Column

Ja'lani Ellison's next big test will come in the classroom

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

There are times Ja’lani Ellison jukes and contorts his body in so many different directions trying to evade a tackler that he can be a human version of the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote.

At 6 feet and 165 pounds, Ellison is the focus of attention in an experiment taking place at Reseda High. He’ll either be the prime example of a teenager being rewarded for loyalty and sticking with his school for four years or end up as an example of the teenager who had great statistics but failed to land a college scholarship while playing for a small high school.

That’s what is at stake. Much will depend on Ellison, who is scheduled to take the SAT in October. No matter how well he does on the football field, the SAT will be the most important test he takes this year. It could unlock lots of opportunities, and he knows it.

“I just have to keep working and put the work in class and do whatever I have to do,” he said.

Ellison led the state with 15 interceptions last season. He might be an even better receiver with his hands and moves. But with no scholarship offers, all kinds of people will be trying to use him as an example either positively or negatively, depending on their own interests.

That’s why his coach, Alonso Arreola, has invested plenty of time in making sure Ellison has the chance to succeed. He has rewarded his player’s loyalty by alerting recruiters and putting him in position to prepare for the SAT. Ellison has a 3.2 grade-point average, so he should be an NCAA qualifier.

But with no firm scholarship offers, you can predict there will be those saying, “See, you need to go to a school with more exposure.”

Ellison, whose brother and cousin played for Arreola at Reseda, disagrees.

“You just have to work,” he said. “You don’t always have to go to the school that has 100 players and getting rings.”

He’s no slam-dunk Pac-12 prospect but certainly is a college prospect. He has quickness, moves and big-play capability.

“I think he’s one of the best in the region,” Arreola said.

Reseda students are glad Ellison is sticking with them. He helped the Regents reach the City Section Division III final last season when he scored three touchdowns in a loss to Franklin. The Regents are 2-0 this season. He knows what he has to do.

“They just tell me to keep studying,” he said. “Hopefully I can pass the SAT so I can go on to college.”

A proud coach

In many ways, Corona Centennial coach Matt Logan felt more satisfaction late Saturday night than after winning any of his 10 CIF championship games.

Yes, his team lost to Florida IMG Academy, 40-20, in San Diego, but what Logan saw was truly inspirational.

“The kids really competed,” he said Sunday morning.

All-star quarterback Tanner McKee went down with an ankle injury midway through the first quarter. The backup quarterback, Ala Mikaele, was taken off in a stretcher and put into an ambulance after a helmet-to-helmet hit during the second quarter. He would later walk out of a hospital.

Despite that adversity and facing a team made up of all-stars from 29 states and 12 countries, Centennial battled and fought and showed the kind of character needed to succeed later in the season.

Third-string quarterback Arturo Herrera completed a 45-yard pass on his first play from scrimmage, leading to a touchdown and helping Centennial cut its deficit to 24-17 at halftime.

In the third quarter, kicker Derrick Valencia made a 35-yard field goal, pulling the Huskies to within 26-20. What other team in Southern California could have stayed so close after losing its No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks?

Finally, IMG's size, speed and depth started to wear down the Huskies.

What Logan found out early in the season is that he has players who won't lose confidence or courage when the going gets tough. That should make it clear to other teams that to win a Southern Section Division 1 championship, at some point they're going to have to go through Centennial.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: latsondheimer

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