Video: Mater Dei vs. St. John Bosco preview
MaxPreps national football editor Zack Poff and host Myckena Guerrero break down this week's big game.
In 29 years as head football coach at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
, Bruce Rollinson said he's never successfully rotated quarterbacks on a regular basis. Now he doesn't even try.
"It just puts too much strain on the kids, the staff and head coach," he said. "Half the team thinks it should be this guy, the other half that guy. The parents get in the middle. It's too much turmoil."
It's also stressful defending rotating quarterbacks, which Rollinson and his nationally top-ranked Monarchs were planning to face Friday at El Camino College in a Trinity League and national showdown against fifth-ranked
St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.)
Rollinson said Tuesday the game's "X-Factor" was how Mater Dei (6-0) and its young, but improving secondary, would contend with the double whammy of a quarterback tandem in senior Re-Al Mitchell
and sophomore DJ Uiagalelei
Turns out, the Monarchs will only have to deal with up-and-comer Uiagalelei.
Bosco coach Jason Negro on Wednesday told the Long Beach Press-Telegram
that Mitchell won't play because he has "an undisclosed injury and he hasn't been cleared by a medical professional that will allow him to play. Therefore, he will not play, and we're going with DJ."
Mitchell, an Iowa State commit, is one of the fastest quarterbacks in the country — a legitimate 10.50-second 100-meter sprinter — who last season emerged as an outstanding dual threat while leading the Braves to a CIF State Open Division title and No. 6 national ranking. The 5-foot-11, 187-pounder threw for 2,932 yards and 30 scores, while running for 1,058 and 15 more.
Waiting in the wings was emerging Uiagalelei, a mobile and remarkably strong-armed 6-4, 240-pounder, who was caught on social media during a summer camp flinging the ball 80 yards. With offers from Alabama and USC, he was no YouTube sensation, but a legitimate prospect. Even though he'd never taken a varsity snap.
"The kid can really hose it," Rollinson said. "He runs pretty well, too. Not as well as (Mitchell), but he's obviously a very good athlete."
Negro said before the season that Uiagalelei would be utilized this season and the sophomore delivered in the fourth quarter of a 21-17 win at then nationally ranked St. John's (Washington, D.C.). He brought the Braves back from a 10-point deficit.
That led to last week's rotation during a 42-21 win over previously unbeaten Orange Lutheran (Calif.) when both Mitchell and Uiagalelei marched the Braves to three touchdown drives. During 27 plays, Mitchell, the starter, led Bosco to 254 yards and Uiagalelei, in 31 plays, directed the Braves to 264 yards.
Besides the perfect symmetry and offensive balance, Negro told Los Angeles Times columnist Eric Sondheimer the quarterbacks were comfortable splitting time: "They handled it great," Negro said.
That concerned Rollinson. Now the Monarchs, which have given up 15 points per game against some of the most potent offenses in the state and nationally, will focus solely on Uiagalelei, who has completed 29-of-44 passes for 474 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He's also rushed for 86 yards.
"I have 100 percent confidence that (Uiagalelei) is going to perform at a high level," Negro said.
Likewise, Rollinson is confident in his secondary, all first-year starters.
In fact, when asked to list what has pleased him most this season, he said "the development of the secondary. I was holding my breath early on, but now I'm very comfortable. They've done a very good job against some of the best receivers around."
That secondary has picked off 11 passes, four by senior Stephon Robins
, and returned three for touchdowns, including a key one by sophomore Darion Green-Warren
in a 35-21 win over defending national champion Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas). It broke Gorman's 55-game win streak.
Inside linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu
is Mater Dei's top defensive recruit, but defensive end Nathan Logoleo
(30 tackles, 11 for loss, eight sacks) has been perhaps the Monarchs' most effective defender.
"He's been unbelievable," Rollinson said. "His heart is as big as the stadium. (Gorman coach) Kenny (Sanchez) said nobody could block him."
With such great speed and strength, few have been able to block Bosco's defenders. Led by one of the nation's top secondaries, the Braves give up just 13 points a game.
Safeties Jaiden Woodbey
the nation's No. 33 recruit overall and an Ohio State commit, and UCLA-bound Stephan Blaylock
each have interception returns for touchdowns. Woodbey also has returned a fumble for a score.
"Their defense can flat out fly," Rollinson said. "Their secondary is tremendous. They're all returners and know exactly what they're doing. What really jumps off the charts is how they tackle. They bring guys down immediately."
That secondary will be put to the test facing the nation's top-rated junior quarterback, USC commit JT Daniels
(102 of 141, 1,629 yards, 22 touchdowns, one interceptions) and a deep and talented receiving core, led by Amon-Ra St. Brown
(6-0, 191). The nation's No. 2 rated receiver has 16 catches for 256 yards and six touchdowns in just three games due to injury. Nikko Remigio
(27-500-8), Horace McCoy III
(19-334) and Chris Parks
(14-201-3) are other major weapons, making the Bosco secondary versus the Mater Dei receivers matchup worth the price of admission.
"That will be fun to watch for sure," Rollinson said.
The winner will have the inside track to claim the Trinity League, but more important, a probable top seed heading into the Southern Section Pac-5 Tournament.
Bosco has won seven of the last eight games in this series, with Mater Dei winning last year's regular-season tilt. Bosco rebounded and beat the Monarchs in the Southern Section finals en route to a state title.
"This will be a great high school game," Rollinson said. "You'll see more Division I talent on the field than you can shake a stick at.
"Most of the top level kids all know each other and are friends. I like Jason Negro very much. All that nastiness between teams isn't there, so they'll be simply focused on the game. Fans are going to get quite a show."