There were may have been flashier athletes in the Southern Athletic League — even on his team.
And yet, 6-foot-4, 260-pound offensive tackle/defensive lineman Drew Van Vliet managed to stand out above the rest.
There’s no denying the impact he made for Ripon Christian (12-1) and its milestone season that included a first 10-0 regular-season finish and a berth to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship game.
He’s the Southern Athletic League MVP.
“It’s an honor to be respected like that by other coaches,” Van Vliet said. “As a lineman, I can’t really put up numbers on offense but they notice the impact I have on the game. It’s an honor to be selected for that award.”
Van Vliet is the second Ripon Christian player to be named MVP in the Southern League. Record-setting running back Andrew Brown shared the award back in 2013.
Michael Kamps and Garrett Bryan were also picked for top honors, getting Co-Offensive Player of the Yearn and Co-Defensive Lineman of the Year, respectively. Twelve Knights in all are listed on the All-SAL first team, second team and honorable mention. Trey Ozenbaugh was named Coach of the Year.
“It just shows we put in the work in the offseason,” Van Vliet said. “We have good athletes and players, but we have guys who dedicate time to the team. We worked on getting bigger, stronger, faster and it showed on the football field. We had a lot of guys who stood out all year long.”
Van Vliet was an anchor for one of the stingiest defensive units in the section. The Knights gave up only 71 points in their first 12 contests until Hilmar nearly doubled that in the section championship in a lopsided 57-14 win.
Van Vliet finished with 103 tackles (29.5 for losses, a team-high), 11 sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. He also starred at left tackle for on offense that rushed for 212.5 rushing yards and 142.2 passing per game.
Kamps totaled more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage (1,632 rushing, 429 receiving), and his 36 touchdowns is third most in the SJS, according to MaxPreps. Kamps, a third-year varsity starter, shares the Offensive Player of the Year award with Orestimba’s Tyler Vargas, one of the section’s most prolific pass catchers with 87 receptions for 1,458 yards and 20 TDs.
Bryan and Denair’s Scott Badal are Co-Defensive Lineman of the Year. The 6-2, 255-pound Bryan combined with Van Vliet on Ripon Christian’s stout defensive line, and he recorded 77 tackles, 2.5 sacks in his junior campaign.
Senior tight end Austin Ries (23 catches, 287 yards, three TDs), junior offensive lineman Wyatt Van Vliet, junior outside linebacker Declan Van Vuren (78 tackles, 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles) and junior defensive back Sean McGcGovern (107 tackles, four interceptions, five fumble recoveries) were named to the All-SAL first team.
Junior running back Max Steele, senior inside linebacker Dale Fisher and junior defensive back Drake Nelson made the second team. Honorable mention went to senior quarterback Cade Alger and junior receiver/defensive back Ian Vrieling.
Other major awards went to Mariposa inside linebacker Ryan Leonard (Defensive Player of the Year) and Denair’s Carlo Morales (Offensive Lineman of the Year).
The Trans-Valley League, which includes RC’s neighboring rival Ripon, has long been touted as king of small-school conferences in the region and the state. Hilmar took third behind co-champions Ripon and Modesto Christian but went on to win its second straight SJS Division VI title before capturing the CIF State Division VI-AA crown.
The SAL, however, has closed the gap in recent years. Ripon Christian stunned top-seeded Modesto Christian in the section semifinals, and the league’s other four postseason qualifiers had strong showings — runner-up Denair dominated en route to winning the state’s Division VII-AA championship, Orestimba nearly upset Western Athletic Conference tri-champion Los Banos in Division V and Waterford shocked reigning Division VII champion Rio Vista in a thrilling comeback.
“The league as a whole has improved and is competing a high level,” Van Vliet said. “People can’t overlook us anymore. We’re a good league.”