Column: Players who left St. Bernard football team in 2021 wonder what could have been

Zacharyus Williams of Gardena Serra looks for room to run.
Zacharyus Williams of Gardena Serra was part of the 21-member freshman class at St. Bernard in 2021.
(Nick Koza)
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“The best team that never was.”

That’s the observation by those associated with the defunct St. Bernard High football program in describing the talented group of freshman players who arrived in the fall of 2020 in the middle of a pandemic and were gone less than a year later.

It was not COVID-19 that caused most of the players and their families to abandon St. Bernard. It was the demise of the football program that shut down soon after coach Manuel Douglas resigned near the end of the 2021 spring season in the midst of an FBI and IRS investigation. St. Bernard hasn’t had a team since.

“I believe we would have been at the top fighting for a Division 1 championship,” receiver Zacharyus Williams said.


Douglas had success at Narbonne — eight City Section titles — until he was forced out following a Los Angeles Unified School District investigation into player eligibility issues. St. Bernard hired him in 2020 and suddenly the school was overflowing with exceptional freshman players.

The class of 2024 wanted to do something special.

“Our team would have been very good,” running back Cincere Rhaney said.

There’s a team photo of the freshman class from that four-game spring season. Twenty-one players dressed in uniform are sitting in the bleachers, with Douglas on the top row between three players on his left and three on his right.

The truth is many of those players turned out to be stars after transferring to other schools when the program shut down.

Williams and Rhaney have become standouts at Gardena Serra. Darius Curry is the starting quarterback at Long Beach Poly and has committed to Colorado State. Linebacker Dylan Williams, another Poly student, has committed to Oregon. Terrell Bradshaw and Terrell Cooks Jr. are star receivers at Inglewood and Sierra Canyon, respectively. Kristian Dunbar-Hawkins is a defensive back at Tustin and committed to UCLA. Jason Mitchell transferred to Serra before ending up at St. John Bosco, where he is a defensive back. Linebacker Isaiah Sanders is starring for Loyola.

Douglas, in his first interview since going silent following his resignation, said, “We were starting 15 of them. All were outstanding athletes, and I’m glad they’ve landed on their feet. It’s good to see they are doing well.”

A new scoreboard and new bleachers at St. Bernard have received little use. The school has yet to restart the program. Another attempt is expected next fall.


Players who left don’t know what happened. Douglas would say only that he was “collateral damage” in his association with others and insisted his resignation had nothing to do with social media discussions of inducements for players.

Sanders said memories from that year are foggy. He remembers being inside at home a lot because of the pandemic and he suffered a concussion that limited his game and practice time in the spring of 2021. Then it was over.

“Coach, on the last game, skipped town and never seen him again,” he said.

Asked if he’ll ever return to coaching, Douglas said, “I don’t know. I thought I wanted to, but I’ve been away a long time. My son is starting middle school and I’m going to his practices and soccer games. I miss the grind and interaction with kids. I miss more helping kids getting to college more than anything. I think it’s important for me to be there with my son right now.”

Douglas went to watch Serra’s game against Warren, where Williams and Rhaney were playing. It had to bring back memories of what could have been.

The class of 2024 players are in their senior years trying to make it to college.

“As our program fell apart, we had to find a new school to bounce back,” Williams said. “We were trying to turn the program around. We had good coaches we believed in.”

Where they are now


Charlie Adams III, DL, Cathedral

Esekielu Aevanu, DL, St. Pius X-St. Matthias

Kristopher Beavers, WR, Inglewood (not playing)

Terrell Bradshaw Jr., WR, Inglewood

James Buckley, DL, Rancho Cucamonga

Luke Bush, DB, St. Bernard (not playing)

Daijon Calimon, WR, Leuzinger

Terrell Cooks Jr., RB, Sierra Canyon

Darius Curry, QB, Long Beach Poly

Khristian Dunbar-Hawkins, DB, Tustin

Dejour Menefee, RB, St. Pius X-St. Matthias

Jason Mitchell, DB, St. John Bosco

Cincere Rhaney, RB, Gardena Serra

Isaiah Sanders, LB, Loyola

Kendyl Sanders, WR, St. Bernard (not playing)

Justin Smith, RB, Loyola

Andre Taylor, DL, Los Alamitos

Dylan Williams, LB, Long Beach Poly

Jaden Williams, DB, unknown

Sylvester Williams, RB, Bishop Alemany

Zacharyus Williams, WR, Gardena Serra