Verlis Smith and Celeste Leon have joined an elite club.
Smith and Leon were named Ceres High School’s Bulldog Male and Female Athletes of the Year, respectively, this past month.
“It’s an honor,” Smith said. “I’m blessed to be in this position. Being one of the best of the best feels great. I want to thank all my coaches for believing in me and supporting me throughout high school.”
“It’s mind-blowing to me that I got it,” Leon stated. “I’m so thankful. It’s good to know my hard work didn’t go unnoticed. If it wasn’t for all the help I received along the way, I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today.”
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 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 played 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.”
“Verlis helped change the culture of our basketball program,” he added. “That will be the biggest thing we’ll miss.”
“I had a great time with all of my teams,” Smith said. “Each year, we got better. It was great playing for coach Walker. He started off as a mentor. As I got older, it became a father-son relationship. He taught me a lot of life lessons. I’m going to stay in contact with him.”
“He’s been a part of my life these last four years,” Walker stated. “He’s like a son to me. It’s awesome to see where he’s at now.”
Smith earned four all-WAC patches for his dominance in track and field during the springtime.
“I put high expectations on myself,” he said. “I took it personal every time I didn’t do my best.”
“It was fun coaching Verlis and watching him compete,” Ceres High leader Brett Johnson said. “He did everything in his power to win.”
Smith 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.
Smith advanced to the Masters in the 100 and long jump after turning in standout performances at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Championships, staged May 11 and 13 at Weston Ranch High School.
He took second in the 100 (11.09), fourth in the long jump (20-111/2) and seventh in the 200 (23.72) at Divisionals.
Smith set a personal record in the 100.
Smith finished first in the long jump (21-061/4) and 100 (11.13), and second in the 200 (23.21) at the Western Athletic Conference Championships on May 5 at Mountain House.
He set personal records in the long jump and 100.
Smith claimed individual titles in both the 100 (11.41) and 200 (22.97) at the Stanislaus County Championship Meet on March 18 at Riverbank High School. He set a personal record in the 200.
Smith was first in the 200 (23.59) at the Tiger Rustbuster Track Invitational on Feb. 25 at Patterson Community Stadium.
A newcomer to track and field as a junior, Smith set personal records on his was to sweeping the 100 (11.25) and 200 (23.00) during the WAC Finals. He was seeded second in the 100 and fifth in the 200.
“I’m proud of myself,” Smith said. “I challenged myself in a new sport. I had fun. I surprised myself a lot. I didn’t know how fast I was until I did track.”
A first-team, WAC South honoree in volleyball as a junior, Smith did not play the sport this spring because he wanted to lessen his workload.
“Coach (Darlene) Tobler was one of my favorite coaches,” Smith said. “She made the sport fun. She helped me advance my skills.”
Smith had a cumulative GPA of 3.927 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 at Ceres High, including four in basketball and two in softball.
“I’m satisfied with my sports career,” Leon said. “I surprised myself with how far I went.”
Leon was a three-time first-team all-WAC selection in basketball.
“I made basketball my priority in high school,” she said. “My confidence as a player changed. I fell in love with the sport. I put in at least twice as many hours my last two years. I had to push myself. I didn’t want to go backwards.”
“My teammates made it super enjoyable,” Leon added. “Every time I stepped on the court, I knew they had my back.”
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.
“I impressed myself with how I played these last few years,” Leon said. “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 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.
“It was an amazing experience to make it to playoffs senior year and win a league title junior year,” she said.
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.”
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.