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Monday, May 27, 2013
Big men lead Bosco's brave new world

By Erik McKinney

The Trinity League has been home to some of the California's top teams of the past several decades. Santa Ana Mater Dei, Anaheim Servite, Rancho Santa Margarita Santa Margarita and Orange Lutheran have all taken their turns as state and regional powers, but in just three years at the helm of his alma mater, head coach Jason Negro has Bellflower St. John Bosco in the national spotlight.

After building up the program in 2010 and 2011, defeating Mater Dei and Orange Lutheran in 2011, St. John Bosco rolled through the Trinity League's fearsome foursome in 2012, with no win coming by fewer than 12 points. In 2013, the Braves are expected to compete for a state championship.

While the Braves have always been blessed with skill position talent, they have been lacking in big bodies compared to its competition. After producing 2013 ESPN 300 offensive tackle Nico Falah and preparing to go into this season with ESPN 150 offensive lineman Damien Mama, four-star defensive end Malik Dorton, 2014 defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and 6-foot, 345-pound offensive guard Emery Sero, it would appear bulk on both lines is no longer an issue.

Jaleel Wadood
Jaleel Wadood is a top prospect on a Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco roster loaded with them.
“Other teams were always so big and physical up front and we were always so skilled,” Nego said. “We never had the combination of the skill and the line, so that’s what we started focusing on.

“We really try to develop linemen. In our sophomore class, we have around 20 linemen, so we can build and mold these guys into guys we need. If we can match that line with the skill we already have, we can be pretty talented.”

That skill has been on display this spring, as St. John Bosco athletes racked up offer after offer.

In addition to Mama, Dorton and Tuioti-Mariner, five 2014 recruits hold scholarship offers. Four-star athlete Jaleel Wadood is committed to Arizona State, although Oregon has offered and USC is showing increased interest. Cornerback Naijiel Hale holds 10 offers, including Arizona, Arizona State, California, Nebraska and Utah, and will participate in The Opening later this summer. Fellow defensive back Chandler Hawkins holds offers from Cal Poly and San Jose State. Linebacker Chandler Leniu is up to five offers, including Kansas and Washington State. And wide receiver Shay Fields Jr. holds five as well, with Nevada and San Jose State as two of his options.

At a recent college showcase practice, Negro estimated that more than 50 coaches were on the St. John Bosco campus to scout the Braves. But it doesn’t stop with the 2014 class.

Sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen is already a national recruit, with offers from Duke, Michigan, Oregon State and Tennessee. Negro also pointed out 2015 offensive lineman Matthew Katnik, adding that the 6-foot-3, 285-pound big man holds the top mark in the country for sophomores in the shot put with a throw of more than 58 feet. Athlete Michael Ray is another class of 2015 product to watch, as the 6-foot, 200-pound athlete could make an impact this year either at running back or defensive back.

In the 2016 class, athlete D.J. Morgan already holds an offer from Vanderbilt, and the 6-foot-2, 181-pound athlete will contribute at safety and/or wide receiver this season. Fellow freshman Traveon Beck is another two-way threat who drew the attention of USC coaches following a recent practice. And Sean McGrew is a 5-foot-7, 165-pound running back who turned in a terrific year for the St. John Bosco freshman team and will look to contribute to the varsity squad this season.

This is the first big group of highly recruited kids for Negro at St. John Bosco, and he acknowledged both how it developed and what it means moving forward.

“These are the guys who have been with us for three or four years and they’ve been through the system,” he said. “We had a couple key transfer kids come in and that’s helped, but having these guys buying in for that amount of time where they can grow and grow has been big.”

With that amount of talent comes expectations, and St. John Bosco is on the short list of teams that will receive plenty of attention this fall.

“We still haven’t accomplished anything, other than a lot of hype,” Negro said. “But the pressure is only on me and my staff. The kids are kids. They have a lot of confidence and a bit of swagger. They thrive on it and they’re excited about it. They want those expectations because it’s going to generate bigger buzz and more people. They really enjoy those opportunities.”