Bruce Rollinson is in his 29th season as the head coach of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.). He’s seen a lot of success, with one state title, five CIF titles and Super 25 national championships in 1994 and 1996.
It has been a minute since his Monarchs were ranked No. 1 in the Super 25, though, and he’s enjoying the opportunity to play three-time defending Super 25 champion and No. 3-ranked Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas). The teams meet Friday at 10:30 p.m. at Santa Ana Stadium.
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“I got home late the other day by the time I locked up at the school and everything,” Rollinson said. “I was tired when I got home but I said to my wife, ‘This is what it is all about.’ This is why I coach at Mater Dei, this is why at 68, I’m still grinding. I tell my kids the same thing. This is why you go to Mater Dei. I can’t wait for this game.”
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The game is part of a home-and-home series, with the Monarchs scheduled to go to Bishop Gorman next year. It’s the first time the teams have played. Rollinson isn’t keen traveling for out-of-state opponents because there’s plenty of good competition in Southern California. But outside of Trinity League play, the Monarchs face the same problem Bishop Gorman does. Finding good opponents willing to play them.
“Part of it, I hate to say, is financial,” Rollinson said. “For me to put the show on the road is an expensive venture. I have to protect the budget. The flip side is we are at a point where it is hard to get opponents here. I don’t want to play Corona Centennial because we’ll probably see them in the playoffs. I got to know Tony Sanchez (the former coach at Bishop Gorman, now the head coach at UNLV) and I respect he and his brother, Kenny.”
Both teams have elite-level talent. Mater Dei’s junior quarterback, J.T. Daniels, who threw 67 touchdown passes last season, recently committed to Southern Cal. His top receiver, Amon-Ra St Brown, sat in the Monarchs’ season-opening 31-7 defeat of Bishop Amat (La Puente) with a finger injury, but Daniels also has junior Bru McCoy, along with UCLA commit C.J. Parks and Cal commit Nikko Remigio to throw to. The Monarchs have a big offensive line, led by Chris Murray and Tommy Brown, who is headed to Alabama.
Bishop Gorman senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a UCLA commit. His top targets are tight end Brevin Jordan, who has committed to Miami and speedy wide receiver Jalen Nailor, an Arizona State commit, along with Falcon Kaumatule. The Gaels have a big-time linebacker in senior Palaie Gaoteote.
“I’ve known Coach Rollinson for a while going to the Nike Summit and we’ve been trying to get something together for a while,” Bishop Gorman coach Kenny Sanchez said. “Going out playing good teams helps you get ready for your next opponent. DeMatha was a really good first team. I think that will help us get ready for Mater Dei. A lot of it is going out and playing good football teams because it is fun or challenging.”
“They are obviously a well-rounded football team,” Sanchez said. “This year, they’ve added a running game to what they do. They are really big up front. Their offensive line is as big as it gets and their quarterback is a stud and all the receivers are too. It’s football 101. You have to stop the run first and make sure they don’t get big plays in the passing game. Offensively, we have to establish the running game, put drives together and ultimately finish.”
Bishop Gorman opened at home last week with a 35-22 defeat of then-No. 6 DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) in Thompson-Robinson’s first start as a quarterback. He silenced a lot of doubters, completing 19 of 23 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns and running for two touchdowns.
“He got an A,” Sanchez said. “I think he completed 73 percent of his passes and had five touchdowns. Obviously there are some things he has to improve on, but for his first game against a really good football team, I thought he played extremely well.”
One concern for Sanchez is his team’s running game, which struggled against DeMatha with 29 carries for 65 yards.
“It was atrocious,” Sanchez said. “We have to fix that. We have to be able to run — otherwise it will be a long year. We have to continue to get better each week and not focus on our press clippings and what we’ve done in the past.”