Bryce Pazdel is the one that keeps Vacaville Christian churning.
Pazdel, a junior linebacker and fullback/tight end, is the one in the middle anchoring everything. He’s a coach on the field. A leader. Wise beyond his years.
“Bryce Pazdel is the absolute brain in the middle,” said Vacaville Christian head coach Manny Tarango. “He’s up to like 210 pounds now. He’s thick. He knows everybody’s position, all 11 players. He knows their routes. He knows the blocking scheme. He’s in charge of the defense. He knows all 17 blitz combinations and all six, seven fronts that we use and the coverage that we need. He is the defensive coordinator on the field, and that’s what makes him so good. He’s just such a student of the game.”
Right when Pazdel arrived at Vacaville Christian, he turned into a star and one of the region’s premier athletes.
As a freshman, in the Falcons’ first season back as a program after not fielding a team for multiple years, Pazdel shined in every regard. His 75 tackles were the second-most on the roster, adding one sack, one quarterback hurry and two blocked field goals in a 1-9 campaign for VCS.
But that was only the beginning.
The class of 2022 sensation turned it up a notch again during his sophomore season, registering a team-high 133 tackles – which ranked 68th in California and was the third-most among California sophomores, according to statistics available on MaxPreps. His final statistics also read six tackles for loss, seven quarterback hurries, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one blocked field goal.
And Pazdel was a key cog offensively, carrying the ball 10 times for 75 yards while catching 15 passes for 258 yards and one score – part of a VCS squad that improved to a seven-win team and was a Sac-Joaquin Section semifinalist.
“I know he’s smart,” said Vacaville Christian sophomore King Saffings. “I know he can run. He can hit hard too.”
Those numbers only tell part of Pazdel’s story, though.
Leadership is in his blood. So is academic success by compiling a 4.2 GPA.
“I’ve been a natural leader pretty much most of my life,” Pazdel said. “I get a lot of it from Boy Scouts, from other extracurricular activities. I’m in NHS and things like that.”
Also a baseball and soccer player, Pazdel’s offseason has been one of tremendous growth to an already impressive skill set.
Tarango said Pazdel has gained 20 pounds and improved his 40-yard dash time. Plus, he’s honed in on making the defense better to understand his and his teammates’ responsibilities.
All of that work has Pazdel aiming for VCS to create an even more formidable defense, along with some hardware…
“This year, as sort of the defensive captain, I would like to have the best defense in the league and take that defense and win league and section, if we end up competing for section,” Pazdel said.
Excerpt taken from West Coast Preps Bay Area Recruiting Notebook:
Leaks sets decision date
Vacaville Christian senior athlete Jaron Leaks is less than a week away from picking his college destination. Leaks said he will commit on Dec. 19 and then sign his National Letter of Intent on Feb. 6. His offer list features Georgia Knights Prep Academy, La Verne, Lawrence Tech, Pacific, UC Davis, Valley City State and Whittier.
Despite an injury, Leaks’ junior campaign brought Vacaville Christian to new heights after a one-win season the year prior, notching 395 receiving yards, four touchdowns, 40 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery while VCS went 7-5 and played in the Sac-Joaquin Section semifinals.
Recent Bay Area offers
Vacaville Christian junior athlete Kendall Allen’s first offer came in, with Southern University out of the Division I level offering him. Allen finished with 990-plus receiving yards each of his first two years of high school.
No. 27: Vacaville Christian junior receiver Kendall Allen
Kendall Allen is simply a freak of an athlete.
During his first two high school seasons, Allen was one of the top receivers in the entire region and accumulated nearly 1,000 yards both seasons. His freshman year was a 994-yard and 13-touchdown season, following that up with 992 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns to lift Vacaville Christian in a remarkable turnaround from one win in 2018 to a section semifinals appearance in 2019.
On top of that, Allen is a star in basketball and track. He averaged 13.9 points per game off the bench as a freshman to help VCS to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship and then posted 21.8 points per game his sophomore year, all the while also being a Junior Olympian.
