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Prep Rally: Continuing our series of high school football players to watch

Zach Eagle is a 6-foot-7, 300-pound senior offensive tackle at Chaminade.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. The high school football season begins on Thursday, Aug. 19. Servite at Bishop Amat is the top game. Then comes a much busier day on Friday, Aug. 20, topped by Santa Ana Mater Dei at Corona Centennial. Let’s continue looking at players to watch, particularly the ones in the trenches.

Big men to watch

Zach Eagle is a 6-foot-7, 300-pound senior offensive tackle at Chaminade.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

The big teenagers in the trenches can make or break a high school football team. There’s some large, talented linemen on both sides of the ball this season.

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St. John Bosco’s Earnest Greene, at 6 feet 4, 330 pounds, is one of the most imposing and dominant blockers. Rival Mater Dei counters with junior BJ Tolo, who has been starting on varsity since he was a freshman.

Sam Yoon of Loyola has developed so quickly during the off season that UCLA and USC made scholarship offers. Michael Wooten of Sierra Canyon committed to Oregon. Wendell Moe of Long Beach Poly is the returning lineman of the year from the Moore League.

Samiuelea Sefa of Bishop Alemany and Zach Eagle of Chaminade should be two of the best from the Mission League. Phillip Ocon is an improving 6-4, 320-pound sophomore at St. Francis. Jake Steele of Murrieta Valley is committed to San Jose State.

Among defensive linemen, Hero Kanu of Santa Margarita is a 6-5, 293-pound senior who came from Germany and has captured the attention of numerous college recruiters. Gavriel Lightfoot from Corona Centennial, Nathan Burrell from St. John Bosco and Mathias Malaki-Donaldson from Oaks Christian all had good junior years. Ashton Sander Parker a 6-4, 302-pound junior at L.A. Cathedral, is earning rave reviews from coach Anthony Jefferson.

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Double wing making comeback

Sophomore Dijon Stanley of Granada Hills won the 200 and 400 at City Section track finals.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

What in the name of John Elway is going on at Granada Hills High? The Highlanders were one of the first teams to use the spread offense under legendary football coach Jack Neumeier more than 40 years ago, when their quarterback was the future Hall of Famer. Now they’ve switched to … the double wing.

It happened last April, and it was no April Fool’s Day joke.

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Bucky Brooks, the third-year head coach at Granada Hills and a former NFL second-round draft pick, tried it after consulting with coaches who ran the offense at El Camino Real, Compton Dominguez, Los Angeles Roosevelt, Fullerton Sunny Hills and El Monte.

“We did it because I felt it was something I was always intrigued by and fit who we are and what we are about,” Brooks said. “We don’t recruit. We take whomever shows up. We were going to have big guys and a big offense. It allowed us to run the football and lean on our offensive line.”

Granada Hills produced the most exciting running back in the City Section in Dijon Stanley, who returns for his junior year.

Here’e my column on the options running the double wing present.

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Moving forward in City Section

Daniel Najar of Reseda rode his skateboard to school for the start of football practice on Monday.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Under an overcast sky on Monday morning, the official first day of football practice, Reseda coach Alonso Arreola spent 30 minutes doing something he never imagined would be part of his duties when he first became head coach in 2005. As each player arrived and pulled out their cellphone, Arreola scanned their QR code on his phone to see if they passed their latest coronavirus test.

“This is life in the City Section,” he said. “When do you get to coach?”

The responsibilities of coaches keep expanding, testing their patience.

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“It’s so hard, it’s so difficult,” Arreola said.

There’s enormous pressure on coaches to lead their programs after a spring in which many teams played just four games and rosters were depleted.

Here’s a look at the challenges head.

Another QB Diaz at Franklin

Isaiah Diaz will be following his uncles as a starting QB at Franklin.
(Erik Sarni / EastSideMediaTV)
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There are about 65 players in the Franklin High football program, with more coming out every day. Coach Narciso Diaz could not be more excited, as his school opted out last spring and did not have a football team because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Franklin was among 16 opt-outs in the City Section.

Even more exciting is that his nephew, Isaiah Diaz, a senior who threw for 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in two years on junior varsity, will get to be a varsity starter at quarterback.

He’ll be the third Diaz family member to start for Franklin. Narciso was the quarterback from 1999 to 2003, and Isaiah’s uncle, Adrian, played quarterback from 2006 to 2009.

