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Prep Rally: Let’s start previewing the 2022 high school football season

Freshman Brady Smigiel has grown to 6 feet 4 and will take over as the quarterback at Newbury Park.
(Marvin Jimenez)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. It’s time to start previewing top teams and players for the 2022 football season. One of the most intriguing is freshman quarterback Brady Smigiel of Newbury Park.

Freshman to watch

The referee for the seven-on-seven summer passing game kept saying “third down.”

Newbury Park head coach Joe Smigiel kept answering “second down,” his voice rising and his frustration growing.

Meanwhile, the 15-year-old freshman quarterback and son of the head coach, Brady Smigiel, acted impervious to the dispute, huddling with teammates to prepare for the next play.

It was the perfect scene to imagine what might transpire this fall between father and son.

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“He’s more mature than me,” Joe said

At 6 feet 4, Brady has the size to be a top quarterback along with the arm. Now let’s see what happens when the pads come on.

Brady Smigiel, left, was 13 in 2020 when he took this selfie with Kobe Bryant.
Brady Smigiel, left, was 13 in 2020 when he took this selfie with Kobe Bryant the night before Bryant was killed in helicopter crash.
(Brady Smigiel)

Here’s a profile of a teenager who when he was 13 took one of the last photos of Kobe Bryant before his death.

Peko brothers

Brothers Domata, left, and Joseph Peko of Calabasas are the sons of NFL defensive lineman Domata Peko Sr.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

The Peko brothers, Domata Jr. and Joseph, have been able to hang out and learn from their father, Domata Sr., a defensive lineman in the NFL for 15 years. They’ve been on the field at NFL stadiums before games watching, listening and trying to understand what it takes to succeed.

Now they’re using those lessons at Calabasas High, where Domata Jr. is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior defensive end and Joseph is a 6-foot, 245-pound freshman lineman.

Domata Peko of the Baltimore Ravens,
Defensive lineman Domata Peko Sr., then with the Baltimore Ravens, celebrates after a game in 2019.
(Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)

Domata Sr., who was born in Whittier and later lived in Samoa, was an assistant coach at Calabasas in 2019 until he signed late with the Baltimore Ravens.

Joseph, known around Calabasas as “Baby Peko,” is built similarly to his father, who is 6-3, 325 pounds.

Long snappers to watch

Oaks Christian long snapper Tate Haver is committed to Texas.
(Chris Rubio)

Long snappers remain valuable contributors to any football team, and long snapping guru Chris Rubio offers his latest list of top long snappers for the coming football season, led by Oaks Christian’s Tate Haver, who is committed to Texas.

Haver, the son of Rams general manager Les Snead, is very fluid with his snaps with no wasted movement and quick hands, Rubio said.

Other long snappers to watch from the senior class include Chase Martin from Thousand Oaks, Joshua Fuentes from Oxnard, Trent Middleton from Orange Lutheran and Jonathan Tabb from El Modena.

A rising junior is Rylan Vagana from Santa Ana Mater Dei.

DeMar DeRozan reminiscences

Former Compton High star DeMar DeRozan on Tuesday during a panel discussion.
(Luca Evans)

With every summer, the landscape shifts, gentrification seeping into the infrastructure DeMar DeRozan calls home.

When spring melts away and the final buzzer sounds on DeRozan’s season — echoing this year after a first-round series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks — the former Compton High star returns to Los Angeles. It’s a city, though, different from 15 years ago, when his deep-sea-blue No. 23 Compton jersey rocked rims across the land. The Kia Forum was long the “big thing” in Inglewood, he said. Now the city has the gleaming L.A. Rams’ SoFi Stadium.

“Over time, you look up,” DeRozan said, “and Inglewood is going to be like Beverly Hills.”

After speaking in the final event of Tuesday’s LA84 Foundation Play Equity Summit, DeRozan reflected for a moment on the change he saw year after year in his hometown — a change he called “crazy.” And not just on the city’s surface.

The No. 23 Tarbabes jersey and his 30-point outbursts in cramped high school gyms are immortalized in grainy YouTube highlights. But as the years have passed, the competition as DeRozan knew it has crumbled, corresponding with a decades-long drop in enrollment among familiar public schools.

The once-mighty football programs of LAUSD schools such as Crenshaw, a few miles north of the Forum, suffered engagement so low that games had to be cancelled this past season. Long Beach Jordan High basketball, a Moore League rival in DeRozan’s Compton heyday, went 10-16 last season and 0-12 in 2021. Fremont, a stout 21-8 opponent for the Tarbabes in DeRozan’s senior season, didn’t win a game last season.

“It’s one of those things that’s real sentimental, especially with me being able to enjoy my high school — how much high school mattered coming up,” DeRozan said of the local decline in enrollment and competition. “For me, seeing where it’s at now, it’s kind of sad to see.”

Here’s the report.

Praying in the spotlight

Dorsey football coach Stafon Johnson was hired in 2019.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Stafon Johnson has long been a self-described “church boy.”

