Prep Rally: The best players and teams in the upcoming high school football season


Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. Football practice has begun throughout Southern California. It’s time to start previewing the top players and teams. A nine-part series begins Aug. 8 in The Times. Until then, we’ll give you a little sneak peek.

QBs to watch

The class of 2025 quarterbacks in Southern California are ready to provide competition for the outstanding class of 2023 quarterbacks. And the class of 2024 quarterback aren’t too shabby either.

In simple terms, there’s lot of talent at the quarterback position in the Southern Section.


The seniors are led by USC-bound Malachi Nelson of Los Alamitos and Tennessee-bound Nico Iamaleava of Warren. Both have earned national recognition for their college potential. But there are others, too.

Kadin Semonza of Mission Viejo is headed to Ball State. Aidan Chiles of Downey is committed to Oregon State. Pierce Clarkson of St. John Bosco is going to Louisville. Izzy Carter of Corona Centennial is committed to Arizona State. Ty Dieffenbach of Agoura Is an UNLV commit. CJ Tiller from Rancho Cucamonga and Ryan Staub of West Ranch are headed to Boise State and Colorado, respectively.

A look at QBs to watch this fall.

Quarterbacks need receivers to catch the ball. A look at receivers to watch this fall.


Football schedule

Birmingham wide receiver Peyton Waters celebrates with Ace Acosta after a touchdown catch
Woodland Hills, CA - November 27: Birmingham wide receiver Peyton Waters celebrates with Ace Acosta (13) after a touchdown catch against San Pedro in the CIF City Championship Open Division football title at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. (Alex Gallardo/For the LA Times)
(Alex Gallardo/For the Times/Alex Gallardo)

If you want to start making plans on what games to watch for the opening two weeks of the high school football season, the schedule is completed.

Here’s the schedule through Aug. 27.

Pads come on

Jefferson High School kicker Oscar Silva (40) huddles with the team during practice on July 28, 2022.
(Luca Evans / Los Angeles Times)

On the first day in shoulder pads and helmets, Jefferson High’s football team looked completely different.

Well, not necessarily in quality. It was far too early to tell for that. Players mostly stood and listened Thursday as coaches pointed out special-teams formations.

The difference came in their helmets: out with the traditional Jefferson gold, in with a shiny matte green.

“Pretty good color,” said senior kicker Oscar Silva, examining his helmet.

Coach Jason Grant also liked the color and had more than 50 helmets refurbished with the fresh paint.

The question is will he have players to fit in those helmets?

Luca Evans reports on the pursuit of players to join City Section programs.

2022-23 looks good

Soccer star Alyssa Thompson of Harvard-Westlake is ready to make impact running, 100, 200 and 400 in track and field.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

The elite of the elite are playing high school sports in Southern California this coming season.

As 2022-23 begins, Los Alamitos has the No. 1 QB, Malachi Nelson. Harvard-Westlake has the No. 1 girls’ soccer player, Alyssa Thompson, and No. 1 baseball player from class of 2024, Bryce Rainer. Sierra Canyon has the No. 1 girls basketball player, Juju Watkins.

Newbury Park has the No. 1 boys’ distance duo in twins Leo and Lex Young. Ventura has the No. 1 girls’ distance runner from the class of 2025 in Sadie Engelhardt. Gardena Serra has the No. 1 sprinter in Rodrick Pleasant. Mira Costa has the No. 1 beach volleyball player in Erin Inskeep. Corona Centennial has the No. 1 boys’ basketball player in California in Jared McCain. Villa Park has future first-round baseball draft pick in Gavin Grahovac. Sherman Oaks Notre Dame has top the softball prospect in Ella Parker, an Oklahoma commit.

Sunny Hills has perhaps the No. 1 golfer in Eric Lee.

Gasca is back at Venice

Venice coach Angelo Gasca showing off City Division I title trophy in 2021.
(Cliff Kensinger)

Angelo Gasca of Venice is the quarterback whisperer. He develops top quarterbacks, and his latest pupil is 6-foot-5 senior Paul Kessler, who passed for 1,561 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior.

Combine him with talented returning running back Robert Lamar and outstanding receiver Rashawn Jackson, and Venice has the makings of an offense that will be able to score lots of points.

