Prep Rally: Why this could be a memorable football season for special teams players

Ryon Sayeri of Chaminade is one of a large group of outstanding kickers for the upcoming football season.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. The summer keeps moving along, and it’s time to salute the many kickers and punters who have been working hard in preparation for what could be a memorable season for special teams players.

Here come the kickers

It’s going to be the year of the kicker. That’s how many good ones there are in Southern California. They’ve been practicing far longer than usual with their private coaches this season, and it all means get excited about kickers.


Ryon Sayeri of Chaminade earned a spot in the All-American all-star game by winning a competition last weekend during a Chris Sailer camp in Florida. He made 13 of 16 field goals last season with a long of 55. He’s going to take a shot at the state record for longest field goal at 64 yards.

Mark Hyan is a 6-foot-4 soccer standout who attends Loyola but also kicks. He has one of the strongest legs. He’s playing pro soccer this summer but is returning in the fall to kick. He had a 48-yard field goal in 2022.

Dylan Fingersh of Capistrano Valley made eight of 12 field goals last season. Emiliano Salazar of Villa Park has been going to camp after camp trying to get attention. Nathan Lane of Ayala was seven of eight on field goals. Jacy Oliva of Birmingham kicked the game-winning field goal to beat Venice in overtime and was five of six on attempts.

Michael Salgado-Medina of Mission Viejo made 12 of 14 field goals. Justin Ludovico of Etiwanda was 11 of 12. Kyler Peters of Apple Valley had a 44-yard field goal last season. Jaiden Espadas of Cathedral made a 48-yard field goal. Freshman Shawn Sanders of St. Francis has been kicking field goals from 60 yards and in during practice.

There are football teams openly welcoming soccer players to join their team and contribute. And don’t forget about the long snappers and holders that are critical to create a successful special teams unit.

City football

Quarterback Keenan Jackson of King/Drew had no interceptions last season.

Let’s start a weekly look at City Section football and lead off with King/Drew, which went 9-3 in its rookie season and could be even better in 2023.

Coach Joe Torres raves about junior quarterback Keenan Jackson, nicknamed “Action Jackson.” As a sophomore he threw no interceptions while passing for 18 touchdowns and rushing for more than 700 yards and 12 touchdowns.


On defense, two basketball players are big-time talents. Junior Chinedu Onyeagoro had 19 sacks as an edge rusher in his first season of football. Linebacker Sadiq Henry is a three-sport athlete. There’s also defensive back Nonso Ndukwe, who had seven interceptions. Jahmir Torres is a sophomore transfer from Edgewood High in Maryland with speed.

King/Drew fell one game short of winning the Coliseum League last season won by Dorsey. If King/Drew can build stability on its offensive and defensive lines, it might make a run for the Open Division playoffs.

Summer preview: Tight end

Laguna Beach's Ryner Swanson runs upfield. He's one of the top tight ends for 2023.
(Scott Smeltzer/Los Angeles Times)

Tight ends can be among the best athletes on a high school football team. They need versatility so they can roam the field as a pass catcher, blocker and playmaker.

Continuing the summer football preview, there are plenty of quality tight ends in Southland football.

The top seniors are Ryner Swanson of Laguna Beach and Decker DeGraaf of Glendora.

Here’s a look at tight ends to watch.

First-round draft picks


It was quite an opening night for Southern California players on the first day of the MLB draft.

The No. 1 pick was Paul Skenes, a pitcher who starred at El Toro High, then went to Air Force and LSU. The Pirates took him.

The Athletics took Thousand Oaks grad Jacob Wilson from Grand Canyon at No. 6. Glendora grad Jacob Gonzalez went No. 15 to the White Sox after being a standout at Ole Miss.

The first high school player taken from Southern California was Huntington Beach catcher Ralphy Velazquez going No. 23 to the Cleveland Guardians.

In the second round, former Mater Dei pitcher Alonzo Tredwell of UCLA went No. 61 to the Astros.

Draft drama

 Will Gasparino attempts to score.
Will Gasparino slides into second.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Will Gasparino’s life is about to change.

At some point the Harvard-Westlake student should hear his name called at the Major League Baseball draft in Seattle. The 18-year-old star center fielder will then have three weeks to decide whether to attend the University of Texas or go pro.

It’ll be a moment he and his loved ones will cherish.

“It’s everything I’ve ever worked for,” Gasparino said. “It’s like my dream’s coming true, you know?”

