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Prep Rally: A new No. 1 team in high school football

Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback David Clark warms up before a game in Duncanville, Texas, on August 27.
(Jerome Miron / For The Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. St. John Bosco started the football season ranked No. 1 by The Times and is 4-0, but Santa Ana Mater Dei has been so impressive in its first two games against quality opponents that the Monarchs have moved to No. 1.

Mater Dei takes over No. 1

Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown.
Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown.
(Jerome Miron/Jerome Miron)

After convincing victories over top teams from Texas and Nevada, Mater Dei has moved to the No. 1 spot in The Times’ top 25 rankings. The Monarchs are truly a complete team with strengths everywhere.

St. John Bosco remains unbeaten, but the Braves have some people worried after opening a 35-0 lead over East St. Louis last week, then having to hold on for a 42-26 victory. They travel to Virginia this weekend, so it will be a chance to regain focus and confidence.

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The team rising is Servite, which has been battering opponents. Next up is a Friday game against Sierra Canyon at Pierce College.

1. Mater Dei (2-0); defeated Henderson (Nev.) Liberty, 49-7; vs. La Mirada (at Santa Ana Stadium) Sept. 24 (2)
Comment: The Monarchs are No. 1 after an impressive win behind QB Elijah Brown (14-16, 208 yards).

2. St. John Bosco (4-0); defeated East St. Louis (Ill.), 42-26; at Chesapeake (Va.) Smith on Friday (1)
Comment: The Braves opened a 35-0 lead, then lost focus against the Flyers.

3. Servite (3-0); defeated Bishop Amat, 58-7; at Sierra Canyon (at Pierce College) on Friday (3)
Comment: Mason Graham has seven sacks in two games.

4. Corona Centennial (3-0); defeated JSerra, 48-0; vs. Long Beach Poly on Friday (4)
Comment: Notre Dame-bound CB Jaden Mickey is a 16-year-old senior.

5. Norco (3-0); idle; vs. Murrieta Valley on Friday (5)
Comment: Running back Jadyn Ott has added new dimension to the offensive attack.

A look at the top 25 high school football teams in the Southland.

Here’s the link to the week four football schedule.

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Verbum Dei rises

Verbum Dei first-year football coach Kevin Smith.
(Verbum Dei instagram)

For 18 years, Kevin Smith served as an assistant football coach at such high schools as Long Beach Poly, St. Anthony and Narbonne. Then last June, Verbum Dei offered him the job as head coach. It was last minute with no guarantee of immediate success. But Smith has learned plenty from the head coaches he trained under and look what’s happened at Verbum Dei: The team is off to a 4-0 start.

The last time Verbum Dei had a full season was 2019, when the team went 2-8. The school decided not to field a football team last spring.

Here’s a look at the team’s early season success.

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How long to rebuild?

Daniel Longoria is a senior defensive end who has helped lead Hawkins to a 3-0 record.
(Jaime Longoria)

When Harbor City Narbonne High played host to L.A. Hawkins in a nonleague City Section football game, it placed the spotlight on two programs that saw large player exoduses following eligibility scandals that left the teams in disarray.

In 2016, Hawkins was taking in transfers en masse and having head coaches from Michigan and USC hang out at practices. The Hawks went 13-1, then had to forfeit every victory because of player eligibility issues. The coaching staff was dismissed. Players abandoned the school.

In 2017, the team went 0-11. Ronald Coltress was hired as a physical education teacher from Florida and helped out as an assistant coach.

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“I didn’t know anything about California sports,” he said. “They told me all these things happened.”

Coltress became head coach in 2018, and his instructions were to teach football and make sure the players went to class. The incoming freshman class was told, “It’s not about winning on the scoreboard. It’s winning in the classroom and winning in life.”

The team went 1-9. One of the ninth-graders was Daniel Longoria. Coltress recruited him out of PE class to join the team, saying, “Hey, you got the size, man.”

“I’d never tackled anybody in my life. It was scary,” Longoria recalled. “I grew up playing soccer. Getting instructed in football was a different sport.”

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First, he learned how to put on shoulder pads. He was one of 14 junior varsity players.

Today, he’s a 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior defensive end/tight end with a 4.0 grade-point average and has three sacks for a 4-0 Hawkins team that’s made up mostly of students who grew up and live in its South Los Angeles neighborhood. Hawkins defeated Narbonne 34-0 on Friday.

The story on how Hawkins and Narbonne are trying to come back and how long it might take.

Kyle Crum rises

Kyle Crum poses for a photo.
(Luca Evans / For The Times)
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In the hills near Riverside, a few hundred yards from farmland and stables, a diamond in the rough shines on the football field from Norco High every Friday night.

His name is Kyle Crum. To those who have been watching the quarterback the last two seasons, he is a diamond in plain sight.