That’s exactly how Vacaville Christian head coach Manny Tarango describes Nunley, a sophomore running back and linebacker who has dazzled every step of the way early in his high school career. Not only is a beast on the field, but in the weight room he is full throttle, and as a person, he’s just one of those guys everyone loves to be around.
“Kai is one of those kids that’s always dancing,” Tarango said. “He’s always singing. He’s just happy about being at football, and the kid just PRd a 505 deadlift. He is thick. He’s got a very short powerful lower body. He’s committed himself to the weight room. His 40 time is increased.”
But, before Nunley ever arrived at Vacaville Christian, he was not ready to make himself a Falcon.
At least, not when he first heard the news.
Nunley’s mother originally wanted him to go to VCS, but when Nunley heard those words, he thought she was joking. Yet she was serious, and Nunley didn’t know what to say at that exact moment.
“I cried that day, but when I came here I was like this is a really good team,” Nunley said. “This is much better. Because we actually knew each other, and I can just tell we can get along. I know these people. I know they’re good people. They don’t care about themselves. They care about their teammates. They care about each other.”
“We’re family. We’re a really good family. We’re trying to help each other out. We really are. We try our best to make sure one of us goes to college or one of us gets out of here because that’s our main goal is just to go out. We’re just trying to go places, go far, wherever we can.”
That incredible production lifted Nunley into all-metro and all-region honors on both sides of the ball and showed how profound his impact has been for this surging Falcons program, which went 1-9 the year before Nunley arrived and boosted that record to 7-5 and a trip to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII semifinals his first year on campus.
“That kid puts the mouthpiece in and he’s just like, ‘Let’s go,’ like Ezekiel Elliott,” Tarango said. “He kind of rolls the jersey up to expose the abs and he’s just giving you the spoon feed, like, ‘Keep feeding me. Let’s go.’ And he’s running to the ball when we’re doing tempo drills, and he’s like faster, faster, faster.”
What remains a scary thought is Nunley has only beefed up and improved in every regard during this offseason.
He’s deadlifting 500-plus pounds. His 40-yard dash time is down 0.2 seconds, all the way from a 4.9 to a 4.7 – Nunley ran a 4.72 at the Routes vs. Coverage Showcase earlier this month.
“He’s completely transformed his legs,” Tarango said. “He’s just thicker. He’s stronger. He’s gotten faster, and he’s only 15. And I think he just loves football, and it just comes naturally to him. Because that comes natural, it allows us as coaches to focus on your blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield because I can’t teach you your body. You know your body. You know how to run people over. That’s what you do.”
Tarango envisions Nunley to become one of the top recruits in the region by the time he’s a junior, and Nunley is eager to make those college dreams come true and get to the next level.
“Open to all offers, but it would be a life changer,” Nunley said. “If I got an offer or something, or if one of my teammates got an offer, it would be good. It would affect us. It really would because then we’d all be hyped. We would all be hyped up. We would all be going hard because we got eyes on us.”
The latest edition of the Xclusive Speed Top 45 Powered by West Coast Preps is here, with Nos. 40-36 for football being released today and followed by Nos. 35-31 coming out next Monday, Nov. 2.
The entire list will feature five players each week, culminating with the top five players in the Bay Area rounding out the preseason player rankings on Monday, Dec. 14.
All player rankings are based on their overall production on the field, past stats, their recruiting trail and their growth during this offseason. Stars do not matter on this list, which is important to note, the Top 45 list has been curated based on these given points above.
Be sure to also check out who made the cut at Nos. 45-41 here.
Disclaimer: This list only featured players from cities listed on the Bay Area Census. Additionally, multiple players have opted to enroll in their respective universities for the spring semester and will not play their senior years of high school. Some players may choose to enroll early as the list is being released weekly, and the list is dated as of Oct. 15 for players’ decisions as the rankings will not be able to change as they are being sent out every week.
No. 40: Antioch senior defensive end Jailen Weaver
Antioch defensive end Jailen Weaver has emerged into one of the premier players at his position across the entire country.
Weaver tallied 46 tackles in 2019 and was all over the backfield, posting impressive numbers in every regard in the form of 12.0 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks for the Wildcats during his junior campaign.
