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Former Dorsey and UCLA star is back working for Rams

The Rams and four high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District -- Crenshaw, Eagle Rock, Fairfax and San Fernando -- are joining together for a pilot program that could spread to more high schools.

The Los Angeles Rams-LAUSD Academic Challenge will have the four high school football teams competing to finish the semester with the highest cumulative grade-point average.

The winning team will be given a $2,500 equipment grant from the Rams, and the players will be invited to a future Rams game.

Former Dorsey and UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin, the team’s director of community and external football affairs, will be coming to Eagle Rock on Thursday to talk to players. Rams players also could be making appearances at the four high schools.

“We’re encouraging kids to not just compete on the field but also in the classroom,” Franklin said.

The principal, assistant principal, athletic director and head coach at each school had to sign off on the program, so they are invested and accepting responsibility, along with players. The Rams will be providing academic binders for each student. Teams will be selecting five academic captains.

"I think it's awesome," Eagle Rock Coach Andy Moran said. "The players are pretty fired up. It's something to focus on other than winning. Study skills last a lifetime."

If all goes well, Franklin said the program could be expanded to more schools next season. The LAUSD picked the schools participating.

  • Football

LA36 will televise nine prep football games during the regular season, focusing on the City Section.

The games will be tape-delayed and replayed on the following week.

The games to be televised: Locke at View Park, Aug. 25; Sherman Oaks CES at Animo Robinson, Aug. 31; La Salle at Birmingham, Sept. 8; Hamilton at Taft, Sept. 22; Arleta at St. Genevieve, Sept. 22; Poly at Grant, Oct. 13; St. Anthony at St. Genevieve, Oct. 21; Poly at North Hollywood, Oct. 27; Monroe at Poly, Nov. 3.

  • Football

The Rams are starting to demonstrate their community support for Los Angeles. They will begin a prep football coach of the week competition this season, honoring two coaches each week.

The winning school's program will receive $1,000 from the Rams, plus $1,000 in products from Gatorade.

Former Dorsey and UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin is the team's director of community and external football affairs.

  • Football

Belmont and Marshall will meet for the 81st time on Friday at Belmont in a 7 p.m. City Section football opener.

The two schools used to be Northern League opponents. Now they meet in a nonleague game. Marshall leads in the series, 43-30-7, according to Marshall alumunus Pete Arbogast.

Belmont has its top running back, Isaiah Chatman. Quarterback Daniel Soto leads Marshall.

  • Basketball
LaMelo Ball, left, posing after a Chino Hills game last season.
LaMelo Ball, left, posing after a Chino Hills game last season. (Eric Sondheimer)

LaMelo Ball turns 16 on Tuesday.

With 201,000 Twitter followers and 2.4 million Instragam followers, he’s more than just a high school basketball player at Chino Hills. He’s a social media star.

Like him or despise him, everyone seems to have an opinion about him. He also happens to have a brother playing at UCLA, another brother playing for the Lakers and a father named LaVar known for speaking his mind.

LaMelo is a pretty good basketball player who’s committed to UCLA. He started for a state championship team as a 5-foot-10 freshman. He scored 92 points in a single game last season as a 6-2 sophomore.

He has grown to 6-5 and should be dunking for the first time this coming season.

“Oh yeah, he’s dunking,” new Chino Hills Coach Dennis Latimore said.

And LaMelo knows how to entertain.

He has to work harder on defense, and that will be something many will be focusing on to gauge his improvement.

“When you’re leaking guys, some call it cherry-picking. I say keep doing it if the other team isn’t stopping it,” Latimore said. “From what I’ve seen, he’s pretty scrappy. We can all improve on defense.”

The good news is that LaMelo is a “true” junior, with lots more physical growth to come. Mentally, he’s as strong as they come. He can shoot from anywhere, can pass with precision, is unselfish and embraces the attention he receives.

The big surprise from the workouts Latimore has conducted over the summer is LaMelo's cousin, Andre Ball, who will be a senior and has been slowed down by injuries the last two seasons.

“Of all the guys, I’ve been most impressed with Andre,” Latimore said. “He’s long, he’s 6-7 with a 6-10 wingspan. He can dribble, shoot it and has a great attitude. I think if he stays healthy, he’s going to be one of the most surprising players in California basketball.”

There's also going to be an emphasis on getting the ball inside to 6-9 junior Onyeka Okongwu.

So get ready for another year of entertaining Chino Hills basketball. It will be the third coach in three years, but the Huskies plan to run and gun, and with LaMelo and Onyeka leading the charge, beware.

  • Volleyball

The Southern Section has released its list of teams to watch in girls' volleyball.

In Division 1, Corona del Mar, Mater Dei, Maryrmount, Santa Margarita and Mira Costa lead the list.

Here's the link to complete breakdown of teams to watch.

  • Football

Mater Dei has been given the No. 1 spot in the first Southern Section Division 1 football coaches' poll.

St. John Bosco is No. 2 and Corona Centennial is No. 3.

In Division 2, Edison is ranked No. 1. In Division 3, Sierra Canyon is No. 1. In Division 4, Roosevelt is No. 1. In Division 5, Paraclete is No. 1.

Football recruiters for Utah won't be getting a warm welcome when they try to visit the Narbonne campus.

"We'll look at them skeptically," coach Manuel Douglas said Monday after news came out that Utah has demoted former Narbonne quarterback Troy Williams from starter to backup. Utah named sophomore Tyler Huntley as the starter.

Williams, a senior, started all 13 games for Utah last season and directed the team to wins over USC and UCLA. Douglas said Williams has already graduated and could have transferred to another school but stayed.

  • Basketball

The Southern Section is scheduled to release its basketball playoff divisions for the 2017-18 season on Sept. 29.

There also could be changes in how the Open Division is run.

There's a movement to reduce the Open Division from 16 teams to eight in boys and girls, according to Commissioner Rob Wigod.

Jared Greenfield, left, and Rayshawn Williams of Crenshaw.
Jared Greenfield, left, and Rayshawn Williams of Crenshaw. (Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

High school football is back, and this week's opening games on Thursday have plenty of intriguing matchups involving City Section vs. Southern Section.

For Thursday, start with Calabasas facing Dorsey at Agoura. Calabasas has its usual group of transfer students to help out as the program moves up to Southern Section Division 2. Dorsey, hoping to challenge Narbonne in the City's new Open Division, returns running back Charles Mincy Jr.

There are other quality City vs. Southern Section matchups. On Thursday, Crenshaw is playing South Hills at Covina District Field. On Friday, Narbonne is hosting Gardena Serra. Both are ranked in The Times' preseason top-25 rankings. Also on Friday: Alemany at San Fernando; St. Paul at Venice; El Camino Real vs. St. Bonaventure at Ventura College; Birmingham at Harvard-Westlake; Garfield at Montebello; Crespi at Sylmar.