Column: Let the debate begin: Will this game show the best of high school sports or everything wrong with them?

Bru McCoy of Mater Dei is congratulated by a leaping Chris Parks during last year’s Division 1 final. McCoy faces IMG Academy on Friday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

There are two ways to look at Friday’s football game between Santa Ana Mater Dei and Florida-based IMG Academy at Santa Ana Stadium.

Much depends on your age, your like or dislike of social media and what you see as the mission of high school sports.

There’s the group that can’t wait to embrace the matchup. It’s the TV people from Prime Ticket who get to talk about five-star recruits and two great teams. It’s the fans who love to gossip about college football recruiting. It’s the players who enjoy seeing the best vs. best. It’s the fans who want to debate East Coast vs. West Coast. It’s the college recruiters who get to watch video of top players testing themselves against top players.


Then there’s the group who views the game as everything that’s wrong with high school sports. It’s two all-star teams built with transfer students who legally moved to join successful programs. It’s two teams that place an emphasis on winning over community representation. It’s two teams embracing the trend of trying to be like college programs.

Gardena Serra coach Scott Altenberg has called Mater Dei “IMG West” and suggested the two teams can exchange players after the game depending on their needs.

This game is going to be so much fun, though some might have trouble picking a side for which to root.

Mater Dei has at least 10 players on this year’s roster who changed residences to become eligible immediately following the Monarchs’ 15-0 season last fall. The Monarchs’ star quarterback, USC-bound Bryce Young, was 16 of 16 passing for 348 yards and four touchdowns in a half of action against Stockton St. Mary’s. He came from L.A. Cathedral to replace JT Daniels, who graduated a year early to become the starting quarterback at USC.

One of those new players has since been declared ineligible and caused Mater Dei to forfeit a season-opening victory because the school determined he had exhausted his eight semesters of sports eligibility.

IMG, based in Bradenton, Fla., doesn’t hide the fact it’s a sports academy with a business model focused on preparing players for college and beyond. There are two IMG teams, with players from 28 states and six countries. Quarterback David Baldwin-Griffin and receiver Josh Delgado arrived this year from Upland and Bellflower St. John Bosco, respectively.


The team isn’t eligible for Florida’s state playoffs but travels around the country for games. Starting next season, California teams will no longer be allowed to play IMG because of a new CIF rule that bans teams from playing opponents ineligible for state playoffs. The CIF wants teams to face opponents playing by the same rules.

Mater Dei’s defense has recorded three consecutive shutouts. Its secondary is second to none. Every secondary starter will be playing college football one day. Standout two-way starter Bru McCoy, who has been at Mater Dei for four years, has caught six touchdown passes and recorded five sacks in four games.

IMG has running back Trey Sanders, considered by some the best at his position. Defensive end Nolan Smith, who has committed to Georgia, has 4 1/2 sacks in three games.

The game will be shown on Prime Ticket and Fox Sports Florida. It will be streamed live on the Fox Sports GO app.

So sit back and enjoy the competition. You can either roll your eyes in disbelief or applaud loudly in appreciation. On display will be either the greatness of high school sports or everything wrong with them. It all depends on your point of view.


Twitter: @latsondheimer