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Prep Rally: Keep an eye on these quarterbacks

LOS ALAMITOS, CA - MARCH 12: Los Alamitos quarterback Malachi Nelson (7) throws the football against Millikan.
Los Alamitos quarterback Malachi Nelson passes during a game against Millikan in March.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. Let’s start getting into football mode since the high school season begins one month from today. Who are the quarterbacks to watch? Let’s just say the seniors are going to get plenty of competition from a strong group of underclassmen.

Talented QBs

LOS ALAMITOS, CA - MARCH 12: Los Alamitos quarterback Malachi Nelson (7) throws the football against Millikan.
Los Alamitos junior quarterback Malachi Nelson.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Any quarterback list in Southern California must start with junior Malachi Nelson of Los Alamitos. He has distinguished himself as one of the best in the nation and announced on Sunday he has committed to Oklahoma.

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Then you have to go to the Trinity League. St. John Bosco returns junior Pierce Clarkson and senior Katin Houser, who is committed to Michigan State. Senior Noah Fifita of Servite, an Arizona commit, will try to be the person who stops the St. John Bosco-Mater Dei domination in Division 1. Mater Dei has sophomore Elijah Brown, who led his team to a 5-0 record in spring as a freshman. Junior Jaxon Potter has moved from JSerra to Santa Margarita, where he was impressive in summer passing competitions.

There’s lots of outstanding seniors. Brandon Rose of Murrieta Valley has committed to Utah. Travis Throckmorton of Simi Valley is an Oregon State commit. Maalik Murphy of Gardena Serra is committed to Texas. Justyn Martin of Inglewood is a Cal commit. Tyler Voss of Valencia is committed to San Jose State. Jayden Denegal of Apple Valley is committed to Michigan. Dylan Gebbia of Bishop Alemany, Kyle Crum of Norco, Cole Tannenbaum of Oaks Christian and Shea Kuykendall of Long Beach Poly all had moments during the spring and summer that indicate they are ready to have breakout seasons.

Junior Nicholaus Lamaleava of Warren is on everyone’s list of quarterbacks on the rise. He’s 6 feet 6 and a star volleyball player, too. Sherman Oaks Notre Dame has high hopes for 6-5 Javance Tupouata-Johnson. Jaxson Miner of Golden Valley had 1,030 yards passing in five spring games. As a sophomore in the spring, Justin Gill guided La Habra to a 6-0 record. Loyola is expecting big things from 6-4 junior Xavier Rice. Long Beach Millikan has sophomore Myles Jackson. Mission Viejo junior Kadin Semonza and St. Francis junior Jack Jacobs had several big games in the spring.

This coming weekend will be the final weekend for seven-on-seven summer passing tournaments. Huntington Beach will hold its annual passing and lineman competition on Saturday.

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Relaunching football programs

Eagle Rock football players Mycah and Brooklyn Pasten with their father, Mario, an assistant coach.
Eagle Rock football players Mycah and Brooklyn Pasten with their father, Mario, an assistant coach. Eagle Rock didn’t have a team last spring.
(Andy Moran)

A major challenge this fall will involve high schools restarting their football programs after deciding not to field teams last spring because of COVID-19 concerns. In the City Section, 16 schools opted out of 11-man football.

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“It’s not been easy,” said Eagle Rock coach Andy Moran, who has begun to regroup after a year without football.

He said his program was at 76 players as the team began summer workouts with hopes that more will join in before school begins Aug. 16. Usually his program has 120 participants.

“The numbers are down. It’s the number of seniors down the most,” he said. “It seems like kids keep trickling in every couple of days. I think kids found other things to do with their life and lived without football. We’re getting kids coming back, but we have a handful of kids who decided they didn’t want to play anymore.”

Here’s the rest of the report on the challenges schools are facing.

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Jeff Kearin returns

Jeff Kearin, who has been head coach at Cal State Northridge, won a Southern Section Division 1 championship at Loyola and has been coaching football on and off for 40 years, has decided to take on one of his most challenging assignments: coaching in the City Section.

The 61-year-old Kearin has been named head coach at Taft High. He has been teaching at Crespi and coaching junior college football. He replaces Aron Gideon, who resigned.

