Prep Rally: High school football in California is better than ever

St. John Bosco quarterback Katin Houser passes in the first half against Mater Dei.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. The biggest night of the high school football season happened on Friday, and the games lived up to expectations. Let’s review.

Weekend of big games

Bellflower, CA - OCTOBER 01: St. John Bosco quarterback Katin Houser (4).
St. John Bosco quarterback Katin Houser (4) steps back for a pass in the first half against Mater Dei.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Texas has bigger stadiums, Florida has alligators and perhaps faster players, but Friday night before a sold-out crowd of 6,000 at St. John Bosco proved California football is better than ever and certainly No. 1 this season.


Mater Dei and St. John Bosco engaged in a back and forth battle before the Monarchs pulled away in the second half for a 42-21 victory. All you can say is that sophomore quarterback Elijah Brown of Mater Dei is ready to join elite company as the next great Mater Dei quarterback. Remember the school has a Heisman Lane on campus.

Here’s the rundown on how the game played out.

Here’s a look at some of the tasty tailgate food from the game.

There also was a thriller at San Pedro, where rival Banning blocked a field goal on the final play and came away with a 48-41 win over the Pirates.

Unbeaten Warren came away with a victory over Dominguez.

Los Alamitos kept alive its bid to play in the Division 1 playoffs, knocking off unbeaten Corona del Mar.


Pedro vs. Wilmington

Banning HS football players watch from side line during the Banning-San Pedro prep football game in San Pedro.
Banning HS football players watch from side line during the Banning-San Pedro prep football game in San Pedro, Friday, Oct 1, 2021.
(Luca Evans)

The school bands assembled Friday night in neat formation on opposite sides of San Pedro High’s patchy field, primed by a single conductor.

Behind them, hands over hearts, stood the San Pedro and Banning football teams, gazing at each other across 160 feet of grass. At their backs were seas of black and yellow or red and white, San Pedro and Wilmington communities out in full force to support their local schools.

It’s a rivalry with decades of history in the harbor region of Los Angeles. Wilmington and San Pedro natives carry an area pride that erupts one day a year during a high school football game. Loud boos will ensue. Players shove each other and chirp relentlessly after whistles. Yet many of those opposing fans in the bleachers come together the next day to resume their jobs on the docks.

As the lights of the looming cranes down by the harbor twinkled in the distance, the two bands struck up their instruments at the same time, the familiar booming notes of the national anthem echoing across the field.

The notes of their trombones and clarinets were slightly different. But the drumline — the heartbeat — was very much the same.

If someone from San Pedro steps foot into Wilmington, Banning coach Raymond Grajeda said the community will instantly know, and vice versa.

Grajeda, who’s lived in Wilmington all 38 years of his life, said there’s a stigma. At the same time, the separate blue-collar areas mingle constantly within the harbor area. They’re longshoremen. Construction workers. Engineers.

“At a certain point we’ll say words like ‘hate,’ ‘I can’t stand,’ but at the end of the day, these guys are brothers,” Grajeda said. “They work with each other every day on the port, they shake each other’s hands.”

A profile on the rivalry from Luca Evans.

A son turns around his life

Campbell Hall lineman Jaden Williams has rededicated himself since the death of his mother last March.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Amid tears of sorrow, 16-year-old Jaden Williams said goodbye. For nearly 45 minutes, he was alone in a hospital room as his mother, Cleo, lay motionless. The hissing from a ventilator and the beeping from a heart monitor broke agonizing silence. There was no brain activity after she had an aneurysm, so the decision had been made to remove her from life support.

A son never wants to let go of his mom, but this tragedy required a teenage football player to dig deep, think hard and let out every emotion.

“I was telling her, ‘I know you want to be here for my first things, but you will be always guiding me.’ I told her, ‘I love you and appreciate what you did for me and I’d pay you back if I could, but I can’t.’”

Cleo Branch died on March 1. She was 48.

Williams, a 6-foot-4, 25-pound defensive lineman at Campbell Hall, is paying back his mom every day. He has been transformed into a top football player and a committed student.

Here’s his story.

One-handed catches

It was the week for spectacular one-handed catches. You can make your own judgment which one was best.

JSerra’s Titus Heimuli made his one-handed catch against Santa Margarita.

Edison’s Nico Brown had a one-handed catch against Newport Harbor.

And there was Servite’s Tetairoa McMillan making a one-handed interception against Orange Lutheran.

Earnest Greene III is blocker to watch

St. John Bosco offensive tackle Earnest Greene III (left) with his father, Earnest Jr.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

When Earnest Greene III started playing tackle football as an 8-year-old, he was so big he played against 11-year-olds. When he was 9, he played against 12-year-olds. At 17, he’s 6 feet 5, 330 pounds and perhaps the best offensive tackle at St. John Bosco High since Wyatt Davis, The Times’ player of the year in 2016.

What’s so intriguing about Greene isn’t necessarily his size or athleticism. It’s his self-confidence and comfort level in fulfilling the sometimes invisible role of a lineman. Since he started playing football, he wasn’t one of those kids dreaming of scoring touchdowns or playing for fan attention. He was content blocking for those players.