Weaver recently announced his top three colleges to play collegiately at are a trio of Power Five programs in Indiana, Nebraska and Tennessee.
No. 39: Monte Vista senior linebacker Josh Zeising
Playing behind two Division I bound players did not stop Josh Zeising from dominating his junior season.
Zeising accumulated 102 tackles in 2019 in Monte Vista’s run to an 8-4 record and a trip to the North Coast Section Division Division I semifinals before falling to eventual state runner-up De La Salle. Zeising’s 102 tackles were the third-most on the team and only behind two current college players in Connor Shay (Wyoming) and Nate Rutchena (California).
George Fox, Puget Sound and Whittier have all offered Zeising.
No. 38: Vacaville Christian junior defensive lineman Zack Mercado
Zack Mercado’s production and dominance have keyed Vacaville Christian’s rise in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Mercado dazzled every step of the way as a young sophomore in 2019, recording 119 tackles and a whopping 26.0 tackles for loss en route to Defensive Player of the Year honors in the region.
With Mercado on the roster, Vacaville Christian went 7-5 last season – a drastic improvement from a 1-9 campaign the year prior – and advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII semifinals. It was Vacaville Christian’s first trip to the postseason since 2011.
The do-it-all Cardinal Newman star could not be stopped on either side of the ball as a junior.
Moran racked up 108 tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions defensively, adding another 750 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns – seven of which came in the postseason in Cardinal Newman’s run to a California Interscholastic Federation Division 3-AA state championship. In addition to those numbers, Moran had 318 receiving yards and one score.
Moran is committed to Long Beach State to play baseball.
Brady Huchingson has been there every step of the way as a top-notch varsity player for Acalanes.
Hutchinson, a four-year starter, boasts a 22-11 career record and has improved his remarkable production each season. After throwing for 1,844 yards and 24 touchdowns – while running for five – as a freshman, he accelerated those numbers to 2,022 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns and five rushing scores his sophomore year.
Fast forward to his junior season, and Huchingson delivered again by tossing for 2,646 yards, 29 touchdowns and just five picks while lifting Acalanes to a 9-3 record and a spot in the North Coast Section Division IV semifinals.
Zack Mercado’s father reached out to one of the most prominent line coaches, and there was no hesitation to work out with the young phenom from Vacaville Christian.
Aaron Day, a defensive line trainer who focuses on rushing the passer, saw it all when Mercado’s father connected with him, and he has seen why those around Mercado rave about the defensive lineman every chance they can.
“With him it’s the ability to pick up things quickly and to put them to use,” Day said. “I give him a couple moves, I try not to put too much on his plate, but he’s been able to surpass my expectations and just keep going. He’s very tenacious, really attacks things. He has an ability to bend and not only just bend, but he can put his hands in the ground and muscle people out of his way. He’s very strong.
“He’s a special talent.”
– Aaron Day
Mercado’s first varsity campaign his sophomore season in 2019 said it all.
In Vacaville Christian’s run to a 7-5 record and a Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII semifinals appearance, which was the program’s first playoff appearance since 2014 and was also a year when it won its first playoff game since 2011, Mercado was dominant every step of the way. He registered 119 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles, 28 hurries and one blocked punt, earning his way to Defensive Player of the Year honors in the region
And Mercado reminds Vacaville Christian head coach Manny Tarango of Armon Bailey, who is now a linebacker at Sacramento State and played for Tarango when Tarango was a defensive coordinator at Vanden.
Both players are intentional. They’re deliberate. They’re extremely hard on themselves, no matter how well they performed or what type of big play they just made.
“Zack pushes himself and holds himself to such a high standard,” Tarango said. “This is a guy that wakes up and watches film on a game and says, ‘My hand placement when I was holding that B gap was off six inches. And if I had got a little bit lower, I would have been able to push the pocket and I would have been able to get that sack instead of the quarterback hurry.’”
There is still so much more room for Mercado to grow, which is exactly what he has done during this extended offseason before his junior season officially rolls around in a few months.
