Senior Re-al Mitchell, the senior starting quarterback for No. 15 St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.), is out with an undisclosed injury this week, so the Braves’ hopes of knocking off No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) on Friday may rest on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who is only 15.
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That would be a scary thought for Bosco coach Jason Negro, except: Uiagalelei, at 6-5 and 245, is built like Cam Newton; has offers from Alabama, UCLA, Southern Cal and Oregon already; can throw the ball more than 75 yards; leads the Braves with seven touchdown passes this season; and came off the bench to lead a 21-17 comeback victory over St. John’s (Washington, D.C.) on Sept. 23.
“(Re-al) is not medically cleared, so therefore we have to go with D.J.,” Negro said. “We’re very fortunate in that we have a guy with skills who is hopefully going to allow us to continue to run our offense with efficiency. He’s got the strongest arm of any quarterback we’ve coached, even (UCLA quarterback Josh) Rosen, his arm is stronger than Josh’s. It’s a nice thing to have. We have a lot of confidence in him. He’s proven in big games that he can play with some of the best teams in the country.”
This is a Trinity League game, so it would be a big deal for the 5-1 Braves, even if Mater Dei wasn’t 6-0 and the top-ranked team in the Super 25. Last season, Mater Dei took the regular-season meeting 26-21, but Bosco prevailed 42-28 in the playoffs en route to winning the state title.
“We feel we participate in the best league in the country,” Negro said. “We’re excited to play Mater Dei when they are ranked the No. 1 team in the country. From great opportunities come great stories. I like that fact that we’re not No. 1. We haven’t fared too well when we played games when we were No. 1 in the country (the last time St. John Bosco was No. 1, the Braves lost to then-No. 2 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) in 2014).”
Negro is in his eighth year at Bosco and he holds a 7-2 edge in the series against the Monarchs, who are coached by Bruce Rollinson.
“I think they’re going to do what they do,” Negro said. “I certainly don’t think they fear us. We have a pretty good understanding of what we do and we have a pretty good understanding of what they do.”
The Monarchs are led by junior J.T. Daniels, a Southern Cal commit who was listed as an American Family Insurance Mid-Season Offensive Player of the Year candidate.
Daniels has completed 102 of 141 passes for 1,629 yards and 22 touchdowns, with only one interception. He’s also run for two touchdowns. The Monarchs have an exceedingly deep receiving corps as eight players have caught touchdown catches, led by Nikko Remigio (27 catches for 500 yards and eight touchdowns) and Amon-Ra St. Brown (16 catches for 256 yards and six touchdowns).
Uiagalelei played for the Braves’ basketball team as a freshman and is considered an elite prospect in baseball. While he doesn’t run as fast as Mitchell, who has committed to Iowa State, Uiagalelei is capable of running over people. Still, the Braves are more likely to throw the ball when he’s in the pocket.
Mike Esquivel, a Southern California quarterback coach, has worked with Uiagalelei since he was in the fifth grade.
“His strength is his arm strength,” Esquivel said. “He’s a pro-style quarterback. You talk about Matt Ryan and big Ben Roethlisberger — his body type matches those body types. His footwork is getting better. The thing is, his upside is still huge. He has plenty of room to grow.”
His father Dale was an offensive lineman at Mount San Antonio College and Esquivel said Uiagalelei could be a tight end if he wasn’t such a good quarterback.
“When he was a freshman, they kept trying to tell his dad, he’s going to be a right tackle or a tight end,” Esquivel said. “In his culture, there are a lot of linemen, but he can play quarterback because of his talent.”
Uiagalelei throws hard enough to get the ball in spots that other quarterbacks can’t.
“In high school, the window is pretty big, but the window he’s throwing in is a Division I window,” Esquivel said. “He has the arm strength to compete at the highest level. I see him competing in the SEC. For me, the biggest thing he has to develop his pocket presence and master his progressions.”