They describe him as a bona fide leader, captaining Norco to a win over Corona Centennial for the first time since 2009. They speak in reverence of his football IQ, spending hours watching film outside of practice hours and carrying a 4.0 GPA. They describe him as a natural improviser, unleashing an arsenal of jukes, spin moves, pump-fakes and sidearm throws.

Yet this gem of a player has yet to be truly unearthed. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound quarterback, to the bafflement of coach Chuck Chastain, hasn’t received a single college offer.

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“I really don’t know what the hang-up is,” Chastain said. “He’s about as button-up as they get, and gives you everything he’s got. So we’re a little taken aback at this point on how to help him get there … we know it’s going to happen.”

Crum has thrown for eight touchdowns against just one interception while leading Norco to a 3-0 record to start his senior season, adding four scores on the ground. Yet he’s being labeled as a mere three-star recruit, to the chagrin of trainer Murad Tolbert.

A profile of Norco’s rising quarterback prospect.

Tahj Owens gets up early

Loyola running back Tahj Owens on his way to scoring five touchdowns against Culver City.
(Brody Hannon)
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Imagine an alarm going off at 5:15 a.m. for four years since you were 13 just so you can attend a high school 45 minutes away.

“There’s once or twice I fell back to sleep,” standout running back Tahj Owens recalls about those early days commuting from Anaheim to Loyola High near downtown Los Angeles.

Now his commute is from Chino Hills, LaVar Ball territory, but there’s no going back in the Owens family. The only difference is Tahj is driving himself instead of his father, Johnnie, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy.

“Me and my family talked about it,” Tahj said. “I like to think I made the right decision.”

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The truth is whether Tahj agreed or not, he was going to Loyola. His father said the family made the decision after a judge he worked for as a bailiff told him Loyola was the best option.

“I’ll say he didn’t have much of a choice,” Johnnie Owens said. “We talked about it as a family and made the decision for him. At first he wanted to go to Mater Dei.”

At Loyola, the 16-year-old senior scored five touchdowns a week ago against Culver City while rushing for 230 yards. On Friday night against Cathedral, he had 159 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He has a 4.0 grade-point average and has flourished despite his early-morning rituals of waking up, eating a bowl of cereal, brushing his teeth, washing his face and getting into the car to make a drive whether there’s traffic or not.

Here’s his story.

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QB star of the future

Warren quarterback Nicholaus Iamaleava.
(Luca Evans / For The Times)

Someone needs to build the Great Wall of China around Downey Warren quarterback Nicholaus Iamaleava to prevent the usual suspects in college football from coming to town to try to lure him away from Southern California. In fact, his college decision in the next year will help reveal whether USC and UCLA are moving forward or backward in the recruiting game.

“He’s special,” said Warren coach Kevin Pearson, who also coached Alabama quarterback Bryce Young for two years at L.A. Cathedral.

On Friday night, the 6-foot-6 junior with a fearless pocket presence faced his most challenging test from perennial power Gardena Serra and its many top athletes. Iamaleava was intercepted on his third attempt, only his second interception in high school. That only fueled his competitiveness.

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Moving around the pocket with poise and confidence, he completed 22 of 42 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns in a 14-0 victory. The Bears reached double digits in penalties (16 for more than 150 yards) and also suffered from dropped passes.

Here’s a look at Southern California’s next great quarterback.

Football rewind

These are strange times in City Section football. Teams that haven’t been good are suddenly winning games. Teams that have been good are suddenly losing games.

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Take the case of Dymally. The school played eight-man football in 2019, going 0-10. Then David Wiltz was hired from Jefferson in the spring of 2020. On Friday night, Dymally improved to 2-0 with a 22-0 win over Gardena.

Hamilton, under former Crenshaw JV coach Norris Milton, is 4-0. Hawkins defeated eight-time City champion Narbonne 34-0 to improve to 4-0.

Chatsworth, Kennedy, Palisades and Garfield are all 4-0. Roosevelt knocked off Dorsey 30-7 and is 3-1. Birmingham, the 2019 City champion, is 0-4.

A combination of new coaches, pandemic issues and program changes has left the City Section a changed landscape — at least heading into the midpoint of the regular season.

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A look at football from this past weekend.

From the archives: Giancarlo Stanton

Sherman Oaks Notre Dame baseball coach Tom Dill with his former pupil, Giancarlo Stanton.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

It’s football season but also has me thinking about the great multisport athletes from the past.

No. 1 has to be Giancarlo Stanton, the New York Yankees slugger who was a football-basketball-baseball standout at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and All-CIF in each sport. He used to catch passes from Dayne Crist, who’d go on to play quarterback at Notre Dame.

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About the only sport skill Stanton couldn’t do well was shoot free throws. But he more than made up for his one flaw with rebounds and scoring and playing defense.

