When Mater Dei began bringing in more players from farther afield — from Moreno Valley to the northeast, Temecula to the southeast and Los Angeles to the west — Rollinson arranged for vans that school employees living near those areas could drive to and from the campus each day. As many as a dozen players ride in the vans.
Josh Hunter, a senior safety from Temecula, 70 miles from the school, said the van was a significant factor in his choosing Mater Dei over St. John Bosco, which was even farther away. “There’s some bad days, for sure, where you’re tired and your best friend from the neighborhood can walk to school,” said Hunter, who is the son of the former Atlanta Braves first baseman Brian Hunter and is considering playing both baseball and football at San Diego State. “But my goal was to go to college for free — that was the big push.”
The day before Mater Dei and St. John Bosco met, Myron Williams, a 52-year-old father, stood in an end zone at Panish Family Stadium, watching the schools’ freshman teams play. His placement was strategic — at halftime, parents from both sides passed him to ask why he wasn’t sitting on their side.
His son, Madden, a promising eighth-grade receiver who wants to play in high school, is trying to decide between St. John Bosco and Mater Dei.
“It’s no different than looking at colleges,” Myron Williams said. “If you have N.F.L. aspirations, you’re not going to play at an N.A.I.A. school. As a parent, I know there’s no magic pill, but these are the best coaches and the best players, so if you’re going through that for four years, you would hope to be better prepared for the chance to play in college.”
The next night provided a hint of what lies ahead for those freshmen. More than a dozen college coaches roamed the sideline, keeping their eyes on prospects. Of all the elite talent on the field, it was Elijah Brown, Mater Dei’s slight sophomore quarterback, who shined brightest, coolly delivering a variety of throws on target.
The score was tied at halftime but Mater Dei thwarted St. John Bosco twice on downs near its goal line and eased to a 42-21 victory. Matayo Uiagalelei, a 6-foot-5, 254-pound junior tight end and defensive end whose brother D.J. is the starting quarterback at Clemson, was kicking himself for dropping three passes. “I’m going to put that on me,” Uiagalelei said of the loss.