Over the summer, we went looking for the area's Player of the Decade in high school football.
We highlighted some of the Central Coast's top players from the last 10 years, many of whom have gone on to star in college.
But, something was missing. High school football isn't always about the stars and those who grab all the headlines. It's built on the backs of players who don't get all the ink.
With 22 players on the field affecting every single down, there are players who can make a great impact with little attention being cast upon them.
There's also another type of high school player: A great and respected athlete that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, out-shined, perhaps unjustly, by another star teammate.
What that in mind, I'm going back in time and remembering some of the players our readers may have forgotten or have just always been overlooked. Some are well known, but most were never given their proper shrift during their prep careers.
I'll be picking out some of my favorite undercover superstars from the last 10 decade. Today, I'll start in Arroyo Grande. The Eagles had a really, really good decade from 2010 to 2020 and I've gone over about 20 players from AG, but I'll start with one of my favorites: Alex Cecchi.
This guy very easily could've, or maybe should've, been included in the Player of the Decade contest. He earned co-PAC 7 League MVP honors and plenty of All-Area recognition during his time with the Eagles.
Cecchi was one of my favorite players because he wasn't big and he wasn't particularly fast. He was just so freaking good.
I think coordination and plain old natural ability to make plays in sports is greatly underestimated. Success in football is not all about athletic ability. Some people just know how to move and make things happen. They just have... juice.
Cecchi had that juice.
Let's look at his numbers: 229 carries, 1,547 yards rushing in two seasons with 25 (!) touchdowns. He also scored nine more times as a receiver, with 41 career catches for 643 yards. He had 2,831 all-purpose yards in his final two seasons at AGHS. He also intercepted eight passes and made 68 tackles.
He had 19 touchdowns his senior season. The Eagles went 21-5 in his two years on varsity.
Cecchi played at Hancock and did surprisingly well there considering his size, earning All-Conference honors.
But, when looking back at some of the best players of the last decade, Cecchi didn't always get the proper recognition. The guy had an amazing career playing in the area's toughest league.
So keep an eye out in the coming weeks as we'll remember some more guys before the football season kicks off in January.
Girls Basketball Player of the Decade: We continue the countdown of the area's greatest athletes
You didn't think we would stop with football, did you? We continue highlighting the greatest athletes in the history of the Central Coast with our Player of the Decade series, but this time we focus on girls basketball!
We will have 12 athletes for you to learn more about with profiles for each player available soon and then the voting begins.
Weekly match-ups will eventually lead to a head to head vote between the top player from Santa Barbara County and the top player from San Luis Obispo County.
Share the profiles, and the polls on your social media pages and let's continue the great participation we had for football.
Cooks blossomed into a standout early in her Righetti High career and turned that into a long and accomplished spell at Washington State, where she played four years of basketball with the Cougars.
She won three CIF-SS titles and one state championship. That's four more titles than the total league games she lost during her career. (Madrigal went 48-0 in league in high school).
You see, Estorga's game was so refined, that even though she played only 14 games her senior year, it was clear she was still the area's top offensive threat. After all, Estorga was voted the All-Area MVP, as chosen by the sports staff at the Times, the year before, as a junior in the 2015-16 season.
Though Dunlap had a reputation as an all-time great on defense, she may have been equally as good on offense. In her three seasons at St. Joseph, Dunlap scored over 1,300 points. During her senior season with the Knights, the 5-foot-8 guard averaged 23.7 points, 3.0 assists, 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game as the Knights went 19-9.
Swain was dominant at VCA, using her rare combination of size and skill to power the Lions to Coast Valley League titles and a career-defining CIF Southern Section championship in 2014.
Just look at the résumé: She earned All-Los Padres League honors all four years she played on varsity, being named to the Honorable Mention team as a freshman before landing on the First Team in her final three years, including the LPL Defensive MVP award in 2018 when she was a senior.
Herlihy is the third nominee for the Times' Player of the Decade award. She joins former Cabrillo standout Erin Jenkins, a two-time All-Area MVP, and Righetti graduate Molly Schlemer, who earned All-Big West honors with Cal Poly after starring at Righetti.
Schlemer is the second nominee for the Santa Maria Times' Player of the Decade award for girls basketball, joining the first, Erin Jenkins of Cabrillo High. The list of nominees is compiled by the sports staff at the Times, Lompoc Record and Santa Ynez Valley News, which is polling current and former coaches and researching individual and team accolades. Players in graduating classes from 2010-2020 are eligible.
Jenkins was named the Times' All-Area MVP in 2017 and 2018, after her junior and senior years at Cabrillo High. Aly Beebe (2010 and '11) and Meghan Gnekow (2001 and '02) are the only other two players to do that this century. Both Beebe and Gnekow went on to sign with Pac-12 schools, Beebe joining Stanford and Gnekow playing for USC.
That winner is Nick Kimball. The former Nipomo High standout has been voted the Player of the Decade.
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