Nicholaus Iamaleava leads Warren past Gardena Serra

Warren quarterback Nicholaus Iamaleava throws under pressure.
Warren quarterback Nicholaus Iamaleava throws under pressure from two Serra defenders on Friday night.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles 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.


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.

Serra’s offense went into turmoil when Texas-bound quarterback Maalik Murphy suffered a possible collarbone injury in the second quarter and didn’t return. Serra dropped to 1-3 and has lost several key players to injury, including one of the fastest players in California, cornerback Rodrick Pleasant, who is still sidelined by a season-opening ankle injury.

Warren held a 14-0 halftime lead on a 64-yard touchdown catch by Joshua Johnson on a flanker screen and an 11-yard touchdown reception by Jordan Anderson.

What’s extraordinary about Iamaleava is that he has barely learned the position but, in eight varsity games in two seasons, he has 37 touchdown passes with two interceptions. Not bad for an all-around athlete who’s also considered one of best volleyball recruits.

“I feel great,” he said. “I feel like I get better every week. I think our coaches do a great job preparing us for those moments.”

Serra running back Troy Crozier tries to evade a tackle by Warren cornerback Connish Jaylon.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

He has the size to peer around the field and fire precision passes. He looks as comfortable releasing the ball early or waiting and using his arm strength and vision to pick up a secondary target. And he has the legs to create something out of nothing.

Warren was 4-0 last spring with Iamaleava in his first season as a high school starter, and the Bears are 4-0 this fall. Serra has Murphy, the latest in a growing list of top quarterback prospects choosing to leave the state, joining the likes of Young, DJ Uiagalelei (Clemson), JT Daniels (Georgia), CJ Stroud (Ohio State), Matt Corral (Mississippi) and Jayden Daniels (Arizona State), among others.

To keep Iamaleava from leaving, USC and UCLA will have to make strong pitches that they can help him grow as a quarterback on and off the field. USC coach Clay Helton and UCLA quarterbacks coach Ryan Gunderson were at Friday’s game.

Serra coach Scott Altenberg, who has sent a series of quarterbacks to colleges since 2008, said, “He’s got a lot of pocket courage.”

He escaped for a 22-yard scramble in the first quarter, but he’s best in making good judgments when to release the ball. He was 14-of-25 passing for 248 yards in the first half with several passes dropped. His greatest throw came at the end of the half when he was about to be tackled by two Serra defenders and found a way to release the ball for a 52-yard gain.