His long coaching resumes includes head coach at CSUN from 1999-2001 and head coach at Loyola from 2005-09. He also has coached in Arizona and Oregon and at Occidental College. He was intending to coach field hockey this year because his 13-year-old daughter loves the sport and her team needed a coach.

“I really like coaching football,” he said. “I know Taft has struggled. I like the challenges and had gone away for a little bit for the junior college game, which was a great experience. Frankly this opened up and fell into my lap. I think this will be fun. I want to build something that gets back to the days of Troy Starr.”

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Taft was a powerhouse at the beginning of the 21st century when Troy Starr had such athletes as Steve Smith.

“My biggest concern is recruiting the team and have them understand we’re going to stay the course,” he said.

He wants to keep the assistants who have helped direct the Toreadors with Gideon in the last year.

San Pedro moves forward

San Pedro receivers Robert Sarmiento (left) and Chris Nixon.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

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While there’s continuing uncertainty in City Section football regarding how many students will come out to participate and what kind of COVID-19 restrictions will be imposed by the Los Angeles Unified School District, title favorite San Pedro continues to move forward.

The Pirates competed in the Marina seven-on-seven passing tournament Saturday. Quarterback Aidan Jackson will have plenty of options, led by receivers Robert Sarmiento and Chris Nixon. Junior tight end Nick Fernandez, a three-sport athlete, also figures to contribute.

City Section teams begin official workouts on July 26. LAUSD announced that those students who are vaccinated will not have to undergo weekly testing but that could always change.

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Corona Centennial won the Marina tournament championship. Here’s a report on the Huskies’ success.

Geno Hall dies

Former Crenshaw football player Geno Hall, the City Section player of the year in 2009, died on July 13 after an illness.
(Robert S. Helfman)

City Section football fans were sad to hear about the passing of Geno Hall, the 2009 City Section player of the year during the season Crenshaw won the City title and battled De La Salle in a state championship bowl game.

He died while dealing with an illness.

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He played on a 14-1 team that included De’Anthony Thomas. He scored six touchdowns on punts and kickoff returns, eight on receptions and one rushing. He started at receiver, where he caught 50 passes, and also played defensive back for a Cougars team that won the City Section Division I championship and became the first City team selected for a CIF state championship bowl game.

He was a legendary player in youth football in the Snoop Dogg League.

In 2012, he survived after being shot seven times at a Halloween party.

MLB draft

UCLA's Matt McLain was a first-round draft pick of the Reds.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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The three-day Major League Baseball draft concluded Tuesday after 20 rounds. Ten shortstops were taken in the first round, then pitching dominated the rest of the draft.

The Angels became the first team ever to draft a pitcher with every pick and the Dodgers took 18 pitchers in 20 picks.

Sixty-two players with ties to Southland colleges or high schools were drafted. Here’s the link.

New basketball coach

Oaks Christian has had a history of going through one basketball coach after another. Now Mark Amaral is the latest new coach for the Lions.

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He was an assistant coach to Marty Wilson at Pepperdine from 2011-18. He spent the last three seasons as an assistant coach in the Chinese Basketball Assn.

Here’s the link to Oaks Christian’s update on Amaral.

Harvard-Westlake pushes new complex

The plan from Harvard-Westlake to turn Weddington Golf & Tennis into an athletics complex.
(Harvard-Westlake)

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It has been 3½ years since Harvard-Westlake paid more than $40 million to purchase the 16-acre Weddington Golf & Tennis facility with the idea of turning it into an athletics complex.

The first-draft plan for the River Park project was released in 2019. River Park is located at Whitsett Avenue adjacent to the Los Angeles River in Studio City.

Now the school has begun a public relations offensive on social media trying to show that it has listened to community concerns about noise, lights and traffic, found solutions, and continues to move forward while trying to build support for what could be a $100-million project. It will include two sports fields, two gyms, eight tennis courts, a 50-meter pool, a 500-car underground parking lot, walking and jogging trails, and a sophisticated stormwater capture and reuse system.

