Ceres High’s Verlis Smith and Celeste Leon have been named Ceres High School’s Western Athletic Conference Male and Female Scholar-Athletes of the Year, respectively, for 2021-22.
“To be chosen is a huge accomplishment,” Leon said. “It’s very exciting. I’m proud of myself. All the hard work I put in was worth it. I had to give up a lot of things to give more time to academics and sports. Those were my priorities.”
“Everybody knows me as an athlete,” Smith stated. “It feels good to be acknowledged in the scholar world. All my hard work paid off.”
Smith earned 12 varsity letters during his athletic career at Ceres High, including four in basketball, three in football and volleyball, and two in track and field.
“I’m surprised at what I accomplished,” he said.
“I’m glad I played as much sports as I did,” Smith added. “I loved it. You learn different things. I became a better athlete. I have a lot of good memories.”
Smith was an all-league performer in basketball, football and track and field senior year.
A three-year starter in football, Smith improved each season.
The standout receiver caught 36 passes for 775 yards and 14 touchdowns on his way to earning first-team all-Western Athletic Conference honors this past fall.
Smith also logged playing time at running back, quarterback and defensive back.
He rushed for 277 yards and four TDs on 35 carries.
He completed 5 of 13 passes for 117 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Smith totaled 19 tackles, three interceptions, one of which was returned 100 yards for a score, and three pass deflections at cornerback for Ceres High, which amassed a 5-6 overall record, finished fifth in the WAC standings and advanced to the section playoffs for the first time since 2004.
“Verlis was a leader,” Bulldogs’ football head coach Clinton Goblirsch said. “He was productive. He was very coachable. He did everything we asked of him.”
A four-year starter in basketball, Smith was voted Most Valuable Player of the WAC this past winter.
The standout forward/guard averaged 18.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for the Bulldogs, who compiled a 17-11 record, placed fourth in conference play and fell one win short of advancing to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Smith accepted invitations to play in the First Annual 209 Students with Aspiring Goals and 25th Six County All-Star Games.
“The other coaches saw what Verlis did for us every night,” Ceres High boys basketball leader T.J. Walker said. “I felt like he was the best player in the league. He was dynamic in what he did on both sides of the ball. He played so hard. The other guys followed him.”
Smith earned four all-WAC patches for his dominance in track and field during the springtime.
He placed first in the long jump and 100, and second in the 200 at the league finals. Smith also ran the anchor leg on the Bulldogs’ runner-up 4x100 relay team. Ceres High finished third in the standings.
A first-team, WAC South honoree in volleyball as a junior, Smith did not play the sport this year because he wanted to lessen his workload.
Smith had a cumulative GPA of 3.9 in high school.
He also worked part-time.
“I didn’t like school at all when I was younger,” said Smith, who will continue his education and football career at Colorado State-Pueblo. “The academic side is hard. When I got to high school, I realized the importance of it. It made me try harder. It motivates me to do the same thing in college.”
Leon earned six varsity letters during her athletic career with the Bulldogs, including four in basketball and two in softball.
She was a three-time first-team all-WAC selection in basketball.
Leon averaged 15.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 1.2 rebounds per game at guard for the 2021-22 Bulldogs, who compiled a 7-20 overall record and finished in sixth place in the WAC standings with a 4-10 mark.
Leon improved her 3-point shooting this past season. She buried 32 treys. She totaled just three her first three years.
“Celeste was a lot better player this year compared to last year,” said Michael Estrada Jr., who coached Leon for four seasons at Ceres High. “She took on a bigger leadership role. She helped the younger players learn the offense.”
“Coach (Estrada) was definitely the reason I progressed,” Leon said. “He was always there pushing me to work more. He was always there whenever I wanted to do any extra training. I impressed myself with how I played these last few years. I definitely gained a lot of confidence on the court. I enjoyed practicing and playing. I had a great relationship with my teammates and coach. They made it fun.”
Leon was selected to the WAC South First Team as a junior. She averaged 12.0 points, 5.3 steals, 4.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals per contest.
A first-team all-WAC pick as a sophomore, Leon averaged 7.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.4 steals per game.
She helped the Bulldogs snap their streak of six straight losing seasons in 2019-20.
Leon played in the 25th Six County All-Star Game on May 6 at Gregori High School.
Leon was a utility player on Ceres High’s softball team during her senior and junior years.
She collected four singles, three RBIs and eight runs in 30 plate appearances this past spring for the Bulldogs, who amassed a 19-9 overall record, placed second in the WAC (12-2) and qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs.
Leon had one hit, three RBIs, two runs and six walks as Ceres High finished 16-3 and first in the WAC South (15-0) in 2021.
A straight-A student since the seventh grade, Leon had a cumulative GPA of 4.2 at Ceres High. She took seven Advanced-Placement classes, including three as a senior and four junior year.
“School was always my No. 1 priority,” Leon said. “It was definitely challenging. It got difficult to balance the two (academics and athletics). It took a lot of time management and late nights.”
“I always held myself to a high standard,” she added. “I always wanted straight A’s. I hated getting B’s.”
Leon will focus on academics when she attends UC San Diego this fall.
She also received college acceptance letters from UC Davis, UC Irvine, Sacramento State, San Diego State and Long Beach State.
Leon has yet to choose a major but she’s already narrowed her career options.
“I’m definitely going to go into sports medicine or become a nurse,” she said.