“Monarch Na-tionnnn,” Bruce Rollinson howled in his usual deep, raspy voice over the public address system at Cerritos College late Saturday night while holding the CIF Open Division football state championship trophy surrounded by his players after Santa Ana Mater Dei’s 35-21 triumph over Concord De La Salle.
It was Mater Dei’s second consecutive Open Division state bowl victory, and for those who have followed Rollinson’s 30-year tenure as head coach, it was a reminder of how the Monarchs have become relevant again.
It’s hard to believe but Mater Dei went from 2000 through the 2016 season without winning a Southern Section championship. The fact Rollinson was able to keep his job at a school that expects championships seemingly every season in every sport was a surprise.
He eventually adopted the successful model employed by Trinity League rival Bellflower St. John Bosco — youth football outreach, embrace social media, welcome newcomers from the Inland Empire and elsewhere — and suddenly the Monarchs are riding high.
Mater Dei has always had a great coaching staff — offensive coordinator Dave Money and defensive coordinator Eric Johnson would be in a Hall of Fame for assistant coaches. Now the talent is back and overflowing.
An example of how much depth the Monarchs have accumulated could be seen by taking note on Saturday night of who wasn’t playing. In street clothes were defensive backs Elias Ricks (unspecified reason), William Nimmo (injury) and Jeremiah Criddell (unspecified reason), all top college prospects. Yet the secondary hardly missed them. Freshman Joshua Hunter and juniors Moses Sepulona and Darion Green-Warren went about business as if they were the players to watch. And they will be for 2019.
This Mater Dei championship streak has not run its course. The Monarchs’ top tackler on Saturday, linebacker Raesjon Davis, is a sophomore. Their standout quarterback who passed for 296 yards and two touchdowns, Bryce Young, is a junior. The standout blocker who took on any and all rushers, 315-pound Tautai Marks, is a junior. So is Myles Murao, a lineman who missed the game because of a season-ending injury.
The Monarchs will need to find a couple of replacements for top graduating seniors. Receiver Bru McCoy caught seven passes for 116 yards and one touchdown. He’s the No. 1 uncommitted senior in California. Tight end Michael Martinez came on strong in the postseason and had six catches for 87 yards against De La Salle. Running back Shakobe Harper’s last high school game was one of his best. He rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns.
Prepare for more player movement to and from Mater Dei. These days it happens at the semester break so transfers do not miss spring practice.
Rollinson has 298 career coaching victories, according to CalHiSports, which keeps state records. He’ll face another challenge from St. John Bosco, which won the Trinity League title by defeating the Monarchs 41-18 in the regular season but lost 17-13 to Mater Dei in the Southern Section Division 1 final.
“It’s a long year, 15 games, 20 weeks,” Rollinson said during the postgame interview on Spectrum Channel 1. “These kids hung with us. They believed in us. We got it done when we had to get it done.”