Prep Rally: Top three are clear, who has the fourth-best high school football team?

Los Alamitos quarterback Malachi Nelson rolls away from Santa Margarita defender.
(Craig Weston)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. The top three teams in high school football are pretty clear. Mater Dei, St. John Bosco and Corona Centennial have separated themselves. The real question is who’s No. 4?

Los Al makes move

Los Alamitos' Damian Henderson Vs. Santa Margarita.
(Craig Weston/Craig Weston)

Los Alamitos (3-2) made a jump to No. 4 in The Times’ top 25 rankings after a 69-49 win over Santa Margarita. The Griffins have two losses from out of state opponents but their challenging remaining schedule that includes Sunset League opponents Edison and Corona del Mar makes it clear if they win out, they will likely keep that No. 4 ranking.

But there’s plenty of competition for the No. 4 spot. Long Beach Poly is No. 5 with wins over Mission Viejo and Gardena Serra. The Jackrabbits have only one major test left on their regular-season schedule against Long Beach Millikan on Oct. 30.


Mission Viejo (4-1) isn’t likely to lose the rest of the way but still has a rivalry game left with San Clemente. Edison (5-0) is on a collision course to face Los Alamitos on Oct. 11. Chaminade (5-0) has a series of tough Mission League games ahead, so if the Eagles sweep those, they definitely can move into contention for No. 4.

Enjoying this newsletter?

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a Los Angeles Times subscriber.

Football rewind

Cleveland wide receiver Kory Hall catches a pass against Palisades on Sept. 16, 2022.
(Steve Galluzzo)

The City Section has undergone changes since the preseason on which teams are title contenders. Reseda Cleveland has thrust itself into the Open Division picture with a 4-0 start, including a win over Palisades last week. Here’s the story.

Eagle Rock stayed unbeaten by containing Dijon Stanley and Granada Hills. North Hollywood defeated last season’s East Valley League champion Arleta. Here’s a look at the Huskies’ top runner.

Sylmar is 3-1 after knocking off Crenshaw 31-20. The Spartans have been making steady progress under coach Evander Williams and could end up playing Kennedy for the Valley Mission League title.


Newbury Park is 5-0 behind freshman quarterback Brady Smigiel. Here’s the story. It will be 5-0 Newbury Park at 4-0 Thousand Oaks on Friday night.

Here’s the latest top 25 rankings from The Times.

Here’s the complete week five schedule.

QB with fast start

Redondo Union QB Christian Hunt has 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions this season.
(Luca Evans)

Luca Evans reports there’s been a growing buzz down at Sea Hawk Stadium ever since this summer, the return of former defensive coordinator and alum Keith Ellison as a head coach imbuing hope around the Redondo Union football program.

Of course, it helps to have their 6-foot-6 senior with a mop of fluffy brown hair and a pro’s poise under center.

In a 4-0 Redondo start (already more wins than their previous two seasons combined), senior quarterback Christian Hunt has tossed 10 touchdowns without an interception.

He had a fine season last year, but the numbers didn’t pop, completing 53% of his throws, 18 touchdowns but seven interceptions. He was too stationary at times, he said.

“Now, I think I’m able to move a little bit when I have to, and dealing with throws under pressure,” he said.

He’s born to stand in the pocket and keep eyes downfield over the line, though. He made a couple eye-popping throws Friday night, dropping back on one 3rd-and-23 and firing a deep ball to a Sea Hawk receiver that perfectly threaded the needle between two converging backs.

NIL concerns

Ineligible T.A. Cunningham (99) leads out Los Alamitos on Thursday night against Santa Margarita.
(Craig Weston)

According to court documents, the shady, unscrupulous world of trying to exploit high school athletes for their earning potential in name, image and likeness has officially arrived.

The only question now is how many victims will there be?

T.A. Cunningham, a 6-foot-6, 265-pound junior defensive lineman who left his parents in Georgia to come to Southern California in search of a better life for himself and family, is facing rough times. He’s a student at Los Alamitos High with no football, no home and no money after putting his trust in people selling NIL as a quick fix.

