NCAA ‘football factory’ is based on brotherhood

BELLFLOWER, Calif. – The office of the football coaches at St. John Bosco High School isn’t typical.

Well-polished trophies line the room, representing such championships as the Mission Viejo High School Football Classic and the Battle of the Beach. Framed articles from the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register and other publications highlight state championship runs by the Bosco Braves.

In the decade since Jason Negro took over as head coach, the program has become an unstoppable force in high school football and a source of top recruits for Arizona State and universities around the country. That dominance began in 2013, when the Braves won their first Open Division state championship and went on to be named the top team in the country. In 2016, they took state again.

Two weeks ago, Bosco won the California Interscholastic Federation championship Open Division bowl game, 49-28, for a third state title in a decade – a feat that would have been hard to imagine before Negro arrived.

Framed jerseys belonging to Bosco greats – including some household names – adorn the walls. One belonged to NFL quarterback Josh Rosen, a standout at UCLA who has played for Arizona and Miami. Others include former NFL wide receiver Bryce Treggs and cornerback Leon McFadden.

St. John Bosco High School’s football dominance in the past decade is well-documented in the coaches’ office, especially on head coach Jason Negro’s desk. (Photo by Evan Desai/Cronkite News)

Ten years into the program, Bosco coaches expect this level of talent to come out of it.

One more element of the office is tough to miss: The business cards from college recruiters who visited Bosco. They’re from every Power 5 conference, ranging from West Coast programs like UCLA and USC to such far-away schools as Clemson and Georgia, as well as top-tier academic institutions, including Harvard and Brown.

Negro says a major factor in his team’s elite status is the Braves’ “national schedule.” They travel across the country for scouts and coaches from various programs to see Bosco’s talent.

“We’ve played all over the place,” Negro said. “So our whole opportunity that we have here at St. John Bosco is to try to get kids to play and to expose them to as many collegiate markets as possible.”

This year’s trips have worked out well for Brave Nation, taking their talents to Nevada and Hawaii in September, and blowing out the competition in each game.

These travel outings pay off in more than wins. Past trips made for great episodes on a Netflix show they were featured on “QB1: Beyond the Lights,” which each season showcases three of the country’s best high school quarterbacks.

For Bosco, it was the 2017 season, where Re-al Mitchell, currently playing at Iowa State, was quarterbacking the Braves in his senior year. Later in the season, Mitchell was injured, giving backup quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei the chance under the lights.

St. John Bosco’s never out of the spotlight. There’s always players on this roster that will be mentioned in any recruiting discussion in any season. (Photo by Scott Rowe/Cronkite News)

Fast forward to 2019: Uiagalelei is a senior commit to Clemson and the No. 1 ranked pro-style quarterback in the country who just led the Braves to the state championship.

He’s a menacing 6-foot-4½ and 246 pounds. Quarterbacks, especially high-school seniors, aren’t supposed to look like him. Pair that size and strength with an incredible arm and his prospects for being the next big thing make perfect sense.

Clemson has had some outstanding quarterback play in recent memory from the likes of Tajh Boyd, Deshaun Watson, Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney wants Uiagalelei to be the next guy.

Logan Bednar, starting right guard for the Braves, has high praise for his signal-caller – and a special chemistry.

“D.J. is going to be the future of the sport, and I think we all know that,” said Bednar, who has committed to Harvard. “I think anybody that knows anything about high school football knows that. So it’s not just understanding the asset that I have to protect game-in, game-out, and play-in, play-out, (but) that he’s a great guy. He’s a smart player, and I trust him and he trusts me to protect him.”

Negro raves about the academics the all-boys private high school also has to offer, and that he gets his athletes to sign at Ivy League schools and other schools with rigorous academics.

“That in the community sometimes means a whole lot more than just kids going to Ohio State, or kids going to USC,” Negro said. “(Saying) that you’ve got kids going to, you know, six Ivy League schools over the last four years in your program says a whole lot. And I’m super proud of those guys, as much as I am proud of the guys that are five-star athletic guys. We’ve got a ton of five-star academic guys.”

The Braves played their homecoming game Nov. 1 in front of fervent fans and more than one college recruiter. (Photo by Scott Rowe/Cronkite News)

Three Bosco alumni are at Arizona State, a place Negro is pleased to see his players land.

“Arizona State’s doing a great job,” the coach said. “Since Coach Edwards has been there, first and foremost, he’s hired an amazing staff. Those guys understand what the high school athlete is looking for when they get to the next level.”

Negro also credited ASU’s recruiting director, Antonio Pierce, for bringing Southern California players to Tempe. Pierce coached for three seasons at Long Beach Poly High School, a program also known for a history of churning out NFL talent.

“So (Pierce) has a direct pipeline into the Southern California market,” Negro said. “We kind of fit right in there. It’s a hotbed for a lot of talented football players, and Arizona State understands that.”

Negro also sees Arizona State as a conveniently located place for Bosco players.

“Arizona State is a close school,” he said. “Our parents are able to not even have to get on a plane to be able to get there to be able to watch their kids play, versus having to go all over across the country and fly to games. So they have a great advantage, and it’s an amazing university.”

Top-tier college coaches and football figures continually observe and assess this team. How do these athletes deal with the outside noise at such a young age?

“Honestly, it’s no pressure,” said Jairus Satele, a sophomore defensive tackle. “Because we’re around great people every day. At this school you (have) a lot of great coaches. … They’ve all been to that college level, so you know how to act when they come.”

Bosco teacher and coach Chris Calvin has coached NCAA Division I ball and has been on the other side of the recruiting process. To him, a selfless mentality is the best way to block out all the distractions.

“Coach Negro does an awesome job of preaching to the kids that it’s not necessarily about a ‘me and I’ mentality, it’s more so all about ‘us.’ So the recruitment aspect just kind of really takes care of itself with just the nature of the kids playing the game,” Calvin said. “We don’t really have a selfish mindset around the program. I think that’s what really sets us apart around here. It’s really more so about the whole program.”

Bosco’s football practices are run like no other. Coaches implement a structured and strict schedule, which reflects the disciplined play of the Braves. (Photo by Scott Rowe/Cronkite News)

Going out to games and observing practice, it’s certainly evident that they have a strong team-focused identity. Defensive back Josh Alford and other teammates, described their bond as a brotherhood.

“It expands to everyone,” he said. “From alumni to guys that don’t even play sports that just go to school here. We’re all brothers. Bosco relies on a four-way concept called the Oratory: ‘A home, church, school and playground.’ And definitely that home aspect – people come back here because they know they can rely on their brothers.”

Alford said he learns from former Bosco defensive backs who now are in college.

“I talk to Chris Steele (USC) and Trent McDuffie (Washington) all the time,” he said. “I’ve talked to Naijiel Hale (Montana State) a little bit. I’ve talked to Traveon Beck (California) a little bit. They always offer up advice because we’re all brothers. It’s a brotherhood when you come to Bosco.”

He really means it. Satele also spoke about this bond and how it extends to the way Braves players interact with each other off the field.

“The thing about being on this team is the brotherhood. That connection we have with one another is definitely important,” Satele said. “We don’t all just hang out during football practice, we hang out outside of school. That’s why we have such a bond, because we all trust each other and we all have each others’ backs, even when we step off this campus.”

Video by Scott Rowe/Cronkite News

Evan Desai

Sports Reporter, Los Angeles

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