Bellarmine-Jefferson High senior running back Josh Martinez was one of the most dangerous offensive football players in the Santa Cruz League this past season.

With impressive statistics to back him up, Guards Coach David Machuca nominated Martinez for the league's player of the year honor, although the Guards finished tied for third. There was one other player who was nominated for the league's top spot, senior quarterback Jihad Vercher of Salesian

"It was a very tight vote, as the Salesian coach and myself weren't able to vote because our players were up for nomination," said Machuca, who finished his first year guiding Bell-Jeff. "Josh ended up losing, 2-1."

While Vercher — who is headed to the University of Idaho — was named the league player of the year, Martinez was a first-team selection, as seven Guards players earned all-league honors.

Martinez was joined on the first team by senior defensive end Andrew Belsito and junior free safety Noah De Corsi. Making the second team were senior center Gerardo Paz Jr., senior defensive end Ryan Okiishi, senior offensive tackle Ruben Lopez and senior all-purpose Jalen Henry.

Carrying the majority of the offensive workload for Bell-Jeff, Martinez had 237 carries for 1,813 yards (181.3 yards a game) and averaged 7.7 yards a carry. In addition, he tallied 26 rushing touchdowns. In total, Martinez chalked up nearly 2,100 total yards and had 29 touchdowns and 38 two-point conversions for a total of 250 points on the season.

He helped the Guards to a 4-7 record (2-2 in league). Bell-Jeff qualified for the CIF Southern Section Division Northeast playoffs, losing to No. 2 Rio Hondo Prep, 57-6. Rio Hondo Prep went on to win the division title, downing Mission Prep, 28-21.

It was the first time the Guards qualified for the postseason in three years.

In comparison, Vercher completed 109 of 176 passes (.619 %) for 2,128 yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran the ball 104 times for 901 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Vercher helped the Mustangs win a league championship.

"For Josh to lose out to a Division I guy is nothing to be ashamed of," Machuca said. "He's definitely a very good player and he's deserving of the honor for sure.

"But I'm very proud of what Josh was able to accomplish this season. He worked very hard and he did everything we asked him to do. But more than that, Josh's just a good kid and he's a great team player. If we would have asked Josh to go out there and be the center he would have done that."

De Corsi was a force in the secondary for the Guards, ending with 53 tackles and five interceptions. Belsito was first on the team with eight sacks.

At wide receiver, Henry had 23 catches for 580 yards and five touchdowns.

"All in all, I thought we had a good group of guys recognized for all-league," Machuca said. "We were just hoping to have a more successful season team-wise."