James Burns: And the top person in Merced-area sports for 2009 is...

James Burns

We gave you a taste on Saturday, a small sample of the Top 50 People in Sports for 2009.

You've waited patiently, and now it's here: The final 25 movers and shakers -- the ones who will ultimately shape our sports conversations over the next 12 months -- including the No. 1 sports personality.

Here's a hint: Numero Uno is really, really good.

25 Deja Mann: You know you've got serious skills when a Pac-10 school (Arizona State) is willing to pay in full for potential and two rebuilt anterior cruciate ligaments.

The Merced girls basketball player has both.

24 Dr. Cedric Dempsey: The man charged with bringing intercollegiate sports to UC Merced.

23 John Sykes: The Golden Valley star's transition to point guard makes him a difficult matchup for high school teams -- and an intriguing college prospect.

22 Logan Todd: His decision to concentrate on baseball at Merced College -- instead of football -- could have a big payoff.

Rumor has it that Todd's hitting 90 mph on the gun and drawing interest from Fresno State.

21 Bob Valladao: Has revived an Atwater football program by blending old-school traditions with fresh, young talent.

20 Chris Pedretti: The Merced College baseball coach continues to provide a springboard for local talent looking to move on.

19 Marcus Knott: 2009 might be his best shot at getting the Merced boys basketball team to Arco Arena -- the site of the SJS title games.

18 Keith Hunter: A master motivator and tactician, Hunter has his Golden Valley boys basketball team poised for a CCC title run.

17 Brett Mooneyham: How will his blazing fastball and prototypical frame translate at the next level? Stanford's hope: Well.

16 Kevin Swartwood: The Buhach Colony football coach has waited patiently for this upcoming junior class. With the athletes in place, can his Fly offense finally take flight in the CCC? Or will it be another crash-and-burn season for BC?

15 Bernard Bolden: The do-it-all star for Merced's football team should make a fine addition to any football team. Where he goes, however, is anyone's guess. We've heard Utah State. Junior college also appears to be an option.

14 John Henson: Football practice in Chowchilla starts this month. Henson's already got his practice shorts pressed and ironed, whistle shined.

13 Erik Martin: The Los Banos quarterback enters 2009 with lofty expectations.

12 Corey Chapman: The Buhach Colony running back was the early surprise of 2008. And then...

He was gone, sidelined with a shoulder injury. If Chapman returns to the field, mark my words: He will be the best player in the CCC.

11 Allen Huddleston: UOP insiders and alumni say the signing of the Merced basketball star is among the biggest the Stockton university has made.


10 Dennis Stubbs: He needed just one year to make the Los Banos football team believe, and two to get them back to the playoffs. Will Year 3 bring a league title?

9 Justin Carter: An unfortunate accident ended his Olympic Trials experience before it ever began. Carter is swimming again, which means Sac-Joaquin Section records are officially on notice.

8 Jarrett Sparks: Cal won another bowl game in 2008, but it wasn't because the Golden Bears were torching defenses with the pass.

Quite the opposite, actually.

Sparks, a redshirt wide receiver last fall, could be part of the solution in 2009.

7 Jon Betschart: For Golden Valley's football coach, success may not hinge on talent -- but on numbers. It's hard to compete in the CCC when you carry so few players.

6 Eric Baker: The Buhach Colony senior plans to return to school this month after an October diving accident left him a complex quadriplegic.

5 Cristian Alvarez: The Merced junior can't possibly top 2008...

Can he?

Alvarez was named to the under-17 U.S. national team, spent half a year at the IMG Academy and then came back to lead Merced to its first SJS Division I title.

4 Dylan Floro: The Buhach Colony fireballer has signed with Cal State Fullerton, but methinks his next stop will come with a hefty signing bonus.

By then, of course, we'll need to go through is agent to talk to him.

3 Scott Scambray: The Merced Union High School District superintendent has vowed to protect sports and other after-school activities from looming budget cuts.

Let's hope his word isn't tested by the folks in Sacramento.

2 Rob Scheidt: The Merced football coach has built the program into a section heavyweight, but he'll face his toughest challenges in 2009: replacing four Division-I caliber players and four assistant coaches, including right-hand man Jake Messina (No. 42).

1 Brian Fuentes: The relief pitcher just signed a two-year, $17.5 million deal with the Angels. That means Fuentes is now the closer -- the very last line of defense -- for a team that should rule the AL West and contend for a World Series crown in 2009.

When you talk about pressure, expectation, promise and hype...

It doesn't get much bigger than that. Just one question remains: Can Fuentes handle the hot seat?

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at

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