“These people screwed him out of his eligibility,” attorney Michael Caspino said.

All it led to was a hearing in Orange County Superior Court on Thursday that laid out the troubling story of a teenager stranded in California with dwindling options for the next year.

Cunningham has been unable to gain eligibility at Los Alamitos, with the judge declining to approve an injunction against the CIF Southern Section, the state’s governing body for most high schools in the Southland, which declared him ineligible. An undue influence investigation has been launched.

The ramifications and warning whistles are clear.

Mater Dei rejects SoFi Stadium

SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Sept. 12, 2021.
(Gary Klein / Los Angeles Times)

Is there any high school football team in America that would turn down the opportunity to play a football game at SoFi Stadium?

Santa Ana Mater Dei is apparently that team, because the Monarchs rejected a chance to play their Oct. 7 game against St. John Bosco at SoFi. It would have matched No. 1 against No. 2 and certainly have drawn close to 20,000 fans.

But the Monarchs announced last week they are keeping the game at Santa Ana Stadium, where tickets will surely sell out in minutes when they become available. Capacity is close to 9,000.

St. John Bosco had agreed to play at SoFi weeks ago. There was expected to be a two-year deal, with St. John Bosco giving up its home game next year. But Mater Dei rejected the offer.

Next year, St. John Bosco is likely to take up the offer.

Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson had said he had no problem switching the game if his administration agreed.

Here’s the story of the unraveling of what appeared to be a done deal.

Push begins for girls’ flag football

Excitement is growing among the 10 California Interscholastic Federation section commissioners about the possibility of starting a new sanctioned sport for girls — high school flag football.

The proposal was initiated by the Southern Section and will have a first read at its council meeting Sept. 29, followed by a first vote Jan. 31 that would send it on to the State Federated Council for a read and get other sections to endorse for a possible start in the fall of 2023.

It was discussed at a meeting of section commissioners last week in Sacramento.

Here’s the story about the push about to begin.

Sports participation declines

The first national participation survey in three years for high school sports showed a decline of 4% across the country with football participation levels also declining, according to the National Federation of State High School Assns.

The last participation survey was conducted in 2018-19. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, seasons were disrupted and the surveys halted. In this latest survey for 2020-21, there were 7,618,054 participants in high school sports, down from 7,937,491 in 2018-19. It was also the lowest participation number since 2008-09,

Boys 11-man football declined 3% from 1,006,013 to 973,792. There was an increase for 6-, 8- or 9-player football.

Here’s more about the survey.

Record broken

Sophomore Sadie Engelhardt of Ventura set a meet record at the Woodbridge Classic.
(Dylan Stewart /

There must be something in the water or around the hills in Ventura County, because the area keeps producing top cross-country runners. The latest is sophomore Sadie Engelhardt of Ventura.

While Friday night is usually reserved for high school football, top cross-country runners were at the Great Park in Irvine competing in the Woodbridge Classic.

Engelhardt put on a show, setting a meet record for girls with a time of 15:42.6 in the sweeps race. Another Ventura County athlete, Payton Godsey of Oaks Christian, wasn’t far behind, finishing second in 15:51.9.

Girls’ volleyball

Alemany's London Wijay, the CIF Division 4 Player of the Year last season
Alemany’s London Wijay, the CIF Division 4 Player of the Year last season, hopes to lead her team to Mission League success this season.
(Luca Evans / Los Angeles Times)

Bishop Alemany girls’ volleyball was a funhouse of nightmares last season.

Take a step inside, and you’d see top outside hitter London Wijay tearing her ab muscle. Continue walking, and there was Wijay getting stung by a bee, suddenly discovering she was allergic, and swelling up so much she played a match against Marlborough one-handed. Curve around a bend, and there was other outside hitter Gabi Polishuk slipping on a puddle and tearing her MCL right before playoffs.

“We all wanted to overcome these weird, freak accidents,” now-junior Polishuk said.

They did, escaping to win a Southern Section Division 4 title after starting unranked. They’ve moved up to Division III this season, and after long feeling like an underdog, have the goal to win a stacked Mission League usually dominated by teams like Marymount and Harvard-Westlake.

