The best high school football league in America begins its weekly grind this week testing players, coaches and fans.
The six-team Trinity League might be its strongest ever from top to bottom, and league play starts Friday night with a matchup of No. 1-ranked Bellflower St. John Bosco (4-1) against No. 2 Santa Ana Mater Dei (5-0) at St. John Bosco. Tickets figure to be snapped up quickly when they go on sale Monday. Stadium capacity is 6,500.
It's Coach Jason Negro versus Coach Bruce Rollinson; quarterback Josh Rosen versus quarterback Jack Lowary; lineman Matt Katnik versus lineman Malik McMorris.
Don't be surprised if famous alumni from the two schools offer a few inspiring Tweets this week. Former Mater Dei quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Matt Leinart could face lots of Twitter competition from St. John Bosco's powerful new alumni such as Bryce Treggs (California) and Jaleel Wadood (UCLA).
The other matchups Friday aren't too shabby either: No. 7 JSerra (5-0) against No. 10 Santa Margarita (4-1) at Saddleback College and No. 5 Anaheim Servite (3-2) against No. 14 Orange Lutheran (4-1) at Orange Coast College.
All six Trinity League teams are ranked in the top 25 by The Times. Many have players who have been starters on varsity since they were sophomores. It's truly the best going against the best.
"Everybody is accomplished and everyone has gotten better, which is crazy," McMorris said.
The schools in the league keep trying to top each other, whether that means building a bigger weight room or creating a better website. Head coaches get paid six-figure salaries and are under pressure to win.
"On any given week, somebody can beat somebody in the Trinity League," Rollinson said.
St. John Bosco, however, hasn't lost a Trinity League game since Nov. 4, 2011, to Santa Margarita.
"We're hyped for them," McMorris said.
McMorris, one of the state's top shot putters and a standout defensive lineman, will be lining up against Katnik, the state's top returning shot putter and a standout offensive guard. For halftime entertainment, they could compete in the ring.
Mater Dei's strength is its offensive and defensive lines. St. John Bosco's defense was exposed against Las Vegas Bishop Gorman two weeks ago in a 34-31 loss. But that was going against a Bishop Gorman quarterback who could run and pass. Lowary doesn't scramble much for Mater Dei, and that could help the Braves.
One reason the league is so good this season is the talent at quarterback. Rosen is headed to UCLA; Servite's Travis Waller is an Oregon commit; Santa Margarita's K.J. Costello is on everyone's list of top juniors; JSerra's Nick Robinson is a three-year standout; Orange Lutheran's L.J. Northington is showing he can run and pass; Mater Dei's Lowary hasn't had a pass intercepted in five games.
One of the most intriguing teams is JSerra. The Lions have never made the Pac-5 Division playoffs, and this could be their best team.
Coaches refer to the league competition as a "gauntlet."