial quarterback Matt Scott rushing for 177 yards and passing for 179 yards against Mater Dei in a 51-37 loss, during which the teams combined for a state-record 1,303 yards. Scott was fearless, resilient and showed what a special athlete he truly is.
Best record broken: City Section career rushing mark. Milton Knox of Birmingham has rushed for 5,446 yards, surpassing former Woodland Hills Taft running back Jerry Brown, who gained 5,387 from 1992 to '94.
Best basketball player playing football: Roberto Nelson of Santa Barbara. The 6-4 junior has made four interceptions, scored six touchdowns and is averaging 26.9 yards a reception.
Best first-year football player: Newhall Hart free safety Johnny MacArthur. MacArthur is headed to Pepperdine on a golf scholarship but decided to try football his senior year despite others wondering if he had a case of temporary insanity.
"I don't care what other people are saying -- I want to play," MacArthur told Coach Mike Herrington.
On Friday night, he made his first career interception with 13 seconds left, then kicked his first career field goal, a 43-yarder in the rain, as time expired to beat Canyon Country Canyon, 31-28, on live television.
"It was the most fun and most exhilarating feeling I've ever experienced," MacArthur said.