The Dorsey High coach and former standout Dons running back found a home base in church, growing up in Compton. His grandfather was on the minister’s board there. Faith came along when he started playing Pop Warner, when he came to Dorsey and when he realized pregame jitters could sometimes be calmed by a few words to God.

He said he never prayed before basketball games like he did football. It was the physicality of the game. The knowledge that freak accidents could happen with one misplaced cleat.

“When I got to the NFL and college, there’s an actual chaplain,” Johnson said. “So I just thought that was just one of those universal things, where, ‘Duh.’ ”

But prayer within public high school football programs is not so simple.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a football coach in Washington state who was put on paid leave after praying on the field’s 50-yard line after games.

The decision blurs the line between church and state in public schools, with the high court holding that the coach’s actions were protected by the 1st Amendment. For some coaches like Johnson captaining LAUSD programs, that line has long been hazy.

Here’s a report from Lucas Evans.

College baseball uncertainty

UCLA coach John Savage.
(Shotgun Spratling / For The Times)

UCLA baseball coach John Savage is like many college baseball coaches these days in trying to figure out a roster for next season while having to wait until the middle of July just to see who might be leaving because the amateur draft doesn’t take place until July 17-19.

“The timing is terrible,” Savage said.

Adding to the uncertainty, there was a Thursday deadline when coaches must let returning players know whether scholarships will be renewed. Savage has 11.7 scholarships to give out, including for incoming freshmen. It’s a yearly balancing act, and this year is even more uncertain because there are many more players draft eligible because of COVID-19 redshirt seasons. How many will choose to leave? How many will be taken during a 23-round amateur draft?

Here’s a report.

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‘What the heck?’

Wyatt Becker, a sophomore quarterback at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High with 16 college scholarship offers, said he learned the news about USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten via Twitter.

“What the heck?” he said was his reaction.

High school sports recruits from across California had similar thoughts of shock.

A report on the reaction from recruits about last week’s stunning news.

Notes ...

Two sophomore baseball players from La Mirada have committed to UCLA. Outfielder Maverek Russell and shortstop Aiden Aguayo both announced commitments. ...

Keani Albanez is the new girls’ basketball coach at Oaks Christian. She played at Buena and Gonzaga. ...

Beth Bailey is the new girls’ water polo coach at Huntington Beach. ...

Colin Sahlman from Newbury Park has been selected the Gatorade boys’ state athlete of the year in track and field. Sahlman, a distance runner, is headed to Northern Arizona. ...

Freshman Sadie Engelhardt of Ventura has been selected the Gatorade girls’ state athlete of the year in track and field. She’s a distance runner. ...

Former Servite catcher Garret Guillemette has transferred from USC to Texas. ...

Former Mira Costa pitcher Thatcher Hurd has left UCLA for Louisiana State. ...

Former Beckman outfielder Nick McClain has left UCLA for Arizona State. ...

Santa Ana Mater Dei 6-8 forward Zack Davidson has committed to Montana. ...

Former El Camino Real guard JD Wyatt has transferred to Reseda Cleveland. He will be a sophomore. ...

An all-star team of California baseball players, many from Orange County, won the Geico high school baseball championship in Louisiana. Huntington Beach’s Aidan Espinoza and JSerra’s Jonathan Mendez each hit a home run in the final. Orange Lutheran’s Eric Borba was head coach. ...

Mission Viejo wide receiver Jackson Holman has committed to Arizona. ...

Santa Ana Mater Dei won the eight-team St. John Bosco seven-on-seven tournament Saturday, defeating Carlsbad in the championship game. The best tournament of the season takes place Saturday at Edison High in Huntington Beach with Mission Viejo, Long Beach Poly, Los Alamitos and Corona del Mar battling it out against the top private schools. And best of all — admission is free. Bring a lawn chair and sunscreen and be nice to the officials when they don’t call defensive holding. ...

Former St. Paul and Pepperdine infielder Andy Stankiewicz is the new baseball coach at USC. He was head coach at Grand Canyon.

From the archives: Jordin Canada

Los Angeles Sparks guard Jordin Canada.
Sparks guard Jordin Canada brings the ball up the court against the Chicago Sky on May 6.
(Kamil Krzaczynski / Associated Press)

Jordin Canada is fulfilling all her dreams and aspirations as a women’s basketball player.

She was a star point guard at Windward, went on to become a four-year standout at UCLA and is now playing for her hometown team in the WNBA, the Sparks.

Here’s a story from 2013 explaining how when Canada is on the court, “there’s magic in the air.”

Here’s a story when she was The Times’ player of the year.

Recommendations

From the Ventura Star, a story on no regrets for Newbury Park distance star Colin Sahlman on passing up competing in CIF events.

From the Fontana Herald News, a story on a stadium being named after football coach Dick Bruich.

From the Los Angeles Times, a story on the Supreme Court ruling that allowed a football coach to pray after a game.

From TheRinger.com, a story on 17-year-old basketball standout Andrej Stojakovic.

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 eric.sondheimer@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latsondheimer.

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