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A rare breed: Quarterbacks who stay at the same high school for four years

A rare breed: Quarterbacks who stay at the same high school for four years
Quarterback Ryan Stevens decided to stay at Chaminade and compete for the starting job instead of transfer. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It might be appropriate to add quarterbacks who stay at the same high school for four years to the list of endangered species.

They’re a disappearing breed because few want to remain a backup until their junior or senior year. It’s the same thinking that leads to college quarterbacks switching teams.

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In the Trinity League this season, only one of the six starting quarterbacks has been at the same school since his freshman season — D.J. Uiagalelei of Bellflower St. John Bosco.

The chances of finding a starting quarterback in high school who has been at the same school for four years is slightly better than an NBA team selecting a college senior in the first round of the draft. There were two seniors taken in the first round in this year’s draft.

Not that there’s anything wrong with switching schools, but it comes down to sticktoitiveness vs. opportunity. Every parent must weigh those two conflicting ideals.

Sticktoitiveness means persistence, determination. Parents want to teach their sons not to give up and leave at the first sign of a challenge. But then what happens when you encounter opportunity? It means a favorable juncture of circumstances — the chance to start on another team.

It has become so easy to switch schools that quarterbacks can’t turn away from opportunity. Take the Trinity League quarterbacks.

Ryan Hilinski left San Juan Capistrano JSerra for Orange Lutheran after his freshman season. He was unlikely to beat out Matt Robinson, who is now at Illinois. Peter Costelli was a highly regarded freshman at St. John Bosco. He decided not to spend two more years waiting behind Uiagalelei and left for Santa Margarita. Caden Bell left Anaheim Servite for JSerra after a coaching change. Bryce Young left L.A. Cathedral for Santa Ana Mater Dei to play against top competition. Blaze McKibbin left Gardena Serra for Westlake Village Westlake before transferring to Servite.

Then you have the relatively few quarterbacks who decide to stay and compete. Front and center is Ryan Stevens of West Hills Chaminade. When he was a sophomore in 2016, highly regarded junior Brevin White checked in from Mission Hills Alemany. Virtually everyone assumed White would be Chaminade’s starting quarterback. But Stevens refused to back down.

“I knew Coach [Ed] Croson was going to give me a fair shot at winning the job and competing throughout the entire season,” Stevens said. “I didn’t win the job initially, but I had to constantly win the job each game and finally got my first start against Bishop Amat.”

Asked if he thought about leaving, Stevens said, “As a kid, football teaches you to face adversity. This was me facing adversity, staying at Chaminade and fighting through the competition. Both my parents initially wanted me to fight it out but after a while wanted me to transfer. I said I wanted to stick it through and play with the kids I’ve been playing with.”

Uiagalelei faced the possibility of not playing for two years at St. John Bosco, but his father, Dave, placed trust in his son and the coaches. Uiagalelei stayed with the Braves even though Re-al Mitchell led St. John Bosco to a championship in 2016. Last season, he beat out Mitchell by the time league play began.

“In order for you to be the best, you have to play the best and compete against the best,” Uiagalelei’s father said. “We grew up in Upland. The dream was to play for Upland. But as DJ got older and we saw his talent and ability, I wanted to put him in a situation he was going to be challenged. Why not at the best high school?”

And how did the father handle Uiagalelei not starting?

“I honestly never complained,” he said. “DJ wouldn’t let me even I wanted to. He’s always been the player, ‘Whatever Coach says. If he puts me in, he puts me in.’”

Uiagalelei’s father said he understands why Costelli left for Santa Margarita.

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"I totally understand why they did it,” he said. “Yes, he could sit behind DJ and learn, but why do it when he could leave for another Trinity League school and start? Every decision a parent makes there’s consequences. I applaud the parent for being brave enough.”

It’s also important to celebrate the quarterbacks who stuck it out for four years at the same high school. They include Hank Bachmeier of Murrieta Valley, Nathan Manning of Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley, Josh Calvert of Westlake Village Oaks Christian and Jayden Daniels of San Bernardino Cajon.

Stevens and Calvert faced off last week to produce the rarest of moments — two four-year quarterbacks on the same field.

“The funny thing is me and Josh went to eighth grade at Sierra Canyon,” Stevens said. “The entire time during the handshake I couldn’t stop smiling.”

They deserve an award for loyalty and perseverance.

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