Picking county's best for 2009

He's charismatic, likable, flashy and, yes, relentlessly upbeat.

He's UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel, who quarterbacked the Bruins to a Rose Bowl victory 26 years ago and, today, seeks to return that football magic back to Westwood.

So far, his progress has been modest but promising.

Neuheisel will add a UCLA theme to the Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club as guest speaker Wednesday night at the 43rd Outstanding Athlete Awards (OAA) Dinner. The event will honor Stanislaus County's top athletes of 2009 and also will recognize others who've contributed to the valley's sports scene.

Neuheisel's UCLA teams have gone 11-14 in two seasons, but they showed a spark last fall with four wins in their last five games, including a bowl win over Temple. Better still, the Bruins' recruiting class this year was a consensus top-10 choice.

His coaching pedigree -- a career 74-44 record -- suggests more success ahead. Three of his teams at Washington and Colorado finished in the top 10, and eight overall have advanced to bowl games. Neuheisel challenged then-USC coach Pete Carroll and the Trojans' dominance in Los Angeles soon after he took the job, and that go-for-it attitude hasn't changed.

Neuheisel's appearance will spice an event-filled night. Former St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Ray Lankford, one of the best athletes in the history of both Grace Davis and Modesto Junior College, will be inducted to the Hall of Fame.

Modesto Christian's amazing 15-0 season and run to a state football title will be recognized, and longtime coach and administrator Wayne McGhee will receive the Darell Phillips' coaches award. Also to be given is the Jay Pattee award for public service and the Tom Mellis scholarship.

Another special service award will be unveiled in memory of the late 1st Lt. Daniel B. Hyde, the Downey High three-sport star and West Point graduate who died in Iraq in March of 2009.

Tickets for the dinner cost $30 for adults and $25 for students. Call 578-5801. By category, the finalists are:

Open Women Finalists

ERICA CRAIN (water polo) -- Crain, a sophomore at Modesto Junior College, earned JC All-America honors by scoring 65 goals with 21 assists and 32 steals. She led the Pirates to an 18-5 record, a third in NorCal and their first appearance at State in 10 years.

MARISSA DREWREY (softball) -- Drewrey, a Cal senior and from Oakdale and a frequent OAA finalist, went 21-10 with a 2.24 ERA and keyed the Golden Bears' run to the NCAA Super Regional. She was ranked third in the Pac-10 with 241 strikeouts.

TIARE JENNINGS (softball) -- Jennings, a New Mexico State sophomore and a graduate of Pitman, became the first freshman in school historyto nearly All-Region honors. She led the Aggies in four offensive coordinators.

Open Men Finalists

KASEY BURLINGHAM (track & field) -- Burlingham, a Cal State Stanislaus senior from Alta, pole-vaulted a school record 17-8½ last spring and became the Warriors' first NCAA champion in any sport since 2005.

GERMAN FERNANDEZ (track & field) -- Fernandez, an Oklahoma State sophomore from Riverbank, won the NCAA 1,500 meters and became OSU's first individual champion in 23 years and the school's athlete of the year.

COLIN KAEPERNICK (football) -- Kaepernick, a Nevada junior and a Pitman graduate, passed for 1,875 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for 1,160 yards and 16 touchdowns for the 8-5 Wolfpack.

High School Girls

TAYLOR HANSON (water polo) -- Hanson, a Johansen senior, earned All-Sac Joaquin Section honors after scoring 87 goals last season and 210 for her career.

McKENZY HARDEN (tennis) -- Harden, a Ceres senior, went 44-1 last fall with her only loss coming in the Section semifinals against the eventual champion. She was 161-9 for her career.

BRANDI HENTON (basketball) -- Henton, a Modesto Christian senior, averaged 15.8 points a game to lead the Crusaders to a 27-8 record and Section and Northern California titles.

JODE JOHNSON (softball, basketball) -- Johnson, a Ceres senior, batted .430 and was the Valley Oak League's MVP. In basketball, she averaged 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds. She was all-district in both sports.

SHAWNEE MARTINEZ (golf) -- Martinez, a sophomore at Enochs, was the area's top golfer last fall and shot a 1-under-par 71 at Spanos Park to earn co-medalist honors at the Section Championship.

High School Boys

ISAIAH BURSE (football, basketball) -- Burse, the Crusaders' do-it-all quarterback, carried MC to the CIF State small-schools title game where it beat Parker of San Diego 44-40. The Fresno State-bound senior was named All-State.

BILLY FLAMION (baseball, football) -- Flamion, a Central Catholic junior, led the section with 13 wins on the mound and also batted .446 as the Raiders won a section title. In football, he caught 34 passes for 588 yards and eight touchdowns.

MATT GALAS (wrestling, football) -- Galas, a Central Catholic senior, was the section's heavyweight champion and placed seventh in the state. Last fall, the Nevada-bound Galas anchored both the offensive and defensive lines before he incurred an injury during the playoffs.

JUSTIN JONES (baseball) -- Jones, a freshman at Cal, finished his career at Oakdale in stytle. He went 10-0 with 0.42 ERA and struck out 118 in 66 innings. He also batted .413 and led the Mustangs to the section semifinals.

JAVON KELLY (football) -- Kelly, a Downey senior playing in his first football season, set a state record with 105 regular-season receptions for 1,565 yards and a state-leading 20 touchdowns.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at or 578-2302.