Mercado is 6-2 and 245 pounds and has been a menace at every showcase he’s attended, displaying a burst right away that is tricky for any opposing offensive lineman to maneuver against.
“He has the athleticism to be able to move and pull, but he has the strength and the power to be able to just be, he can be like an Aaron Donald,” Tarango said. “He can hold a gap. He can change the direction of a game, and he’s only 6-2, 245. He’s still growing. But he plays like he’s much bigger. He’s super humble. He’s one of those guys that is very quiet in the classroom.
“He just gets in, does his work, 3.8 GPA, but he’s just so cognizant of what he’s doing and how he’s doing it, and he plays with such a reckless abandonment.”
The sky is only the limit from here going forward.
With 26 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as just a sophomore for a team that went as far as it did a year ago, the expectations are higher now. Once colleges can start recruiting in person again – the NCAA dead period was extended to Jan. 1, 2020 – Day sees the recruiting process taking off for Mercado.
“I think once they physically see the kid that they’ll see on film, especially this season, because his film is going to be very, very good,” Day said. “Once they see him in person, they can put somebody physically in front of them and see what he’s all about. He’s going to start taking off as far as offers come or just attention.”
“It’s going to help me with everything – recruiting, in game, just everything, the proper technique that he’s telling me to do,” Mercado said. “It’s just on the field, off the field, just me as a person – it’s going to help with everything.”
Maybe another Defensive Player of the Year award is on the way, too.
“I can’t say enough about Zack Mercado,” Tarango said.
“The kid has a motor. I think we might see our first two-time Defensive Player of the Year out of this season because I just don’t know if they’ll be able to block him. He’s bigger, stronger, faster, and he has an unrelentless will to succeed. I just love Zack.”
The simplest way for Vacaville Christian head football coach Manny Tarango to describe three-sport sensation Kendall Allen is to look back at one of his former players.
Tarango remembers back when he was coaching Javin White. The two had started working together from when White was 11 or 12 years old all the way yp to White’s junior season at Vanden, where Tarango was on the staff until becoming Vacaville Christian’s newest leader, before White moved over to McClymonds.
White ended up shining at McClymonds, where he developed into a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and was a first team all-league selection while ending up at UNLV to play college football at the next level.
Now, White just wrapped up a remarkable stint at UNLV, winning Mountain Defensive Player of the Year honors and signing an undrafted free agent contract with the Las Vegas Raiders last month.
“I got to go to all his games, as many as I could go, graduation, the whole thing,” Tarango said. “That’s like my son. We used to workout at 4 o’clock in the morning. I would take him to school and then I would see him at football practice. He would come over on the weekends, and so because of that relationship I always knew that Javin was going to end up being in the league because he is, and I say that because he and Kendall share that same.”
What made White special is exactly what has Allen destined for a career in athletics beyond high school, too.
Even if the success is there, Allen is going full throttle every single rep in practice and every single time he’s competing – whether that’s on the football field, on the basketball court or on the track.
“These guys are just dogs,” Tarango said. “Javin and Kendall hold themselves to a standard that I don’t think anybody could ever touch. When Kendall works out, Kendall is going a 100 miles an hour and nothing is good enough for him. And now some people may be like, ‘Well, that’s kind of obsessive, compulsive, but no.’ He just understands, ‘If I want to be the best, I have to work like I’m No. 2 chasing No. 1.’ And he is out there, and on game day he is the ultimate competitor.”
It’s simply like watching Russell Westbrook, whose aggression and will to win every single play has helped him morph into an NBA All-Star.
In basketball alone, Allen’s stardom has guided Vacaville Christian to unprecedented heights every single time he and his teammates step foot on the hardwood. As a freshman, Allen averaged 13.9 points per game while coming off the bench in the Falcons’ run to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship.
His sophomore year saw those numbers skyrocket, amassing 21.8 points per contest and being named the MVP of the squad as Vacaville Christian was a Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI semifinalist.
“When he goes up and dunks, he’s trying to break the rim off,” Tarango said. “He plays with an anger but at the same time he’s just a good hearted kid, and he’s constantly working on his craft. He just wants to compete and he doesn’t do it in a disrespectful manner.”
