Sacred Heart Cathedral quarterback Cian Dowling warms up on the sidelines before a game on Sept. 28, 2018 at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

SF Preps: Players to watch as City football gets set to kick off

Who will be San Francisco’s top prep football players this upcoming season?

With the seven schools in the AAA and three City schools in the WCAL just two weeks away from playing their first official games, there are a few must-see prep football players in San Francisco to watch during the 2019 season. While this list is just a sampling of some of the best players who will be donning the pads and helmets this fall, it’s a good primer for the upcoming season.

Joseph Ale, Galileo Jr. OL/DL

After missing his sophomore year with a meniscus injury, Ale is expected to anchor the line under new head coach Lamar Williams. Having already won a state championship as a freshman, he has a very high ceiling, and two years to get there.

Evan Branch-Haynes, Sacred Heart Cathedral Jr. OL/DL

How valuable is Branch Haynes, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound lineman who looks even bigger than his listed size? Look no further than how the Fightin’ Irish played in his absence, sputtering offensively in a season-ending loss to Sacred Heart Prep in the CCS Semifinals. With him protecting the blind side, though, SHC can spread the ball out with the best of them. He also made a major impact on defense, racking up five sacks and forcing a fumble as a sophomore. He’s been featured at numerous camps and showcases over the course of the summer, and as long as he continues on the trajectory he established last season, scholarship offers will soon be pouring in.

Teddye Buchanan, St. Ignatius Sr. QB/LB

Even though he was limited by a hand injury last year, only playing quarterback in the first half of his junior season before exclusively playing defense down the stretch, Buchanan earned scholarship offers from Colorado State, San Diego, San Jose State and UC Davis. Standing at 6-foot-2 with tremendous speed, athleticism and physicality, Buchanan looks to be a weapon on both sides of the ball for the Wildcats in his senior year. His scholarship offers have come from schools interested in his play at linebacker, but he may end up starting both ways. He’s currently locked in a battle with Zach Taylor-Smith for the starting QB position.

Cian Dowling, Sacred Heart Cathedral Jr. QB

A fiery, scrappy, tough quarterback, Dowling had to sit out his team’s first four games last year after transferring from rival St. Ignatius, but made an instant impact, leading the Fightin’ Irish to a Bruce-Mahoney Game victory over his former school in just his second game. In six WCAL games, he connected on 58.7% of his passes, then went on to go 7-for-10 in a CCS quarterfinal victory over Live Oak, SHC’s first playoff win since 2011. Between his sophomore and junior years, he’s matured as a leader, becoming more of a stable emotional presence on the field while still showing off his flair for the dramatic and the competitive drive that’s made him so impressive as an underclassman.

Leo Gallegos, Lincoln Sr. OL/DL

One of the few returning starters from the Mustangs’ 13-0 state championship team, coach Phil Ferrigno regularly sings the praises of Gallegos’ leadership abilities. With Lincoln’s quarterback, top three rushers and entire receiving corps graduating from last year, Gallegos and his fellow linemen will be in the spotlight as the Mustangs take the field with an enormous target on their backs.

Siaki Gallegos-Hunkin, St. Ignatius Jr. LB

A midseason callup from JV, Gallegos-Hunkin instantly made his presence felt as SI’s middle linebacker, quickly becoming a leader on defense with a nose for the ball. The adjustment to the varsity level was none too difficult for him as he instantly jumped into the spotlight, making six tackles, recovering a fumble and picking off a pass in the Bruce-Mahoney Game under the bright lights of Kezar Stadium with thousands in attendance. On a team that’s had to replenish its running back depth, he may also see key offensive reps.

Azaan Ledbetter, Riordan Jr. QB

Though the Crusaders won just one game in Ledbetter’s sophomore year, he showcased dynamic playmaking ability in his five games while battling injuries. Under new head coach Mark Modeste, he’ll be taking snaps under center in a fly offense with two running backs, rather than lining up in the shotgun in a spread system. Running a West Coast scheme, Ledbetter will likely see lots of usage in play action, scrambling into the open field to break free from opposing defenses.

AJ Velasquez, Balboa Sr. RB/FS

With lightning speed and tons of experience, Velasquez impressed as a junior on a team coached by his father, earning a scholarship offer from Whittier College. His contributions were a huge factor in Balboa’s rise from a winless season to a postseason berth.

Other players to watch:

Tucker Brown, Sacred Heart Cathedral Jr. WR/MLB; Danny Burke, St. Ignatius Sr. WR/DB; Jameria Burroughs, Mission Sr. QB; Matt Cohn, Mission Jr. WR/DB,K; Luis Contreras, Lincoln Sr. QB/CB; Tyree Cross, Lincoln Sr. RB/LB; Will Delaney, Mission Sr. RB/DB; Jonas Francovich, Lincoln Sr. QB/CB; Beau Gardner, St. Ignatius Sr. OL/DL; Geoffrey Hester, Sacred Heart Cathedral Jr. OL/DL; Edward Humphries, Mission Sr. OL/DL; Tyrice Ivy Jr., Sacred Heart Cathedral Jr. WR/CB; Atu Kefu, Riordan So. RB/LB; Lavaka Kefu, Riordan Sr. RB/LB; Jack Lao, Lincoln Sr. RB/CB; Sikoti Manamua, Lincoln Sr. T/DT; Leo Maranghi, Riordan Jr. TE/LB; Gabe Martin, Riordan Sr. G/DT; Stephen McCarthy, Sacred Heart Cathedral Jr. OL/DL; Julian Milton, Mission Sr. WB/CB/KR; Temani Morris, Lincoln Sr. OL/DL; Isyah Olson, Mission Jr. OL/DL; Raymond Russell, Riordan Sr. LB; Fazon Ruth, Riordan Jr. RB; Alfonzo Smith, Burton Sr. QB/SS; Zach Taylor-Smith, St. Ignatius Sr. QB/FS; Raiden Thien-Jones, Balboa Sr. QB/FS; Ian Tupulua, Riordan Sr. TE/LB; Alfred Ugaitafa, St. Ignatius Sr. TE/DE; Nick Walker, Lincoln Sr. TE/LB

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