Top 10 City Section teams

Here’s a preseason top 10 for City Section football teams.

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1. San Pedro. The Pirates have lots of fast, experienced skill-position players from an impressive spring season. Quarterback Aidan Jackson looks capable of having some big games. Watch out for three-sport athlete Nick Fernandez at tight end and defensive end.

2. Birmingham. The Patriots start out with standout defensive end/receiver Arlis Boardingham and four-year start Carlos Rivera on the offensive and defensive lines. They’ll have another transfer starting at quarterback, but they have much-improved speed.

3. Venice. Coach Angelo Gasca is confident his team’s defense will be ready to perform at a high level. The big question is how good Bishop Alemany transfer Paul Kessler will be at quarterback.

4. Banning. Running back Jakob Galloway is back for his senior year. Just give him the ball and get out of the way.

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5. Granada Hills. The Highlanders’ double-wing offense will be tough to stop because running back Dijon Stanley is one of the fastest in the City Section.

Brothers Deji and Damola Olabode are defensive ends at Reseda.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

6. Reseda. The Regents have a group of seniors who were part of a championship team as sophomores. Watch out for the Olabode brothers, senior Deji and sophomore Damola. Both are defensive ends.

7. Crenshaw. The Cougars were so young during the spring that coach Robert Garrett didn’t know what to expect during practice or games. But you could see there was talent and speed. Let’s see if the spring experience lifts up the Cougars.

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8. Garfield. Quarterback Jaison Vargas will hope for improved protection from his offensive line.

9. Palisades. The Dolphins have new coaches after Tim Hyde left for a job on the East Coast. They still have enough talent to be a Western League contender.

10. Kennedy. Quarterback Ryan Avalos guided the Golden Cougars to a 3-1 mark in the spring season. Running back Sione Manu showed promise.

Summer stars

Katie Gomez of Birmingham High won the U16 Cadet freestyle world championship in wrestling in Budapest, Hungary.
(Randy Miller)
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School will start soon, marking the end of summer sports competition. In 2020, there was no competition because of COVID-19. This summer, it was back to normal, with nonstop activities, lots of traveling and players trying to attract the attention of college recruiters.

From basketball to football to softball to track, there were lots of athletes making summer progress.

Here’s a look at players and teams earning a look:

College QBs

ATHENS, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 21: JT Daniels #18 of the Georgia Bulldogs looks to pass.
Former Mater Dei QB JT Daniels of the Georgia Bulldogs is one of a group of former SoCal QBs expected to start this season in college football.

(Getty Images)
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It figures to be a great year for former high school quarterbacks from Southern California in the college ranks.

Among the potential starters are CJ Stroud (Rancho Cucamonga) at Ohio State; Matt Corral (Long Beach Poly) at Mississippi; Bryce Young (Santa Ana Mater Dei) at Alabama; DJ Uiagalelei (St. John Bosco) at Clemson; JT Daniels (Mater Dei) at Georgia; Chase Garbers (Corona del Mar) at Cal; Tanner McKee (Corona Centennial) at Stanford; Hank Bachmeier (Murrieta Valley) and Jack Sears (San Clemente) at Boise State; Tristan Gebbia (Calabasas) at Oregon State; Ryan Hilinski (Orange Lutheran) at Northwestern; Doug Brumfield (Gardena Serra) at UNLV; JT Shrout (Hart) at Colorado; Jayden Daniels (Cajon) at Arizona State.

Notes . . .

Andy Nieto, the baseball coach at Damien for seven years, resigned last week to pursue other opportunities. He was head coach at Bishop Amat and a former USC assistant who has done a great job preparing players for the next level and beyond. . . .

Former Orange Lutheran quarterback Aaron Corp has returned to the school as offensive coordinator. . . .

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St. Bernard announced it will not have a football team for 2021. More than 20 players transferred out after the resignation of coach Manuel Douglas. Scheduled opponents have to scramble to find replacement games. . . .

After 10 years as football coach, Robert Garcia has stepped down at San Fernando. He made a huge impact in re-establishing the Tigers’ successful football tradition. The Tigers’ won their eighth City title in 2017 while going 12-2. . . .

Ashley Ontiveros, who served as an assistant boys’ basketball coach at St. Bonaventure, is the new girls’ basketball coach at Thousand Oaks. . . .

