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Bryce Young won the Heisman in Alabama, but his roots are at Cathedral, Mater Dei

Mater Dei's Heisman Lane sign will need to be updated with the addition of "Bryce Young ’21."
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Bryce Young, who grew up in Pasadena, was tutored by his father Craig and played football at Santa Ana Mater Dei and Los Angeles Cathedral, won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday after performing at the highest level as a quarterback for Alabama.

He becomes the third Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Mater Dei, joining John Huarte in 1964 and Matt Leinart in 2004. The school has a Heisman Lane, so the sign will have to be updated.

Young, a sophomore, passed for 4,322 yards and 43 touchdowns this season, leading the top-ranked Crimson Tide to the Southeastern Conference championship and the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff. The Tide will face No. 4 Cincinnati on Dec. 31 at the Cotton Bowl.

“For me, I’ve always been someone who’s been labeled as not the prototype,” Young said during his acceptance speech. “Being an African American quarterback and being quote-unquote undersized and not being that prototype. I’ve always been ruled out and kind of doubted. People a lot of times have told me that I wasn’t going to be able to make it. And for me, it’s always been about not really proving them wrong, but proving to myself what I can accomplish.”

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Lincoln Riley and USC have no connection to the 2021 Heisman Trophy finalists. That should strengthen their resolve to keep the best quarterbacks in L.A.

Young was not the only Southland native named a Heisman finalist. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud starred at Rancho Cucamonga High. Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, the distant runner-up, and Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett were the other finalists invited to the award ceremony in New York.

During his freshman and sophomore seasons, before he transferred to Mater Dei, the signs of Young’s unique qualities as an athlete and a person could be seen at Cathedral by coach Kevin Pearson and Brother John Montgomery, the principal.

Pearson, now the coach at Downey Warren, was in New York on Saturday for the announcement. He’s that close to the family.

Bryce Young warms up for Mater Dei during a summer passing tournament in 2019.
(Mark Boster / For The Times)
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young poses for a photograph after winning the Heisman Trophy.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young strikes a pose after winning the Heisman Trophy on Saturday.
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

“I’m so happy for him and his family,” Pearson said. “I told you as an eighth grader he was a special kid and different from everyone else.”

When Young arrived as a freshman at Cathedral, he had to share playing time with a senior quarterback who was a four-year starter. That he and his family had no objections showed Young’s humility and willingness to be a team player. Those early games also showed how strong an arm he had and, despite being 5 feet 11, he would master his position.

“He’s had to overcome his size,” Pearson said. “I had so many coaches tell me, ‘We’re going to wait to see how he grows.’ He had a lot of good early offers. They didn’t care. Others are kicking themselves. Bryce has changed the perception how you look at size. Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield are smaller guys and were breaking that mold. Bryce is going to cement that.”

Cathedral’s principal recalled a story about Young’s off-the-field character.

“While his classmates departed for Catalina Island Friday morning for a weekend freshman honors biology field trip, Bryce stayed behind to quarterback his Friday night football game but took a separate ferry out to Catalina first thing Saturday morning to join his classmates and complete his class assignment,” Montgomery wrote in an email. “Managing all aspects of being a student-athlete was a credit to him and our football program.

“Bryce always let his performance on the football field speak for himself. I remember hearing football fans rave about him being a ‘five-star athlete.’ When I spoke to him he never mentioned it. I found him a breath of fresh air on many levels.”

Young transferred to Mater Dei for his junior season in 2018, wanting to test himself against the best teams and players in Southern California. He immediately led the Monarchs to the Southern Section Division 1 championship and a CIF Open Division bowl victory. The team went 14-1 and Young completed 70% of his passes, throwing for 3,866 yards and 39 touchdowns.

He was committed to USC but changed to Alabama during his senior season in 2019, when he was The Times’ player of the year. Coach Bruce Rollinson said that season that Young would go down “as the greatest quarterback” in Mater Dei history.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young runs the ball against Tennessee on Oct. 23.
(Associated Press)

Pearson said Alabama’s offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien, recently visited him on a recruiting trip.

“He said the smartest player he coached was Tom Brady and Bryce is right there with him,” Pearson said. “College coaches are now going to look for Bryce Youngs. He’s so special in everything. He’s just a different talent in all ways.”


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