Prep Rally: Spring football is here

Spring football begins and defending champion Mater Dei still has questions to answer.
(Nick Koza)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. Spring football practice has begun. I checked in with St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro, the team to beat this fall. A focus will be on toppling Mater Dei.

Spring football is back

St John Bosco head coach Jason Negro hugs St John Bosco Drake Metcalf (60) as the team celebrates its 49-28 win in 2019.
St John Bosco head coach Jason Negro hugs Drake Metcalf (60) as the team celebrates its 49-28 win against De La Salle in the CIF state championship Open Division game in 2019.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

High school spring football practice has evolved over the last 10 years. Every year, it seemingly gets bigger and more elaborate as private and public schools welcome college recruiters with handshakes and barbecues trying to gain exposure for their athletes.


At Bellflower St. John Bosco, the likely No. 1 team in Southern California this fall, coach Jason Negro is just excited about a return to normalcy.

“We haven’t had a spring football in over two years,” he said. “It’s really refreshing. It’s injected energy in our program.”

Workouts began Monday and culminate with a spring showcase for college coaches on May 11 followed by a spring scrimmage on May 19 that will be open to the public.

Right now, the top teams to watch include St. John Bosco, Santa Ana Mater Dei, Corona Centennial, Los Alamitos and Mission Viejo, with Santa Margarita and Long Beach Poly also having intriguing teams.

A look at spring football along with six players to watch.

Baseball rewind

Look at the focus of Villa Park's Zach Brown catching throw.
(Nick Koza)

It was quite a week in high school baseball, with the 16-team Boras Classic producing lots of drama and surprises.

Villa Park emerged as the 4-0 champion behind some clutch performances from junior Zach Brown with a walk-off home run in the first round and then a complete-game pitching performance against Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in the semifinals. Then the Spartans routed JSerra in the final. Here’s the report.


From Times contributor Luca Evans:

Justin Tims couldn’t keep himself in his seat.

Friday math classes can be difficult for any kid to sit through. But that morning, Tims’ coach at Villa Park, Burt Call, had pulled the team into a meeting and told them that Tims, the youngest pitcher on the team as a sophomore, was starting on the mound for that night’s Boras Championship game against JSerra.

So the next period, algebra just became a little more difficult to pay attention to.

“I was just so anxious, so hyped, to pitch in the championship,” Tims said.

Call said “it’s a little special to win it here tonight,” referring to playing at Mater Dei’s field where he used to coach. Gavin Grahovac said the team saw that this game meant a lot to Call.

“He just wanted us to know that what we did – the fact that we’re in this tournament, this our first year – that we put our names out there,” Grahovac said. “And the fact that now we won it, clearly we did something right.”

It was a week that reminded everyone in Southern California why high school baseball can’t be matched. Here’s my column looking back on some great players and what makes communities enjoy their successes.

This is the final week of the regular season before the playoffs begin next week.

The Times’ top 25 rankings under went changes after last week’s Boras Classic. Here’s the latest rankings.

Bobby Gray of Trabuco Hills had two home runs and seven RBIs to help his team clinch the Sea View League championship. He has 12 home runs and 37 RBIs and is only a junior.

Harvard-Westlake hasn’t been able to use its best pitcher, Bryce Rainer, on the mound all season. Then it lost Mission League MVP Toussaint Bythewood to a broken wrist. And yet, the Wolverines can win the Mission League if they sweep Chaminade in a three-game series this week. Or they can end up in a tie with Sherman Oaks Notre Dame by winning two of three. Playoff pairings will be released a week from Monday. Georgetown commit Andrew Citron is batting .492 with 31 hits.

Freshman star

Etiwanda freshman Brady Ebel is shown swinging at a pitch.
Etiwanda freshman Brady Ebel, the son of the Dodger third-base coach, has been a key contributor for the Eagles this season.
(Courtesy of Jeremiah Soifer)

The Etiwanda baseball team was wobbling when the Eagles took the field at La Verne Damien for a Baseline League game on April 2. Etiwanda, a perennial power, had lost four of its last seven games.

Etiwanda coach Don Furnald asked a 14-year-old freshman right-hander to turn the season around.

Brady Ebel isn’t just another ninth grader filled with big league dreams. He’s lived within whistling distance of the bigs for all of his life just like his father, Dino, the third base coach for the Dodgers who is known for his shrill whistle that catches the attention of players and coaches nearby and hundreds of feet away in the outfield.

Hall of Fame bound slugger Albert Pujols was so grateful to Dino for his coaching help that he gave him a 2021 Dodger blue Corvette Stingray as a token of thanks. Dino’s coaching skill can be seen in the play of his son.