Ryan Grande, who was a standout three-point shooter at La Canada and Sierra Canyon, has committed to play basketball at Cal Lutheran for former Crespi coach Russell White. . . .

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David Gutierrez has been hired as the football coach at Fountain Valley. . . .

Sacramento’s Capital Christian High has been sanctioned for playing in a club football league last spring. . . .

The Jaquez family in Camarillo is sticking with UCLA. Gabriela Jaquez announced she has committed to UCLA. She’s a standout girls’ basketball player at Camarillo and the sister of the Bruins’ Jaime Jaquez. . . .

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Junior quarterback/shortstop Will Burns has transferred from Mission Viejo to Trabuco Hills. He’ll immediately become the best athlete at Trabuco Hills. The fact he’s going to play quarterback is huge news. He’s one of the best baseball players around. . . .

Nick Cappuccilli is the new baseball coach at Huntington Beach Edison. He’s an Edison grad who has been an assistant at Santa Margarita. . . .

Junior defensive back Maliki Crawford of Oxnard Pacifica announced he has committed to UCLA. . . .

Pete Crow-Armstrong, who was a first-round draft pick by the Mets in 2020 out of Harvard-Westlake, is part of a trade that sent him to the Chicago Cubs. . . .

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Leuzinger defensive end Aubrey Scott has committed to UNLV. . . .

Servite tight end Keyan Burnett, a former USC commit, announced his commitment to Arizona. Servite quarterback Noah Fifita is already committed to Arizona and there’s growing speculation their teammate, standout receiver Tetairoa McMillan, might join them in Tucson.

Pac-12 media day

Kayvon Thibodeaux, who started his high school football career playing for Dorsey before transferring to Oaks Christian, returned to Southern California to represent Oregon at the Pac-12 Conference media day.

He has grown up so much, physically and emotionally. The defensive end is up to 255 pounds and one of the best NFL prospects. But off the field is where he has made the greatest progress.

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During interviews, he made it clear he wants to make a difference. “I’ve been the guy to give people hope,” he said. “I want to be a guy who gives wisdom, not just to younger kids, but my peers.”

He’d like to one day start his own school. He wants to be an example for young players.

Some more interviews with former local high school standouts.

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Welcome home, Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook is coming home. The Lakers have traded for the former Leuzinger High and UCLA guard.

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There are so many people happy to see him come back. He’ll be an important part of the community he knows so well. His former coach at Leuzinger was Reggie Morris Jr., the head coach at Fairfax, and believes in Westbrook, who has a chance to be very influential for young kids growing up in Los Angeles.

NBA draft

It was a great night during the NBA draft for former Rancho Christian and USC 7-foot center Evan Mobley, who was taken No. 3 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Former Sierra Canyon and Stanford forward Ziaire Williams was chosen No. 10 and will play for the Memphis Grizzlies. Former Mayfair and Arizona State guard Joshua Christopher went No. 24 to the Houston Rockets.

Kessler Edwards, the standout player from Etiwanda and Pepperdine, was taken in the second round by the Brooklyn Nets at No. 44. BJ Boston from Sierra Canyon and Kentucky, was drafted No. 51 and will end up with the Clippers.

It’s not too early to get excited about the 2022 draft that should feature USC’s Isaiah Mobley, UCLA’s Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and maybe even incoming freshman Peyton Watson.

From the archives

It has been 40 years since Reseda Cleveland won the City Section 3-A boys’ basketball champions. The team was coached by the feisty 28-year-old, Greg Herrick, who was just starting out in his coaching career. It had a future Cy Young Award winner playing guard in Bret Saberhagen, plus two standout future college players in Kevin Holmes and Keith Morrison.

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The Cavaliers won consecutive 3-A championships in 1981 and 1982.

Herrick would go on to a long coaching career in women’s basketball at College of the Canyons and was inducted into the Cleveland Hall of Fame. Saberhagen would lead the Kansas City Royals to prominence as a pitcher. Holmes would attend DePaul. Morrison would star at Washington State and was inducted into the Pac-12 Basketball Hall of Honor in 2016.

Recommendations

From the Dallas Morning News, a story on NIL and high school athletes.

From Azcentral.com, a story on a high school football team having to shut down for 14 days because of a COVID-19 positive test.

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From athleticbusiness.com, a 1988 story about coping with coaching shortages that continues to be as accurate as it was when first published more than 30 years ago.

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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