Potential breakout stars in the Southland for 2021 high school football season

Niko Lopez poses and smiles in a white polo.
Tight end Niko Lopez of Santa Margarita.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

For weeks, lists have been coming out identifying top Southland high school football players for the new season that begins Thursday and Friday. Let me offer another list — projected breakout stars for 2021.

Jason Jones, Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, running back, senior. “That running back is special,” West Hills Chaminade coach Ed Croson said of Jones after seeing him in a scrimmage this week. Fast and strong, Jones will be running behind an exceptional offensive line.

Ty Dieffenbach, Agoura, quarterback, junior. A 6-foot-5 receiver moved to quarterback, he passed for 867 yards in six games last spring while learning the position on the job. His coach, former quarterback Dustin Croick, expects a big jump this fall.

Jackson Sievers, Capistrano Valley, safety/linebacker, sophomore. At 6 feet 2, Sievers comes from a family that includes a sister, Jasmine, playing softball at Oregon. Coach Sean Curtis is convinced Sievers will be a defensive standout over the next three seasons.

Jack Pedersen, Vista Murrieta, tight end, senior. Pedersen didn’t play for Vista Murrieta in the spring. He left for IMG Academy in Florida after believing there would be no high school season in California. He has returned as a UCLA commit ready to dominate. “He looks amazing,” coach Eric Peterson said.


Niko Lopez, Santa Margarita, tight end, junior. At 6-4 with basketball instincts on how to go after and secure a ball, Lopez was a summer discovery in seven-on-seven passing tournaments. Now he must transfer that potential and promise with pads on. There’s no reason he can’t become a favorite target of new quarterback Jaxon Potter.

Tomarion Harden, Inglewood, running back, senior. At 6-2, 225 pounds for a team that likes to pass, beware if Inglewood decides to settle for eight yards and a cloud of dust. The Sentinels have chosen to proceed with a much more ambitious schedule, starting with Loyola on Friday night, and Harden will be a key figure to help open the passing attack.

Jadyn Ott, Norco, running back, senior. He’s back. As a freshman, Ott was exceptional. Then he moved to Las Vegas to play for Bishop Gorman. He has returned to Norco for his senior year as a Cal commit. His running and receiving skills should help create a wide-open Norco offense.

Malachi Hannah, Simi Valley, linebacker, senior. At 6-3, 225 with improving agility and quickness. Hannah is going to be turned loose on defense. All signs point to him having a dominating season as a tackler and pass catcher as a tight end on offense.

Mikey Welsh, Servite, receiver, senior. With teams focused on stopping receiver Tetairoa McMillan, Welsh will have many opportunities to show he can make clutch receptions. He did so during the summer and there’s no reason he won’t develop into a unsung standout for the Friars.