Legendary former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden referred to Glades Central High School in Belle Glade, Fla., as “Speed Central” because of the athletic and fast players he frequently recruited from the school.
Mater Dei of the Trinity League could easily be referenced as “Quarterback Dei” with the long list of highly touted signal-callers to have played at the Santa Ana-based parochial school.
This year sophomore J.T. Daniels is more than on his way to joining the all-time Monarch QB ranks, a fraternity that includes Heisman Trophy winners John Huarte (1964 at Notre Dame) and Matt Leinart (2004 at USC), as well as Matt Barkley, Todd Marinovich and Billy Blanton.
As a freshman, Daniels threw for 3,042 yards and 33 touchdowns, posting one of the best passing seasons in school history. Combined with tailback Brandon LaMarche, who ran for 1,616 yards and 21 touchdowns, Mater Dei fielded one of its best offensive teams in the last decade. But the Monarchs, 5-0 in nonleague last year for the third straight season, still finished second to St. John Bosco (Bellflower) in the Trinity.
In Mater Dei’s first two games in 2016, Daniels completed 19 of 22 passes for 373 yards and six touchdowns, mostly in the first half, in the Monarchs’ 63-14 road win over Bishop Amat (La Puente), and passed for 371 yards and six more TDs, completing 13 of 15 tosses, in his team’s 63-0 victory against Mayfair (Lakewood), all of Daniels’ statistics coming in the first half.
Two of Daniels’ targets this year are brothers Osiris and Amon-Ra St. Brown. The Stanford-bound Osiris St. Brown had team highs in receptions (43), receiving yards (884) and touchdown catches (12) last season.
On defense, Mater Dei has two Pac-12 commits in the secondary – Xavier Bell (Arizona) and Quentin Lake (UCLA) – along with Jalen Cole, a first-team All-Trinity League selection last year. But the Monarchs’ top linebacker, Fa’avae Fa’avae, who had 59 tackles, including 19 for losses, and 11 sacks last year, is out of the season because of an ACL injury suffered in a preseason scrimmage.
Even at this staggering pace to begin the season, scoring 63 points in each of the first two games, Mater Dei, the top-ranked team in Orange County, is not expected to win the rugged Trinity League, because Bosco still looms as the team to beat. An important date to mark is Oct. 21, when Mater Dei faces host Bosco, likely for the Trinity championship.
While there might be a drop-off in overall talent from the top two teams to the rest in the Trinity, another important date is Oct. 14, when Servite plays JSerra, a game that could potentially be the only league victory for either team, because Orange Lutheran is considered the third-strongest team and Santa Margarita fourth, according to a coaches’ poll.
First-year Santa Margarita coach Rich Fisher’s squad is led by receivers Grant Calcaterra (Oklahoma commit) and Georgia transfer Munir McClain, and center Brett Neilon (USC commit).
Servite will be sparked by quarterback Tyler Lytle (Colorado commit), receiver Terrell Bynum and center Christian Labow, while Washington-commit Keith Taylor spearheads the defense as one of the best cornerbacks in the county. Servite coach Scott Meyer enters his second year, after going 2-3 in league last year (4-6 overall).
JSerra is considered young, but talented, and the Lions could surprise some in the Trinity this year with senior wide receiver/defensive back Riley O’Brien, an electrifying playmaker, and junior quarterback Matt Robinson. Lion receivers Connor Hartigan (linebacker on defense) and Tristan West (defensive back) are also expected to garner attention.
In boys’ water polo, Mater Dei will once again rule the Trinity. The Monarchs return only two starters from last year’s CIF-Southern Section Division I championship team, but have reloaded and are on their way to a dominating season.
The Monarchs finished second at the California State High School Water Polo Championships in July to Division I rival Harvard-Westlake (Studio City), the school Mater Dei defeated to capture the 2015 Division I title. Mater Dei’s top player from last year, Thomas Dunstan (USC), played for the U.S. men’s water polo team at the Rio Olympic Games last month. Former Harvard-Westlake standout Ben Hallock also made Team USA.
Orange Lutheran and Santa Margarita’s Eagles should battle for the next two spots.
In girls’ volleyball, the Monarchs and Eagles are the top two teams. Utah-commit Shannon Scully leads Mater Dei with a strong all-around game, while Meghan McClure and Devon Chang lead the Eagles.
In girls’ tennis, the defending co-champion Eagles and Lions, led by Katie Chang and Jadie Acidera, respectively, should finish atop the Trinity.
In girls’ golf, Margarita and Rosary are expected to be strong, with Rosary led by state-qualifying hopeful Caroline Cantlay.
The field is wide open in cross-country, following Andrew Burkhardt’s celebrated 2015 season at JSerra.