Orange County football preview: Ranking the top 10 specialists for 2023

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Dan Albano ranks the top 10 specialists in Orange County going into the 2023 high school football season:


1. Michael Salgado-Medina, Mission Viejo, K/P: The reigning first-team All-County kicker made 12 of 14 field goal attempts last season and 69 of 70 PATs. The Arizona commit might be even better as a punter. The Polynesian Bowl selection ranks as the No. 1 senior punter in the state by kicking guru Chris Sailer.

2. Rylan Vagana, Mater Dei, LS: Vagana not only ranks as the No. 1 senior long snapper in the nation by Rubio Long Snapping, he’s also an excellent safety. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Vagana could start on an ultra-talented Monarchs defense. He will join Salgado-Medina in the Polynesian Bowl on Jan. 19.

3. Dylan Fingersh, Capistrano Valley, K: The senior attended several college camps over the summer, including one at Cal where he won the field goal competition. He booted eight field goals last season en route to second-team All-County honors.

4. Ethan Schwartz, Trabuco Hills, K/P: The 6-foot-4, 195-pound senior converted seven field goals last season and 54 of his 56 PATs. The third-team All-County selection also plays basketball and golf.

Emiliano Salazar #27 of Villa Park kicks the ball during the second half of a CIF-SS Division 5 football quarterfinal game against against the St. Francis at Friedman Field in La Canada on Friday, November 11, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

5. Emiliano Salazar, Villa Park, K/P: The rising senior is the second-highest ranked O.C. kicker on Chris Sailer’s list of top seniors. He went 8 for 10 on field goal attempts last season and 45 for 45 on PATs.

6. Cash Hardy, San Juan Hills, LS: The 6-foot, 255-pound Hardy is the second-highest ranked O.C. long snapper on Rubio’s list of top seniors. He also starts at offensive guard.

7. Noe Avalos, Newport Harbor, P: The reigning Sunset League punter of the year is one of the top-ranked O.C. senior punters by Chris Sailer.

8. Luke Whitfield, Laguna Hills, K: The junior kicked four field goals, including a 40-yarder, and 70 of 72 PATs last season in the Hawks’ run to CIF-SS and state titles. Laguna Hills senior Justin Skala is also a kicker to watch.

9. Nathaniel Kim, St. Margaret’s, K/P: The senior ranks as a five-star prospect in the Class of 2024 by Sailer and earns high marks from Brad Bohn of West Coast Kicking.

10. Connor Stephens, Crean Lutheran, K/P: The junior cracks Bohn’s list of top specialists to watch after he averaged almost 39 yards a punt last season and sent 67 percent of kickoffs into the end zone. Saints coach Rick Curtis said Stephens’ field goal kicking continues to develop.

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