As for other great multisport athletes I’ve seen, I can go back to 1978 when John Elway was earning All-City honors in football and baseball at Granada Hills. Jack McDowell, Cy Young Award winner, played basketball and baseball at Notre Dame. Quincy Watts was a terrific basketball player at Taft before becoming an Olympic 400-meter champion. He also tried out for football at USC. Tony Gonzalez was more than a star tight end at Huntington Beach. He was also an All-CIF basketball player.

Notes . . .

St. Francis running back/defensive back Max Garrison has committed to San Diego State. … Junior baseball player Dominic Smaldino of JSerra has committed to Cal. … Loyola offensive lineman Sam Yoon has committed to UCLA. … Former Lakers guard Michael Cooper is the new basketball coach at Culver City. … Sydney Hoggard from Huntington Beach Edison announced she has committed to Oregon for lacrosse. … Servite won the Division 2 Shootout in water polo at El Toro, defeating Westlake 7-5 in the final.

Lifeguards wanted

Los Angeles County Junior Lifeguard swims back to shore after jumping off the Hermosa Beach pier
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
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The County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation is launching a program to recruit Black, Indigenous people of color ages 16 to 24 for careers in aquatics.

The Lifeguard Ready Training program will train youth ages 16 and over to become L.A. County swimming pool lifeguards.

Registration to join the Lifeguard Ready Training program began at noon last Friday. You can register at this link.

The program will be held at Belvedere Aquatic Center in East Los Angeles, Jesse Owens Park and Roosevelt Park Pools in South Los Angeles. Up to 240 participants will be chosen for the free training. There will be three six-week sessions. The first training session begins Sept. 27. Other start dates will be Nov. 8 and Jan. 3.

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Beach volleyball

Beach volleyball courts at Rolling Hills Prep. Donors John and Janine Colich (left), coach Anna Collier and AD Harvey Kitani.
Breaking ground for new beach volleyball courts at Rolling Hills Prep with donors John and Janine Colich (left), coach Anna Collier and AD Harvey Kitani.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

With two giant tractors nearby ready to start clearing dirt, John and Janine Colich officially broke ground on Wednesday for two new sand volleyball courts they are funding at Rolling Hills Prep in San Pedro that should be completed in six to eight weeks, just in time for the first-ever CIF beach volleyball season in California high school sports that begins on Feb. 12.

“I’m thrilled,” Rolling Hills Prep head of schools Amy Hollinger said. “I’m grateful for the Colichs. It’s going to be a great addition for our school. We want to lead the way.”

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Rolling Hills Prep is already leading the way in its first beach volleyball coach. Anna Collier, who guided USC to three national titles, is running the program. John Colich was a strong supporter of Collier when she was coaching at USC and recommended her to Rolling Hills Prep athletic director Harvey Kitani. Now Rolling Hills Prep is ready to hit the ground running.

Here’s a look at the project.

Girls’ volleyball

The CIF is putting out weekly state girls’ volleyball rankings. Marymount tops the first rankings at No. 1.

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Lakewood came away with the championship at the Dave Mohs tournament in Orange County, defeating Cathedral Catholic 25-22, 25-18 in the final.

Cross-country

One of the best cross-country meets of the year is scheduled for Saturday. The Woodbridge Invitational will take place Friday and Saturday at SilverLakes Sports Complex in Norco.

The top races to watch will take place Saturday night with the sweepstakes races starting at 9:34 p.m. for girls and boys. It should be an electric atmosphere to watch the top runners from Newbury Park with their first opportunity to show off the hard work they’ve put in during the summer and fall.

CIF grants hair waiver

A Burbank High girls’ volleyball player who wears beads in her dreadlocks, which is not allowed under National Federation of State High School Assn. rules, has been granted a waiver by the CIF.

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The NFHS authorizes state federations to issue waivers or reasonable accommodation of its rules, including one that forbids volleyball players from wearing beads in their hair. School officials asked the Southern Section and CIF state office for an exception.

“We’re pleased with the outcome,” Burbank principal Thomas Crowther said. “We were a little surprised, frankly, that the rule is still in existence. Having this rule brought to our attention is just a reminder we still have a lot of work to do. We felt we had to support the girls because the rule doesn’t make a lot of sense and seems discriminatory in nature.”

The NFHS has faced criticism for its national rules on hair styles in recent years involving softball and wrestling participants. Last year, a softball player in North Carolina was told to remove her beads and ended up having to cut off some of her hair to finish a game. In 2018, a wrestler in New Jersey was forced to cut his dreadlocks by a referee to participate in a match.

The NFHS said it is in the process of looking to change its rules. In the upcoming 2022 rulebook for softball, language that previously prohibited hard items to control the hair, including beads, has been removed.

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Recommendations

From the San Jose Mercury News, the story on De La Salle losing its first football game to a Northern California school in 30 years.

From ESPN, a story on former Etiwanda guard Jaylen Clark with an NIL deal as a UCLA reserve player.

Tweets you might have missed

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Until next time...

Have a question, comment or something you’d like to see in a future Prep Rally newsletter? Email me at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latsondheimer.

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