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Young quarterbacks are plentiful in Southern California, but don’t count out the seniors

Shea Kuykendall of Long Beach Poly stands outside and smiles
Shea Kuykendall of Long Beach Poly is a rarity — a quarterback who stayed at his school for four years.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Second in a series of stories profiling top high school football players in the Southland by position.

It’s easy to be excited about the impressive skills developed by a rising group of young quarterback prospects in Southern California.

Junior Malachi Nelson of Los Alamitos, an Oklahoma commit, might be the best at any age. He has competition from junior Nicholaus Iamaleava of Downey Warren, sophomore Elijah Brown of Santa Ana Mater Dei, junior Pierce Clarkson of Bellflower St. John Bosco, junior Jaxon Potter of Santa Margarita, junior Kadin Semonza of Mission Viejo, junior Jack Jacobs of La Canada St. Francis, sophomore Bryan Wilson of Chino Hills Ayala and junior Javance Tupouata-Johnson of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. All had moments of success and showed potential during the six-week spring season.

Freshman Alonzo Esparza of Culver City is set to start at quarterback after impressive performances in summer competitions.

It means the seniors this fall must step up their game, and they appear ready for the challenge based on college options. Katin Hauser of St. John Bosco is committed to Michigan State. Noah Fifita of Anaheim Servite is headed to Arizona. Brandon Rose of Murrieta Valley has committed to Utah. Other talented seniors include Simi Valley’s Travis Throckmorton (who committed to Oregon State), Gardena Serra’s Maalik Murphy (Texas), Inglewood’s Justyn Martin (California), Valencia’s Tyler Voss (San Jose State) and Apple Valley’s Jayden Denegal (Michigan).

No position generates greater scrutiny than quarterback, and the way college quarterbacks are switching schools with the help of the transfer portal is a reminder that it is also happening at the high school level, where coaches appreciate having four-year quarterbacks but also know it’s becoming a rarity.

“There’s not many around,” Simi Valley coach Jim Benkert said of a talented quarterback playing four years at one high school.

“You see it in the college game. They don’t wait their turn anymore. I think there’s 125 quarterbacks in the portal. I think it’s the way of life now. Only one can play. They look behind them and don’t compete anymore. It’s what’s happening in high school. There’s very little home-grown kids that stay where they are. Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s not. It’s the way it is.”

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Long Beach Poly has one of those vanishing breeds in senior Shea Kuykendall, a straight-A student who told coach Stephen Barbee when he arrived as a freshman, “I’m going to be your guy for four years — no doubt.”

After playing on the freshman-sophomore team his first season, Kuykendall split time with a transfer student as a sophomore. During the past pandemic-delayed spring season, he guided the Jackrabbits to a 5-0 record. Now he faces competition from another transfer student, sophomore Darius Curry, who left Playa del Rey St. Bernard.

Kuykendall said he welcomes Curry’s arrival.

“Actually I’m really glad Darius transferred in,” Kuykendall said. “I get to teach a young guy and coach him up and he’s going to have the next two years at Poly.”

In recent years, coaches have tried to keep quarterbacks happy by alternating series. Corona Centennial won a Division 1 championship that way in 2014. St. John Bosco did it last season. But it doesn’t work unless the individuals embrace the idea of sharing time and helping each other, and it also helps that the parents buy in, too.

People should be rooting for Kuykendall’s success because he’s old school — focuses on academics, works hard, embraces competition, wants to help his school’s legacy, a team leader, does whatever the coach asks. He’s always trying to get better.

“Shea has been a consummate leader for all four years in this program, in the classroom and on the field,” Barbee said. “He is one of the top quarterbacks in Southern California and there isn’t a throw that he can’t make. “

Added Kuykendall: “There’s a lot of stress that comes with being a quarterback. There’s a lot of eyes staring down at you on the field. The most important thing is you have to have ice in your veins and focus on what you’re doing on the field.”

Wednesday: Jakob Galloway, Wilmington Banning running back

QUARTERBACKS TO WATCH

Player, School, Ht., Wt., Yr. Comment

Elijah Brown, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-2, 180, So. Guided team to 5-0 record as freshman.

Pierce Clarkson, St. John Bosco, 6-0, 205, Jr. A leader who can run and pass.

Noah Fifita, Servite, 5-10, 170, Sr. Arizona commit is exciting, prolific player.

Katin Houser, St. John Bosco, 6-3, 200, Sr. Michigan State commit is precision passer.

Nicholaus Iamaleava, Warren, 6-6, 210, Jr. Passed for 17 touchdowns in five games this spring.

Shea Kuykendall, Long Beach Poly, 6-1, 202, Sr. Poised for his best season yet.

Maalik Murphy, Gardena Serra, 6-4, 225, Sr. Texas commit has big-time talent.

Malachi Nelson, Los Alamitos, 6-3, 180, Jr. Oklahoma commit with powerful arm.

Brandon Rose, Murrieta Valley, 6-2, 195, Sr. Utah commit had 11 touchdowns, 1 interception in spring.

Travis Throckmorton, Simi Valley, 6-3, 205, Sr. Oregon State commit is rising prospect.


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