In the Reseda High weight room on testing day in May, 6-foot-5, 230-pound defensive end Alonzo Hall took a deep breath as he sought to raise 405 pounds above his knees.
There was clapping, encouragement and a little bit of awe from onlookers. His face was undergoing contortions. His determination to achieve his goal would not be stopped.
Lifting the weight hardly represented a major challenge when you consider what the 17-year-old senior has endured to reach this point in his life.
Raised in Norristown near Philadelphia for much of his life, he left for Southern California last year after his mother lost her battle with cancer. Then his grandmother died. His grandfather and an uncle also had died. Another uncle is in prison. He met his father once.
When his mother was ill, he stayed home to take care of her, leaving his grades in tatters during ninth and 10th grades. His older brother and sister sent him west for a new beginning.
“I had to grow up,” Hall said. “I couldn’t stay a kid. When my friends would go to parties or stay out late going to movies, having fun, I’m staying home. I would be inside taking care of my mom, making sure she had her medicine, making sure she ate, making sure she was comfortable.”
Last season was Hall’s first real season of football, and he had 22 sacks even though he was just learning the game’s fundamentals.
“He’s still super young in terms of guys who have been playing,” coach Alonso Arreola said. “His ceiling is so high and he’s come such a long way. He’s really come on strong with his footwork and hand placement. I can only imagine how much better he’ll be this year.”
He has taken makeup classes that he believes will put him on schedule to graduate in January. Whether taking summer classes or independent studies online, he’s determined to go to college and play football.
He just wants everyone to know that “the story behind the person is just as important as the stats.”
“They’ll ask to see my transcripts,” he said of college recruiters. “They’ll see it and won’t want anything to do with me not knowing why it is like that. They’ll assume I’m some kid who doesn’t like school. That’s not the case. That’s not been the case ever.”
Lori Johnson, the mother of former Reseda All-City defensive back Ja'lani Ellison, became Hall’s legal guardian.
“It seemed like he was always at my house,” Johnson said. “He fit right in. I didn’t know the trials and tribulations that come with college recruiting and high school football. There was a lot I learned with Ja’lani. I’m trying to take a different approach so that he’ll be done on time.
“He’s such a respectable kid. I broke my ankle in October and he’s been very attentive. He’s amazing.”
Hall saw how there was no guarantee Ellison was going to get a scholarship despite being a star at Reseda. Ellison finally ended up at Wyoming after securing a passing ACT score.
“It made me start to think I was a little too ambitious,” Hall said. “That I was expecting too much. But once he finally got it, it gave me more hope.”
Hall has received interest from nearly a dozen colleges and those could grow with a strong senior year and continued progress in the classroom.
“He definitely garnishes a lot of attention,” Arreola said. “I don’t think there’s a guy in our league who will be able to block him one on one.”
TOP DEFENSIVE LINEMEN TO WATCH THIS SEASON
Name; School; Ht.; Wt.; Yr.; Comment
Cole Aubrey; St. John Bosco; 6-3; 225; Sr.; Had 15 sacks
Drake Jackson; Corona Centennial; 6-4; 260; Sr; Who dares to try to block him?
Alonzo Hall; Reseda; 6-5; 230; Sr.; Recorded 22 sacks as inexperienced junior
Dylan Hall; Antelope Valley; 6-6; 225; Sr.; Defensive end had 56 tackles
Shawn Nielsen; JSerra; 6-2; 265; Sr.; San Diego State commit causes havoc
Kayvon Thibodeaux; Oaks Christian; 6-5; 230; Sr.; Double teams are routine for All-American
Jay Toia; Grace Brethren; 6-1; 300; So.; USC commit is rising young prospect
Juice Tupua; Narbonne; 6-1; 265; Sr.; Should be one of the best in City Section
Keyon Ware-Hudson; Mater Dei; 6-2; 305; Sr.; Oregon commit returns from knee injury
Stephon Wright; Cathedral; 6-4; 260; Sr.; Big body and big impact on the line
Michael Callahan; Yorba Linda; 6-4; 250; Sr.; Has great grades and had six sacks
Jordan Berry; Narbonne, 6-3, 295, Jr.; Has size to be impact player
Travis Hansen; Paraclete; 6-1; 240; Sr.; All-CIF and also long snapper
Lance Keneley; Mission Viejo; 6-5; 220; Jr.; Ready to be turned loose
Ben Lee; Sierra Canyon; 6-1; 265; Sr.; Has been a standout
Kobe Pepe; St. John Bosco; 6-1; 270; Jr.; Capable of being impact pass rusher
Sua’ava Ponti; St. John Bosco; 6-3; 270; Sr.; Part of outstanding defensive line
Na’im Rodman; St. John Bosco; 6-3; 295; Sr.; Had 26 solo tackles in 2017
Malik Scurlock; Corona Centennial; 6-2; 255; Sr.; Very tough to get through
Jaivontrel Eavan Turner; San Fernando; 6-0; 215; Sr.; Had 11 sacks