The Gondoliers are aiming to win the Western League. Their experience makes them the co-favorite with Hamilton. Gasca is back for year No. 23 as head coach and year No. 33 at Venice.

Here’s a look.

Girls’ volleyball

Last season, Huntington Beach was quietly knocking on the door of the best girls’ volleyball teams in the Southern Section

This year, the Oilers might just completely bust it off the hinges.

Buzz continues to grow around these young Oilers — most recently winning this weekend’s Oxnard Invitational summer tournament with a 3-2 victory over a strong program in Lakewood (19-25, 25-20, 24-26, 25-20, 16-14)

It was no cakewalk. This season’s Huntington Beach unit had practiced together just once, but ran through a strong slate of Southern Section teams, including a gritty win over Redondo Union in the semifinals.

The Oilers are a close-knit group, returning seven starters from an underclassman-heavy team that went 28-7 in 2021. They’ve only continued to grow chemistry from playing on the beach, where rising juniors Haylee LaFontaine and Danielle Sparks just won an AAU 16U national championship.

“Going from the beach and having the control to go to indoor just makes our team special,” LaFontaine said after a tournament game Friday.

LaFontaine affirmed — they are ready to surprise some in the Southern Section.

“I’m really excited about our team,” she said.

—Luca Evans

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Notes . . .

Junior outfielder Nikko Paoletto of Damien has committed to Oregon. . . .

Sophomore catcher Isaiah Ibarra of Bishop Amat has committed to USC. . . .

Los Angeles Torres canceled its 2022 football season in June but has since found a coach. The school hopes to play other Northern League teams this season but will have to find new opponents for those Northern League teams that already rescheduled. . . .

Simi Valley receiver/track star Jaelon Barbarin has transferred to Chaminade. . . .

The top returning basketball player at Damien, 6-foot-8 Jimmy Oladokun, is transferring to Sierra Canyon. A club team made up mostly of Sierra Canyon players is traveling to Europe beginning Aug. 11 to play in a series of games that will be televised by ESPNU. Sierra Canyon will be visiting London, Paris and Rome. There are two sons of LeBron James on the team. . . .

Assistant Brad McGuire has been promoted to baseball coach at Ayala. . . .

Sherman Oaks Notre Dame sophomore Aja Johnson won the girls 15-16 shotput at the USATF Junior Olympics in Sacramento. . . .

Jared Luth is the new boys and girls water polo coach at Marina. . . .

Former El Toro pitcher/catcher Paul Skenes is transferring to LSU after starring at Air Force the last two seasons. . . .

Former Fairfax guard Donald Gipson has joined the basketball coaching staff as an assistant coach. . . .

Santa Margarita center Kyle Evans has committed to Colorado State. He’s also an outstanding pitcher. . . .

Defensive lineman Cameron Brandt of Sierra Canyon has committed to Stanford. . . .

Point guard Darrell Morris from Crean Lutheran announced he is transferring to West Ranch, which already picked up Jazz Gardner from Los Altos. . . .

Sunny Hills senior golfer Eric Lee made it to the semifinals of last week’s U.S. Junior Amateur championship. Lee lost in the second hole of a playoff to eventual champion Wenyi Ding of China. It makes Lee the top returning high school golfer in Southern California for 2023.

From the archives: Nick Pratto

The community of Huntington Beach has long known that Nick Pratto would one day make it to the major leagues. And he has, getting his first MLB hit and first MLB home run for the Kansas City Royals this season.

He first became known as a member of the Ocean View Little League team that won the Little League World Series in 2011. Here’s a story about the 12-year-old refusing to eat ice cream.

By 2017, Pratto was becoming a star at Huntington Beach High after transferring from Mater Dei.

Here’s another 2017 story about Little League teammates Pratto and Hagen Danner delivering for Huntington Beach.

He was taken by the Royals as the 14th pick in the 2017 draft. He won a Minor League Gold Glove award in 2021 for his play at first base.


From the Los Angeles Times, a story on the best beach volleyball player in California.

From Ballislife, a look at the changing landscape for college basketball recruiting.

From the Los Angeles Times, a story on three sons of sportswriters making it to the major leagues.

From the San Diego Union Tribune, a story on summer football in the San Diego area.

From the New York Times, a story on the recruiting of Bronny James.

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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