Then, before the season, Sierra Canyon, boasting an armada of talent including 6-foot-4 Pittsburgh commit Olivia Babcock, joined that very league. A much-needed influx of competition for the Trailblazers – but another “beast to prepare for,” as Alemany coach Morgan Wijay said, for the rest of the Mission.

“Kind of annoying, I’m not gonna lie,” Morgan Wijay said.

Alemany is quickly establishing, however, it’s not a lower-division afterthought. Most everyone on the roster is undersized. But they play with a collective chip on their shoulder, members of the team said.

Here’s the girls’ volleyball notebook and rankings.

Ivy League returns

The Ivy League returns to action his weekend, including former Chaminade kicker Jonah Lipel of Harvard.
(Harvard Athletics)

In this changing world of college football, high school recruiting and name, image and likeness deals, there’s one league and one group of schools sticking with tradition and not budging from the idea that education comes first: the Ivy League.

“You have to love football to do this,” said former West Hills Chaminade kicker Jonah Lipel, an All-Ivy League selection entering his senior year at Harvard. “Nothing is handed to you. You have to grind. It’s been tough, but I’ve had some good friends and met some amazing people.”

The Ivy League football season began this past weekend. There are several Southern California natives on rosters among Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Penn and Princeton. Most important, you don’t get to participate unless academics come first, an emphasis that keeps the Ivy League unique.

Here’s the report.

Notes . . .

Former Reseda Cleveland baseball coach Sid Lopez has been hired to be the pitching coach at Cal State Los Angeles. . . .

Junior pitcher Sam Burgess of Corona has committed to TCU. . . .

Running back Aiden Ramos of Bishop Amat has committed to Cal Poly. . . .

Victoria Henkel of Redondo Union has committed to LSU for beach volleyball. She’s the daughter of Carl Henkel, an AVP pro and beach volleyball Olympian. . . .

Junior pitcher Maximo Martinez of Mira Costa has committed to USC. . . .

John Anselmo has been hired as the volleyball coach at Crespi. . . .

Sophomore Cole Strane of JSerra has committed to USC for baseball. , , ,

Garden Grove Pacifica softball player Kayli Counts has committed to Cal. . . .

Senior baseball player Dillon DeSpain of Mira Costa has committed to Long Beach State. . . .

Garfield and Roosevelt are expected to announce final plans this week for their Oct. 21 football game at the Coliseum. A halftime concert is in the making by a famous alumnus . . . .

Mater Dei won the South Coast tournament water polo championship, defeating No. 1 Newport Harbor 8-7 in the championship game. . . .

Marcus Adams, a 6-8 junior basketball player, has returned to Narbonne, where he was a promising freshman two years ago. . . .

Softball player Hailey Shuler from Sierra Canyon has committed to Duke.

From the archives: Bru McCoy

Drake London congratulates Bru McCoy of the USC Trojans after his touchdown catch.
Drake London, left, congratulates Bru McCoy of USC after his touchdown catch during a 2020 game.
(Sean M. Haffey / Associated Press)

It’s been a long journey to college football for former Santa Ana Mater Dei receiver Bru McCoy, but he seems to have finally found a home at Tennessee, where he has eight receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown in three games.

He was at USC and Texas and encountered NCAA transfer and off-the-field issues, but no one has ever doubted how good a football player he is.

In 2018, he was The Times’ high school player of the year. Here’s the story.

Here’s a story from 2017 about Mater Dei’s “fearsome foursome” receivers.


From the Los Angeles Times, a story on former Santa Margarita offensive lineman Brett Neilon, now the top center at USC.

From the Los Angeles Times, an opinion piece on the options for Stanford football.

From the Union-Tribune, a story on the San Diego Lincoln running back committed to UCLA tying section record with eight touchdowns.

From, a story on why high school baseball exists.

From the New York Times, a story on the nationwide helmet shortage.

Tweets you may have missed

Until next time...

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

Did you get this newsletter forwarded to you? To sign up and get it in your inbox, click here.