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Mater Dei defense ready for head-on collision with St. John Bosco
SANTA ANA – The juicy, thickly cut reward arrives the Thursday following the shutout.
Once practice and film session end, tables are set near the athletic fields and members of Mater Dei’s unheralded defense are treated to a steak dinner.
Only the defense enjoys the spread, which strives to counter the publicity the offense often receives at a school with a Heisman Lane street sign.
“We got three (dinners) so far,” safety/linebacker Roman Kafentzis said before a practice this week.
“We get some steaks, bread sticks, mash potatoes. … If you tasted this food, you’d try for a shut-out every week, too.”
Mater Dei and most Southern California high school football fans know posting a fourth shutout this week will be difficult.
On Friday at Cerritos College, the Monarchs (7-0, 2-0), ranked No. 1 in Orange County and CIF-SS Division 1, tangle with St. John Bosco (6-1, 2-0), the main course of challenges when it comes to the Trinity League. (Click here to see our preview and prediction for the game.)
MATER DEI VS. ST. JOHN BOSCO
Friday, at Cerritos College, 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports West
The four-time defending league champion Braves, ranked third in Division 1, are averaging 57 points in their past four games. They possess the most speed and size up front of any offense Mater Dei has played.
St. John Bosco dual-threat quarterback Re-al Mitchell will be the fastest player on the turf and holding down left tackle will be 6-foot-5, 311-pound Wyatt Davis, an Ohio State commit.
“It’s going to be our biggest challenge so far,” Mater Dei defensive end Daniel Contreras said.
But Mater Dei’s defense appears uniquely structured to respond to the test, one of the most intriguing aspects of the captivating matchup.
“I’m thinking everybody in SoCal is probably jacked up about this (game),” said Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst for Fox Sports and Scout.
“For me, it’s the most anticipated game I’ve seen all year by a lot.”
A GROUP OF LEADERS
When the team captains meet for the coin-toss Friday, Mater Dei will be represented by four players, all from the defense.
They will be Kafentzis, Contreras, linebacker Jackson McCleery and cornerback Quentin Lake.
The players, all seniors, were voted captains by their teammates during their summer Hell Week.
“Our defense this year is filled with leaders and that’s what has made us be a good defense,” McCleery said.
“That whole offense is leaders, too. It was maybe a little bit of a coincidence (with the defensive captains), but it plays out really good.”
The Monarchs could start nine seniors in their base, 3-4 defense, which shouts “Pride” as it breaks the huddle.
The line features nose tackle and Arizona commit Austin Faoliu and defensive end Kevin Vu, who shares the position with Contreras. Contreras is the youngest of four brothers who have played at Mater Dei.
Faoliu, a transfer from JSerra, has impressed many observers, including St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro. “He’s one of their best,” he said.
The senior linebackers are Kafentzis and Sal Aguilar on the outside and McCleery on the strong side.
The secondary’s seniors are cornerbacks Lake (UCLA commit) and Jalen Cole (Montana State commit) and safeties Xavier Bell (Arizona commit) and Chase Ault.
The unit’s remaining starters are juniors Nathan Logoleo at defensive end and Jack Genova at inside linebacker.
Sophomore Titus Toler is the only underclassman who sees significant time for defensive coordinator Eric Johnson’s unit. Toler enters the game when Mater Dei switches to a nickel package or five defensive backs.
Mater Dei’s depth has allowed it to absorb the loss of highly recruited senior linebacker Fa’avae Fa’avae to a season-ending knee injury and still hold opponents to an average of seven points a game.
The Monarchs also deliver the big hits.
“They’re pretty violent,” Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said of his defense. “Run and hit, baby.”
Aguilar replaced Fa’avae and has played well, recording a sack, two hurries and two pass breakups last week in a 56-14 victory against Orange Lutheran.
“I thought that was going to hurt them,” Biggins said of the injury of Fa’avae before the season. “(But) they’ve really stepped up. Statistically, their defense has been better than Bosco’s.”
Said Contreras of Aguilar, “He goes hard, just like Fa’avae.”
Negro said Mater Dei’s defense has excelled at tackling and proper alignments, calling the unit’s emergence the team’s greatest area of growth.
“They’re tremendous defensively,” said Negro.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Mater Dei benefits daily from one of the most competitive practice environments in Orange County.
The Monarchs’ defense duels against a speedy offense that averages 56.5 points a game and that features record-setting quarterback JT Daniels and a star-studded receiving corps.
Mater Dei’s first-team offense and defense regularly clash for a quarter or two.
“It has to make you better,” Rollinson said this week. “We’ll probably do a period today to get ready for Bosco. … It’s made them better as individuals, but what it’s really done is brought us together in our quest.”
The practices also build confidence.
“That’s why we’ll be ready for this game,” McCleery said.
“It definitely keeps you sharp,” added wide receiver Osiris St. Brown, a Stanford commit. “You can’t have a lazy day.”
In defeating the Monarchs six consecutive times in the past five seasons, St. John Bosco has averaged 29 points a game.
The Monarchs are focused on containing the ground attack this round.
The Braves rushed for 371 yards on 38 carries in a 70-6 victory against Servite on Oct. 7. They racked up 347 yards on 40 carries in a 47-10 triumph against Santa Margarita last Friday.
“We haven’t beaten them in a while,” Kafentzis said of St. John Bosco. “We got something to prove.”
The Braves’ running game aligns with their size up front. They average 300 pounds across their offensive line.
Negro doesn’t expound much on the size advantage, noting Mater Dei’s reputation in the weight room.
Rollinson said the Monarchs’ defense will need to attempt to bend but not break, and make a couple big plays. But the unit’s ability to bounce back from the Braves’ highlights also will be critical.
“You can only keep the soda in the bottle for so long and it’s going to explode,” Rollinson said. “How do you deal with that adversity? … You can only live within the play that is about to happen.”
Even if Mater Dei’s defense doesn’t earn a delicious steak Friday, there is something that would taste better for the group.
“The W,” McCleery said.
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