“My dad always preached to me self confidence from a young age,” he said. “I always walked around with my chest out. I always had the mind set I can go in there and no matter what, do my job. I was always going to be a lineman. I always wanted to put my hand in the dirt.”

Greene’s father, Earnest Jr., grew up in Savannah, Ga., was a 6-8 lineman at Savannah State, played for the Chargers from 1993-95 and retired from football in 2001. He was part of a Chargers team that made it to the Super Bowl in 1994.

Here’s a profile on what makes Greene such a prolific player.

Top 25 rankings

A look at the top 25 high school football teams in the Southland:

Rk. SCHOOL (W-L) Last week | Next game (last rank)

1. MATER DEI (4-0); def. St. John Bosco 42-21; at Orange Lutheran (at Orange Coast College), Friday (1)

2. SERVITE (6-0); def. Orange Lutheran 56-12; vs. Santa Margarita (at Orange Coast College), Thursday (3)

3. ST. JOHN BOSCO (5-1); lost to Mater Dei 42-21; at JSerra, Friday (2)

4. CORONA CENTENNIAL (6-0); def. King 84-0 (Thursday); at Corona Santiago, Thursday (4)

5. MISSION VIEJO (5-1); def. Sierra Canyon 27-10; at La Mesa Helix, Friday (7)

6. SIERRA CANYON (3-3); lost to Mission Viejo 27-10; vs. Westlake (at Los Angeles Valley College), Friday (5)

Here’s the rest of the top 25.

Here’s the link for the week seven schedule.

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Holly McPeak is honored

Former Mira Costa, UCLA and beach volleyball standout Holly McPeak receives a framed high school jersey.
Former Mira Costa, UCLA and beach volleyball standout Holly McPeak receives a framed high school jersey at Mira Costa on Tuesday.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

It was a night to remember at Mira Costa’s new gymnasium. The girls’ volleyball team honored former Mira Costa, UCLA and beach volleyball legend Holly McPeak, presenting her with a framed No. 7 jersey.

Then the Mustangs swept rival Redondo Union in three sets before a loud, enthusiastic crowd. Mira Costa came in ranked No. 4 in Division 1/2 with Redondo No. 9. Both teams paid tribute to McPeak.

Mira Costa coach Cam Green brought in his former CSUN teammate, Chris McGee, to announce the ceremony in honor of McPeak, who won two Southern Section titles at Mira Costa before graduating in 1987, won an NCAA title at UCLA and dominated on the beach volleyball circuit while becoming a three-time Olympian

Here’s a look at the special night.

Here comes Venice

It’s not easy playing girls’ volleyball in the Western League. Palisades dominates every season.

But rival Venice has aspirations of finally toppling the Dolphins.

In the Chatsworth tournament this past weekend, the Gondoliers defeated Palisades in the quarterfinals. Then Venice won the championship with a win over Desert Oasis. The last win for Venice over Palisades was in 2010.


Santa Margarita sure won’t be lacking in baseball players who have college options.

The Eagles have 11 Division 1 commits, including nine juniors. Most impressive are two catchers committed to Stanford and UCLA, respectively. That’s an example of having talent and brain power.

The list:

Senior Matthew Porchas, RHP, Texas
Senior Tanner Warady, RHP, Loyola Marymount
Junior Blake Balsz, C, UCLA
Junior Luke Lavin, C, Stanford
Junior Blake Wilson, INF/OF, Washington
Junior Trent Caraway, SS, Oregon State
Junior Zach Fjelstadt, SS/3B, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Junior Drew Rutter, OF, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Junior Jack Svinth, RHP, Stanford
Junior Luke Johnson, 3B, Cornell
Junior Sammy Cova, LHP, Oregon

Notes . . .

Oaks Christian softball player Micaela Kastor has committed to Notre Dame. . . .

Westlake junior softball pitcher Kaitlyn Bartlow has committed to San Diego. . . .

Hart softball player Kate Penberthy has committed to Cal Baptist. . . .

Mater Dei girls’ basketball player Soleil Montrose has committed to UTEP. . . .

Former St. Francis assistant coach Alex Kamberian has been hired to be the head basketball coach at Simi Valley. . . .

From the archives: Thomas Welsh

Thomas Welsh in 2013 for Loyola.
(Robert S. Helfman)

Former Loyola and UCLA center Thomas Welsh is headed to play pro basketball in Taiwan.

A 7-footer, Welsh was a fan favorite at UCLA and was drafted No. 58 overall by the Denver Nuggets.

At Loyola, Welsh made steady progress as a big man.

His coach, Jamal Adams, said in 2017: “From the beginning as a ninth grader, he always had a phenomenal touch. He’s always made the baseline jump shot. He knocked down a lot of elbow jump shots and made two or three threes his senior year. He’s always had a phenomenal ability to shoot the basketball.”


From, a story warning coaches about bullying.

From the Los Angeles Times, a story on Kawhi Leonard helping open a new basketball court in Moreno Valley.

From the Santa Maria Times, a story on a lawsuit filed against a high school for allegedly refusing to play against a girls’ football player.

Tweets you might have missed

Until next time...

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

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