Column: Freshmen are making a difference in varsity football across the Southland

Freshman quarterback Ryan Rakowski makes a pass from the pocket during a game earlier this season.
Freshman quarterback Ryan Rakowski has helped lead Palos Verdes to a 6-0 record.
(Steve Galluzzo)

With class of 2027 members wearing numbers such as No. 99 and No. 7 made famous by some of the NFL’s greatest players, expectations have been high for freshmen this high school football season.

Several have gotten the chance to be immediate varsity contributors, starting from the first snap. Others have been gaining experience in preparation for being called upon with growing roles in league action.

Here’s a look at freshmen being heard from at the varsity level this season:

  • Richard Wesley, Sierra Canyon: The defensive end started off with three sacks each in games against JSerra and Oaks Christian, serving notice he was no ordinary freshman. Sierra Canyon is 6-0 and opponents know whom they must deal with.
  • Ryan Rakowski, Palos Verdes: Rakowski has guided Palos Verdes to a 6-0 start as the quarterback, showing poise and maturity beyond his years. He was 11-of-11 passing for 233 yards and four touchdowns in a league opener Friday against unbeaten Santa Monica. Coach Guy Gardner said he’s impressed with Rakowski’s competitiveness.
  • Isaiah Leilua, Servite: He’s the second-leading tackler for the Friars and the linebacker figures to keep improving as he gains experience in the grueling Trinity League.
  • Devin Del Toro, Chatsworth: A running back, receiver and linebacker, the versatile Del Toro made an immediate impact.
  • Julius Johnson, Long Beach Poly: He returned an interception for a touchdown against Lakewood and keeps getting tested while learning on the job.
  • Chris Flores, Orange Lutheran: Caught a touchdown pass against JSerra.
  • Khalil Terry, Tustin: He’s a safety who had six solo tackles in a game last month against Foothill.
  • Duvay Williams, Gardena Serra: Playing receiver and defensive back, he has future stardom written all over him.
  • Brady Edmunds, Huntington Beach: He has surpassed 1,000 yards passing in six games as a starter for the Oilers.
  • Daniel Mielke, Bonita: He has thrown 12 touchdowns for the 5-1 Bearcats.
  • Bradley Cassier, St. Monica: He’s 6 feet 3 and keeps delivering top performances at quarterback.
  • Kelton Strickland, Warren: The running back had 242 yards rushing against Culver City.
  • Chuck Roberts, Bishop Alemany: He’s a safety and receiver getting lets of opportunities to contribute.
  • Michael O’Dell, Wilmington Banning: He has four interceptions as a defensive back and also is a promising receiver.
  • Havon Finney, Sierra Canyon: All he does is keep making plays at defensive back against top competition.

    There are neighborhood teams with good players. You just need to go out and find them.

Take the case of 6-0 Moorpark. Offensive lineman Cole McGovern, 6 feet 4 and 275 pounds, keeps delivering big blocks. Junior defensive back Jayden Gray keeps welcoming receivers to test him and they fail.

Carson Moore of Palos Verdes drops a Santa Monica ballcarrier.
(Nick Koza)

At 6-0 Palos Verdes, 6-4, 225-pound lineman Carson Moore is nearing six sacks as a two-way performer. Opponents who lack respect for him find out the hard way that he’s tough to block.

As for underrated, go watch Mater Dei’s 6-4, 265-pound defensive lineman Zeus Venegas. Servite tried to double-team him and he still got through to record a sack. He made big plays against St. John Bosco last season as a junior.

Two old-fashion linebackers making tackle after tackle are the San Juan Hills duo of junior Weston Port and senior Jake Javorsky. San Juan Hills is 7-0 after starting 0-7 last season.

Sophomore quarterback Isaiah Arriaza of Damien has led his team to a 7-0 record with 20 touchdown passes.

Gardena is probably the surprise team in the City Section with a 7-0 record after defeating San Pedro for the first time since 2004.