The plan is to watch the event with family at home in Los Angeles. His father, especially, will be paying close attention. He just might not be there with his son. Work might get in the way.

Billy Gasparino’s job is busiest this time of year — in the lead up to the draft and during the three-day, 20-round event. He isn’t just any proud dad. He’s the Dodgers’ vice president of amateur scouting. Or, simply, he’s the guy who oversees the draft for the hometown team. This is his time of the year every year.

A profile on the Gasparinos.


MB Surf VBC won the Junior Nationals 18U division in boys’ volleyball.

The club team is run by Loyola coach Mike Boehle.


The tournament MVP was Loyola’s Sean Kelly, a Princeton commit.

SCVC Roxy 17s won the girls’ Open Division national championship at the girls’ Junior Olympics in Chicago.

Coached by Melissa Boice, the team included players from Palos Verdes, Redondo Union, Mira Costa and Lakewood.

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Bring on the walkie talkies

The JSerra walkie talkie that will be used to communicate with catcher for the 2024 season under new rule change.
(Brett Kay)

High school baseball booster clubs are about to get a request from coaches: Can you give us $1,200 for a walkie-talkie and earpiece for the 2024 season?

The National Federation of State High School Assns. baseball rules committee has approved the use of a one-way communication device between a coach in the dugout and the team’s catcher for calling pitches during the 2024 season.

Here’s a look at the new rule.

Notes . . .

The Robinson family from Long Beach Poly has moved to Orange County, and brothers Jason, Jadyn and Skylar, all receivers, will attend Santa Margarita. Jason is a senior, Jadyn a junior and Skylar a freshman. . . .


Defensive back Turran Williams of Muir has committed to Arizona. . . .

Pitcher Grayson Paul of Newbury Park has committed to Cal State Northridge. . . .

Offensive lineman David Abajian of Chaminade has committed to Oregon State. . . .

Tight end Kyle Brody of Santa Margarita has committed to Air Force. . . .

Tight end Max Polin from Chadwick has committed to Fordham. . . .

Bill Workman, who guided Edison to CIF football championships in 1979 and 1980 and was head coach from 1971 to 1985, died last week. . . .

Junior Nicholas Sahakian of St. John Bosco has committed to Arizona State for wrestling. . . .

Marvin Flores is the new baseball coach at San Pedro. . . .

Manny Lemus is the new football coach at Glendale. He was the defensive coordinator at Chaminade. . . .

Loyola offensive lineman Ryan Turk has committed to Dartmouth. . . .

Mater Dei defensive back Zabien Brown has committed to Alabama. . . .

RJ Lan is the new baseball coach at St. Paul. He had been an assistant at La Mirada. . . .

Cesar Martinez is the new baseball coach at Warren. He has been South Gate’s head coach, guiding the Rams to a City Division II title last season. . . .


St. John Bosco won its seven on seven passing tournament championship, defeating Carlsbad in the final. St. Bonaventure defeated St. Francis to win the Simi Valley tournament title. Mater Dei defeated Mission Viejo in the Mission Viejo tournament championship game. Inglewood defeated Don Lugo in the championship game of the Baldwin Park tournament. . . .

Former Gardena Serra defensive coordinator Joshua Dabbs has joined San Pedro as defensive coordinator. . . .

Rick Magnante is expected to be named baseball coach at Oak Park this week. He has been a long-time scout and pro coach. . . .

From the archives: Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole during his high school days at Orange Lutheran.
(Orange Lutheran)

Since his high school days at Orange Lutheran, Gerrit Cole has been throwing heat and getting attention of radar guns. It happens when you’re throwing 97 mph as a teenager. But you become a real star when you throw strikes with that kind of velocity. That’s what Cole became.

Cole turned down big bucks after being a first-round draft pick of the Yankees in 2008 to attend UCLA and got even better. He was the No. 1 pick of the 2011 draft by the Pirates. He was a MLB All-Star by 2015. He was traded to the Astros, then signed as a free agent with the Yankees in 2019 and has been one of baseball’s best pitchers. He’ll be playing in this week’s All-Star game.

Here’s a story on a young Cole before his senior season at Orange Lutheran in 2008.



From the Washington Post, a story on a 15-year-old who could be track and field’s next big star.

From the Wall Street Journal, a story on ACL injuries among women’s soccer players.

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Until next time...

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