“He taught me to play baseball the right way,” Brady said.

Furnald, the Etiwanda coach, said he has put a lot on the plate of such a young player in the very tough Baseline League.

“He has been phenomenal,” Furnald said. “He has exceeded our expectations.”

As a hitter, he has four home runs. As a pitcher, he’s 4-0 with an 0.27 ERA for the 17-8 Eagles

Furnald said Brady shows no exaggerated sense of importance from his proximity to the majors. Brady was home-schooled when he attended the MLB playoffs and World Series in Texas after the pandemic-abbreviated 2020 season.


“He’s very humble,” Furnald said. “That comes from his parents, Dino and Shannon.”

Ebel, 6-feet-2, 185 pounds, said his stature apparently comes from his uncles who stand well above six-feet tall. Dino is 5-9.

Ebel has a fastball that touches 86 mph. He used it and his breaking pitches to stifle Damien, 3-1, on April 2. Ebel also hit a home run.

He has lived with his family in Rancho Cucamonga for over 10 years. He started in baseball in Little League. He’s played travel ball for seven years. His father’s tenure in Southern California with the Angels, 13 seasons, and Dodgers, four seasons, have provided a stable life for him and his brother, Trey, 13. Their older sister, Destiny, 30, lived a transient life with her parents when Dino was a minor league coach and manager in Vero Beach, Fla., Albuquerque, San Antonio and Bakersfield.

Dino, 56, was such an outstanding baseball-basketball player at Barstow High that the school retired his number 6.

Jeremiah Soifer


Oaks Christian softball coach Pete Ackermann has his team at 26-0.
(Marvin O. Jimenz)

Southern Section softball pairings will be announced on Saturday. The big news of the week was the return from an ankle injury of Villa Park star pitcher Sydney Somerndike. She beat Esperanza, and with Somerndike pitching, Villa Park has to be back into the picture to win a championship.

Junior Myra Perez of Norco continues to have an MVP season. She’s batting .667 with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs.

Unbeaten Oaks Christian won the Best of the West tournament. The Lions are 26-0 and likely to be a No. 1 seed when the Southern Section releases softball pairings Saturday.

Senior Micaela Kastor leads the team in hitting with a .544 average.

Here’s the latest top 20 softball rankings.


Dalia Frias of Mira Costa and Sadie Engelhardt of Ventura continue to showcase amazing form in the distance races heading into league finals, Southern Section prelims and finals and state championships.


Frias traveled to Oregon to win the invite mile at the Oregon Relays in 4:43.32.

Engelhardt set a national freshman record in winning the 3,200 at the Ventura County championships in 9:50.59

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Notes . . .

Offensive lineman Siaosi Rhino Tapaatoutal of Bishop Alemany has committed to Arizona. . . .

Sophomore infielder Nate Castellon of Calabasas has committed to Pacifica. . . .

Harvard-Westlake is expected to complete final interviews this week for water polo coach. . . .

Ethan Damato has stepped down as water polo coach at Laguna Beach. Here’s the story. . . .

From the archives: Justin Campbell

Justin Campbell (left) and teammate Andrew Devine from Simi Valley in 2019.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Back when Justin Campbell was a youth phenom in Simi Valley, a youth coach predicted he would one day be a great pitcher. It’s all coming true. This summer, he’ll be eligible again for the MLB draft after spending three years at Oklahoma State.

He’s 6 feet 7 and a former baseball and basketball standout at Simi Valley.

This season, he’s 5-1 with a 2.98 ERA. He has 81 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings and 15 walks.

Here’s a story from 2019 about Campbell and his 5-8 teammate Andrew Devine at Simi Valley.

Here’s a story from 2014 about Simi Valley awaiting the arrival of Campbell.


The Food Taster

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the usual VIP tents were missing from last week’s Boras Classic. The snack bar at JSerra, though, had donuts for early morning games and most importantly, the favorite of college students for a cold night: Ramen noodle soup that comes alive with hot water.

Mac & Cheese and brisket sandwich on potato bread from Heritage BBQ in San Juan Capistrano.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Of course, down the street is the best barbecue in town — Heritage. The brisket melts in your mouth. Add potato bread and some Mac & Cheese and you’re all set.


From the Los Angeles Times, a story on how UCLA is going to connect businesses with student athletes in a new NIL emphasis.

From the San Jose Mercury News, a story on a blind hurdler.

From Yahoo, the story on the death of a former Oak Park runner.


From the Washington Post, a story on how volleyball is being introduced to HBCUs.

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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