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Storylines for the high school football season

Newbury Park's Brady Smigiel runs on the football field.
Quarterback Brady Smigiel of Newbury Park projects as an impact freshman in Southern California football.
(Marvin Jimenez)

As the 2022 high school football season begins this week, let’s examine some intriguing storylines:

Are there any teams capable of upsetting Bellflower St. John Bosco or Santa Ana Mater Dei during their inevitable path to meeting for a Southern Section Division 1 championship?

Probably not. Anaheim Servite needed four years of developing players to knock off the Braves in last year’s semifinals. Los Alamitos will try to be this season’s Servite, but the Griffins will need a lot more defensive effort to come close. Corona Centennial and Mission Viejo are other schools with possible opportunities because of strong quarterback play and good defensive lines.

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Are there any signs the CIF is going to crack down on schools bringing in transfer students en masse?

No. It’s the reason top schools no longer have rebuilding years after graduating numerous seniors. It’s called reloading with transfers. The City Section does set up a meeting with schools with multiple transfers, a lesson learned from the days Hawkins and Narbonne ended up with ineligible players.

Will new league alignments provide excitement?

Yes. The Big VIII and Southwestern Leagues merged, allowing Corona Centennial to get a little more competition with matchups against Vista Murrieta and Murrieta Valley besides Norco. Chatsworth Sierra Canyon joins the Mission League, and that will create some big-time Friday night games against Gardena Serra, La Puente Bishop Amat and West Hills Chaminade, among others.

Will lower-level programs make a comeback?

Uncertain. COVID-19 wreaked havoc on freshman and junior varsity programs, particularly for public schools. Rebuilding those programs will be key to building up varsity roster numbers in the future. Coaches need to hire enthusiastic lower-level coaches who can find students willing to take a second look at playing football. The future of the sport is dependent on attracting players who want to have fun first and see a college scholarship second.

Which is the strongest position this season?

Defensive backs are plentiful both in quality and quantity. Gardena Serra starts out with the imposing cornerback duo of state 100 track champion Rodrick Pleasant and top junior Dakoda Fields. St. John Bosco has so many defensive backs that the second stringers could start for any team. There’s also Daylen Austin (Louisiana State commit) of Long Beach Poly, Maliki Crawford (USC) of Oxnard Pacifica, with the list going on and on.

Does the City Section have talent?

Yes. For those handlers telling students to abandon the City Section because they won’t get exposure or recruited, let’s present the cases of Dijon Stanley of Granada Hills and Nick Fernandez of San Pedro. Stanley is a running back committed to Utah; Fernandez is a tight end with more than 15 offers. Each relishes the opportunity to show there’s talented, dedicated athletes in the City Section.

Are COVID-19 disruptions over?

No. Coaches better be on full alert and intelligent on where to hold meetings to prevent any outbreaks that could force players or teams to miss games, especially when cooler temperatures come. Safety remains the No. 1 priority at schools (and preventing lawsuits).

Can Mater Dei move on from last season’s off-the-field debacle?

It has been more than eight months since Mater Dei hired a law firm to conduct a campus-wide safety assessment after a former football player filed a lawsuit alleging a culture of hazing in the program. The Diocese of Orange has not released any details of the assessment. “It is still in progress,” a Diocese spokesman said earlier this month. If the school wants people to move on, the results of that report are important. Until then, all unanswered questions remain front and center for another season.

Can public schools surprise the private schools?

Not in Division 1, but there’s opportunities elsewhere. Oxnard Pacifica, Downey Warren, San Juan Hills, Corona del Mar and Pasadena all have teams capable of winning division championships.

Which freshmen will make an impact?

Start with 6-foot-4 quarterback Brady Smigiel of Newbury Park. He’s the real deal. There’s also defensive end Dutch Horisk of St. John Bosco, cornerback Brandon Lockhart of Los Angeles Loyola and cornerback Davon Benjamin of Westlake Village Oaks Christian.


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