The next big step coming this fall is release of an environmental impact report, which will result in hearings and more community feedback. The school filed an initial application for a conditional use permit last year. The City Council has final approval.

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Here’s the link for a look at the project and when it might be completed.

Girls’ volleyball returns

Girls’ volleyball in the Southern Section was the one sport that never played during the 2020-21 school year because of COVID-19 restrictions. Players either moved on to other sports or competed for club teams.

Now the anticipation is growing for the start of the 2021-22 season next month. Southern Section officials will certainly do their best to make it a memorable season after last year’s debacle.

Los Angeles Marymount should start out as the No. 1 team in Southern California, led by Stanford-bound Elia Rubin. Redondo Union and Santa Ana Mater Dei should b e formidable foes.

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Jrue Holiday comes through

If it’s the NBA finals, you can always count on someone from California making a difference.

Former Campbell Hall and UCLA guard Jrue Holiday came through with a steal and alley-oop pass to seal the Milwaukee Bucks’ 123-119 win over the Phoenix Suns for a 3-2 lead in the series.

He finished with 27 points and 13 assists.

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The pride of La Canada High

At 24, former La Canada High golfer Collin Morikawa has already won two major championships, and the future looks bright.

His latest triumph came on Sunday when he won the British Open.

Here’s a report on his victory.

Notes . . .

Gabriela Jaquez of Camarillo. Photo by Mike Prewitt.
(Courtesy of Mike Prewitt)

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Gabriela Jaquez, the sister of UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez, had a breakthrough week in women’s basketball recruiting. The senior at Camarillo has picked up offers from UCLA and USC. . . .

Running back Jaydn Ott, who was a star at Norco as a freshman, then transferred to Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, is returning to Norco for his senior year. Coach Chuck Chastain said Ott is finishing summer school at Gorman, then will join Norco on Aug. 2. That makes Norco a candidate to play in the Division 1 playoffs. He’s committed to Cal after earlier being committed to Oregon. . . .

Golfer Eric Lee of Fullerton Sunny Hills tied for second place with three other players at the Junior PGA championships in Lexington, Ky. He finished at 13-under-par, three shots behind the winner. . . .

The William S. Hart Union High School District governing board has voted to retire the Hart High School mascot (Indians) by June 30, 2025. . . .

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Former Santa Ana Mater Dei lineman Tommy Brown, who plays for Alabama, agreed to a promote a breakfast restaurant in Tuscaloosa. Now that’s a smart lineman, especially if he gets fed as part of the deal. . . .

North Hollywood has hired Arleta assistant Donovan Womack as its boys’ basketball coach. He mostly has coached and lived in Delaware. . . .

Ben Jacobs, a senior left-handed pitcher at Huntington Beach, has committed to UCLA. . . .

Irvine University announced that Vince Mesa is the new football coach. He coached running backs at Orange Coast College. . . .

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From the archives: Brad Kaaya

Former Chaminade quarterback Brad Kaaya.
(Todd Povilaitis)

Brad Kaaya was a standout quarterback at West Hills Chaminade and made an early college commitment to Miami and stuck with it.

He threw for a school-record 3,855 yards and 27 touchdowns his senior season at Chaminade. In 2013, Chaminade won section and state titles.

At Miami, he started started as a true freshman in 2014. The team went 6-7, 8-5 and 9-4 in his three seasons as a starter and was drafted in the sixth round by the Detroit Lions in 2017.

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He was out of professional football by 2019 and the key with Kaaya is that he was ready for a life without football. His mother, Angela Means, was an actress, and his father, Brad Sr., was a former screenwriter. Brad studied screenwriting as a grad student at USC and that’s what he is pursuing now, so watch out for Kaaya to make an impact in another endeavor he loves.

Here’s a 2016 story about Kaaya’s background.

Recommendations

From Project Play, an interview with the U.S. Soccer president on how to get more kids involved in sports.

From the Washington Post, a story on basketball players skipping college.

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From the Dallas Morning News, a look at the top games in Texas high school football.

Tweets you might have missed

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Until next time...

Have a question, comment or something you’d like to see in a future Prep Rally newsletter? Email me at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latsondheimer.

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