This type of athleticism was noticed a couple of years ago from Allen, citing a conversation with his mother when they understood that the sky was the limit for him.
“Seventh grade summer going into eighth grade,” Allen said. “I kind of hit a little bit of a growth spurt and I started getting my athleticism and stuff. It was always born with me, but I was always a small kid. That’s when I knew. I told my Mom I could actually do something with this athleticism and my God given talent, too.”
Meanwhile, Allen’s talents in every other sport he competes in are evident each and every night.
During his first year at VCS, Allen recorded 994 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, following that up with 992 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore to bump the Falcons’ win total from one to seven while appearing in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII semifinals.
And Allen’s resume also features being a Junior Olympian.
“He works his butt off,” said Vacaville Christian senior receiver Jaron Leaks, whose offer list includes UC Davis. “That guy – what an athlete. He’s just wonderful. I love that kid to death. He just knows how to work hard.”
It’s all that “dog mentality” Tarango alluded to, with his constant hours perfecting his craft with fellow teammates paying enormous dividends.
Allen, Leaks and others have worked out three and four times per day. They’re getting up early to run a few miles.
Plus, Allen is attending every showcase and camp he can, most recently having a three-showcase weekend over Labor Day with the xposure Academy Football Showcase on Friday night in Vacaville, the Xclusive Speed Bay Area Top 100 Showcase Saturday morning and the Exposure Academy Boys Basketball Showcase on Sunday – the latter being a day when he also earned an award from the coaching staff.
“He does it to the point where if he lines up at wide receiver, he’ll tell you I have to make this corner know that I’m the best receiver that he’s going to guard all year,” Tarango said. “That’s his mentality every single day, on the basketball court, when we’re doing 400s on the track, when he’s out at practice just going up against his teammates in 1 on 1s or whatever.”
No schools have offered Allen yet, but schools from across the region are interested, like Hawaii, Sacramento State and Utah, to name a few.
But all Allen is focused on is continuing his progress as an athlete and adding more banners to Vacaville Christian’s athletic department.
“For myself I want to make the all-state nominee again,” Allen said. “I want to win Offensive Player of the Year. I’m trying to get 1,200-plus receiving yards, and then as a team I want to win state. I want to win. I don’t want to lose more than two games at all. We shouldn’t. We’re one of the best teams in this area and proved it already, too.”
Two months ago, Vacaville Christian senior athlete Jaron Leaks felt the moment that all of the work was worth it.
Going through some challenging days, Leaks received a call that showed he was next level. Whittier, a Division III school in Southern California, sent an offer his way to play college football.
“It’s a blessing because all my hard work, my family and I went through a hard time with all the corona stuff and my grandpa being sick, so everything was falling apart,” Leaks said. “And then I get a call from a coach and he gave me a full scholarship. It opened my eyes more.”
That moment was indicative of what those around him saw early on: a budding star just waiting to be unleashed.
Leaks’ cousin, Latrelle Smith, who is a cornerback at William & Mary, saw something in Leaks right away.
He knew he was different.
“He had been telling me all the time to just keep working hard,” Leaks said. “‘It’s in you. You got it.’ So when I first got my offer from Whittier about two months ago, I was like, ‘Alright, I can really get used to this type of stuff.’ Just got to keep working hard.”
Kendall Allen could have let the coronavirus pandemic get him down.
The Vacaville Christian High School student-athlete, who will be a junior in the fall, was all set to compete in track and field for his school when COVID-19 shut down the schools and his season.
He received an invitation from 365 Sports on behalf of FIBA (Fédération Internationale de Basketball) to represent the United States as a member of Team California in a special international tournament this summer. Then the tournament was canceled because of the pandemic.
He would have been playing AAU basketball for his travel team this summer, journeying to Los Angeles, Arizona, Portland, Texas and Las Vegas. But the virus closed down that opportunity as well.
But the three-sport athlete, who also excels in football, refused to shut down his own personal goals in the midst of the virus. He practices three times a day, 90 minutes each session, in basketball, football and weight training. And he maintained his excellence in the classroom as well…