Central Catholic's Dawaiian McNeely is the Front Row's top returning player, a two-way starter with a desire to rush for more than 2,000 yards. (Samantha Schmidt)

Top returning players, No. 1: 'Flyin' Dawaiian' compared to which NFL great?

James Burns

A year ago, Central Catholic’s Dawaiian McNeely was platooning in the backfield, a promising understudy to an 1,800-yard running back.

Today, he’s the Front Row’s top returning football player, a lofty status awarded on expectation and ability, potential and buzz, and well…

Have you seen him hit a hole?

Every time he breaks a long run, Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa has visions of Eric Dickerson, one of the game’s all-time greats. Dickerson ran tall and fast, accelerating as he burst into the second level.

McNeely possesses that same running style. 

“You usually don’t find a young kid that is that athletic and that tall,” Canepa said of McNeely, who passes the eye test at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. “When they (college scouts) look at his body, they think maybe he’s an outside linebacker or a safety. He’s intriguing because they can see him playing so many different positions.”


McNeely holds seven offers to Division I schools, according to 247Sports.com, including Arizona State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon State, Utah State and Wyoming. Canepa said Clemson has called to express interest in the versatile talent. 

There may be players in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section who will put up better numbers, offensively and defensively, but Canepa argues that no one will have a greater impact on a game. 

McNeely will star for the Raiders in all three phases. He’ll likely match up against the opposing team’s best wide receiver and return kicks. 

Offensively, McNeely wants to top his predecessor’s numbers: In 2017, Wyoming freshman Dauson Booker rushed for 1,809 yards. McNeely believes 2,000 is attainable. 

“He’s a guy that will contribute on offense, defense and special teams,” Canepa said. “To me, that’s the best player. He’s playing the whole game. He’s playing football. That’s wha Dawaiian adds — he’s going to be a dominant fixture on offense, defense and returning kicks.”

Canepa believes McNeely has one advantage over the rest of the Raiders’ greats, including Justin Rice, who rushed for 2,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons and Matt Ringer, another member of the 2,000-yard club.

“He has that top-end speed you’re looking for,” Canepa said. “He’s faster than Ringer — and Ringer wasn’t slow. I think he’s faster than Justin at the top end. He’s a guy that has size and speed, and he’s so athletic.”

July 16-Aug. 13: 50. Sean McGovern, DB/WR, Ripon Chr.; 49. Bryan Millan, WR/DB/K, Hilmar; 48. Logan Weatherby, RB/LB, Calaveras; 47. Isaac Schinnman, RB/LB, Modesto Chr.; 46. JoJo Espinoza, WR/S, East Union; 45. Ryan Kraft, QB, Bret Harte; 44. Xavier Rodriguez, QB, Davis; 43. Joao Silveira, LB, Hilmar; 42. Landon Wright, DL, Modesto Chr.; 41. Xavier Stewart, WR, Merced; 40. Charles Jackson, RB, Atwater; 39. Hayden Sauser, QB, Modesto Chr.; 38. D. Durossette, QB, Central Cath.; 37. Trey Longstreth, WR/DB, Gregori; 36. Justin Traina, DB, Central Catholic; 35. Nash Satnat, LB, Escalon; 34. Payton Bass, RB, Pitman; 33. Justin Rentfro, RB/DE, Hilmar; 32. Dhameer Warren, QB/DB, Merced; 31. Jacob Bettencourt, QB, Orestimba; 30. Trey Paster, DB, Buhach Colony; 29. Marquise Higgins, LB/WR, East Union; 28. Omar Ortega, OL, Patterson; 27. Antonio Lopez, RB, Los Banos; 26. Jonah Kosakiewicz, QB, Turlock; 25. Kyle Jackson, QB, Central Cath.; 24. Anderson Grover, WR, Downey; 23. Jake Dirkse, LB, Turlock; 22. Trabron Russell, RB, Manteca; 21. Garrett Fountain, DE, Turlock; 20. Kaden Christensen, RB, Escalon; 19. Jorge Cedano, WR, Manteca; 18. Logan Foumai, OL, Patterson; 17. Zaire Eugene, RB, Modesto; 16. Isaac Sharp, RB, Hilmar; 15. Ryan Daggett, QB, Ripon; 14. Jacob DeJesus, WR, Manteca; 13. C.J. Castleman, RB, Sonora; 12. Chris Mendoza, OL, Central Cath.; 11. Javyn Drobnick, RB, Big Valley Chr.; 10. Tyler Vargas, WR, Orestimba; 9. Eric Soares, OL, Central Cath.; 8. Jake Gookin, QB, Sonora; 7. Marcello Longstreth, ATH, Gregori; 6. Xavier Carlton, DE, Modesto Chr.; 5. D'Angelo Bellamy, RB/LB, Central Catholic; 4. Bryce Peterson, WR/DB, Downey; 3. Everett Johnson, OL, Turlock; 2. Evan Bearden, DE/WR, Sonora.

Today: No. 1 Dawaiian McNeely, RB/DB, Central Catholic.

This week: 5-1.