Close quar­ters

Mater Dei’s Young and St. John Bosco’s Ui­a­galelei will match up tonight in a bat­tle of top ju­niors


When DJ Ui­a­galelei or Bryce Young show up to play for a foot­ball team, coaches re­vise play­books and quar­ter­backs scat­ter. Their pres­ence changes cal­cu­la­tions and forces coaches to adapt new strate­gies.

The two pro­lific prospects will take cen­ter stage for a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 on Fri­day night at Santa Ana Sta­dium when Ui­a­galelei and top-ranked Bellflower St. John Bosco (7-0) take on Young and Santa Ana Mater Dei (6-1) in a 7:30 p.m. Trin­ity League matchup.

Young has com­mit­ted to USC. Ui­a­galelei is be­ing pur­sued by Clem­son and Ore­gon as well as pro base­ball scouts. Both play­ers are ju­niors and they have com­bined to pass for 3,300 yards and 44 touch­downs this sea­son.

Young ar­rived at Mater Dei this year from L.A. Cathe­dral as the re­place­ment for JT Daniels, who de­cided to skip his se­nior year to play for USC. From his early years, Young has wanted to be tested. His father, Craig, had him throw­ing with high school, col­lege and NFL re­ceivers as a youth player.

“I never wanted him to be com­pla­cent. I wanted him chal­lenged,” CraigYoung said.

When Young en­rolled at Cathe­dral as a fresh­man, the Phan­toms had a three-year re­turn­ing starter, An­drew To­var, who was the league MVP, All-South­ern Sec­tion and had thrown 95 touch­down passes. That didn’t de­ter Young.

Coach Kevin Pear­son saw his skills and im­me­di­ately had him share play­ing time with the se­nior. Young would play the se­cond and fourth quar­ters of ev­ery game. “I had the best closer in the game,” Pear­son said.

Young, who is 6 feet and 185 pounds, also be­gan to scare off oth­ers. “I heard it over over and over,” Pear­son said. “We love what you do, but Bryce Young is there.”

When word spread that Daniels would be leav­ing for USC last fall, the Youngs de­cided Mater Dei would be the per­fect prov­ing ground. The el­der Young knew some col­lege re­cruiters would be skep­ti­cal

be­cause of his son’s lack of height, but he be­lieved top com­pe­ti­tion could erase any doubts, as it did for for­mer prep stars Tate Martell, a 5-11 re­serve at Ohio State out of Las Ve­gas Bishop Gor­man, and Kyler Mur­ray, the 5-10 starter at Ok­la­homa from Allen High in Texas.

“The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor was they played at the high­est level. That’s why they got schol­ar­ships and won state cham­pi­onships,” Craig Young said.

He added that his son didn’t go to Mater Dei just to earn a schol­ar­ship.

“He wants to play in col­lege and to do that he needs to be com­pet­ing in prac­tice and in games against the same peo­ple he’s go­ing to see on the col­lege level. Those Bosco lineback­ers and sec­ondary peo­ple, they’re all go­ing to be play­ing in col­lege.”

Young has quickly be­come a fa­vorite of coach Bruce Rollinson, com­plet­ing 77% of his passes for 1,738 yards and 21 touch­downs.

At St. John Bosco, Ui­a­galelei was known as a “man-child” from the mo­ment he stepped on campus. At 6 feet 4 and 245 pounds, he grew up think­ing he’d at­tend Up­land High. He was a ball boy there. But his father, Dave, rec­og­nized his tal­ent, was impressed by the suc­cess of the Braves’ quar­ter­backs — in­clud­ing NFL-bound Josh Rosen — and sent him to St. John Bosco.

Among the quar­ter­backs who have left since Ui­a­galelei’s ar­rival at St. John Bosco are Joey Yellen, an Ari­zona State com­mit and stand­out at Mis­sion Viejo, Josh Stupin, the starter at Foun­tain Valley, and Peter Costelli, the starter at Santa Mar­garita.

Ui­a­galelei’s de­vel­op­ment led to Iowa State re­cruit Re-Al Mitchell los­ing his start­ing job at mid­sea­son in 2017. Mitchell, who helped St. John Bosco win the 2016 Di­vi­sion 1 ti­tle, never played again for the Braves, even­tu­ally en­rolling early at Iowa State in spring 2018.

No one knows for sure if foot­ball is Ui­a­galelei’s best sport. He’s a pitcher and out­fielder in base­ball wait­ing to see what pro scouts think of his po­ten­tial this spring. This sea­son, Ui­a­galelei has passed for 1,566 yards and 23 touch­downs while com­plet­ing 73% of his throws.

Two weeks ago Ui­a­galelei strug­gled in a 35-28 win over San Juan Capis­trano JSerra, yet his father called it a bless­ing in dis­guise.

“I told my son, ‘I’m so proud of you,’ ” Dave Ui­a­galelei said. “To see a kid go­ing through his strug­gles and even­tu­ally fig­ur­ing it out — he had to run the ball and throw the ball to seal that win. That’s tes­ta­ment to who DJ is. He’ll play de­fen­sive end if he has to. I’m so happy we went through that strug­gle.”

The two quar­ter­backs have known each other from camps and com­pe­ti­tions but never faced off be­fore in a game. This could be the first of four meet­ings over the next two sea­sons.

“DJ is one of the most hum­ble, nicest, God-fear­ing young men you’d ever meet,” Craig Young said. “They’ve al­ways been friendly and re­spect­ful with each other.”

This game will set­tle which team will be the No. 1 seed for the Di­vi­sion 1 play­offs. It also will let peo­ple see per­haps the best two ju­nior quar­ter­backs in Cal­i­for­nia. The other top con­tender in Di­vi­sion 1 is Corona Cen­ten­nial (7-0), which is quar­ter­backed by for­mer Mater Dei backup Carter Freed­land.

“That’s a great team,” DJ Ui­a­galelei said of Mater Dei. “We have to pre­pare, watch film and know the ins and outs of what they do. Their sec­ondary and de­fen­sive line look very good like last year. They’re a great team and it’s go­ing to be a great game."

Added Bryce Young: “Rollo has taught us to pre­pare for each Fri­day like it’s our last, but as a team, we have an ex­tra fire lit be­cause of the ri­valry that’s de­vel­oped be­tween the two schools.”

Pho­tographs by Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

MATER DEI quar­ter­back Bryce Young cel­e­brates in the fourth quar­ter last month af­ter scor­ing against IMG Acad­emy of Florida.

ST. JOHN BOSCO’S DJ Ui­a­galelei has thrown for 23 touch­downs this sea­son, He is also a base­ball stand­out for the Braves.

Jerry Soifer For The Times

DJ UI­A­GALELEI’S suc­cess at St. John Bosco has led to a num­ber of quar­ter­backs leav­ing the school.

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