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Reseda's Ja’lani Elison keeps cutting them off at the pass

Reseda's Ja’lani Elison keeps cutting them off at the pass
Reseda's Ja’lani Elison has returned six interceptions for touchdowns this season. (Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

There are some mind-boggling offensive numbers in high school football this season. Sophomore quarterback J.T. Daniels of Santa Ana Mater Dei has passed for 65 touchdowns. Running back Eric Melesio of Riverside Norte Vista has rushed for 4,194 yards and 53 touchdowns. Quarterback Tristan Miller of Santa Clarita Christian passed for 625 yards and receiver Jacob Moss caught 20 passes for 381 yards in a single playoff game.

Then there's this ridiculous defensive stat: Junior cornerback Ja'lani Elison of Reseda has 15 interceptions, including six returned for touchdowns.

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"It's pretty unbelievable," Coach Alonso Arreola said.

For some unknown reason, opposing schools in the City Section Division III playoffs keep challenging Elison. In three playoff games, he has six interceptions and three returned for touchdowns. On Friday night, he had three interceptions and returned two for touchdowns in a 37-0 win over Hollywood.

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"I don't know why they keep testing me," said the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Elison.

Said Arreola: "We usually put him on the other team's best guy, so he's getting a lot more opportunities."

Reseda will play Franklin for the Division III title on Saturday at 11 a.m. at El Camino College. For Elison and his teammates, it will be a reward for loyalty.

Arreola plays with whomever shows up at his neighborhood school. He doesn't hang out at youth football games on weekends hoping to run into a parent.

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Elison started on the junior varsity team at Reseda and has blossomed into a standout two-way player (he also plays receiver)."It's cool to have a team that you've been with since JVs," he said.

Elison is not a believer in the perception that playing for a specific high school helps you get a college scholarship.

"I never wanted to transfer," he said. "I felt I wanted to prove that you can get out if you do what you're supposed to do. I feel they'll come and find you."

Fifteen interceptions, whether it's at Bellflower St. John Bosco or Reseda, will get you noticed.

Elison has a 3.2 grade-point average and a great attitude.

Now, if only he could figure out what to do with the footballs he intercepts.

"They don't let me keep them," he said. He'd probably have trouble finding room in his closet at home. "I already have clothes everywhere," he said.

Rise of Birmingham: Lake Balboa Birmingham showed signs last season of becoming a top City Section basketball team, and after the first week of action, the Patriots are 4-0 and champions of the Redondo tournament.

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Devante Doutrive, a returning All-City player, was named tournament MVP after the Patriots defeated Westchester, 84-74, in the championship game. Doutrive and improving point guard Deschon Winston are legitimate college prospects who should find schools by season end.

Scoring machine: Stanford-bound Kezie Okpala, a 6-8 senior at Anaheim Esperanza, is a candidate to lead Southern California in scoring this season. During four games in a tournament in Illinois, Okpala had games of 32, 41, 36 and 24 points.

Chino Hills debut: Chino Hills, 35-0 last season, makes its season basketball debut on Monday, playing Rancho Verde at 6:30 p.m. at Corona Centennial. Lonzo Ball is at UCLA, but brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are back and ready to run with Eli Scott, Onyeka Okongwu and Andre Ball.

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