QBs From Top Teams Ready To Roll

Kadin Semonza (left) will be returning to lead the offense at projected state preseason top 10 Mission Viejo. At right is upcoming QB Maeailiuaki Smith, a junior who is likely going to start at CIF Open Division state finalist Serra of San Mateo. Photos: Mark Tennis.

Southern California Elite 11 Regional Camp last Sunday in Manhattan Beach offered a glimpse at many of the leading quarterbacks who will be leading many of the state’s top teams next season. We were able to talk to almost all of them and saw a few other younger quarterbacks who had a good showing in a very competitive setting.

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Many of the people who run the Elite 11 quarterback events are former colleagues and still friends of ours from our years being part of Student Sports. That’s why it’s always fun to go to at least one Elite 11 event every year and that event this year became the one last Sunday at Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach.

Literally days before the pandemic broke out and shut down the sports world in March of 2020, the last Elite 11 camp we attended was at Cerritos College. The only QBs there who could also have been at this year’s SoCal regional camp were freshmen at the time. Malachi Nelson of Los Alamitos was one of those, but he didn’t need to be at last Sunday’s regional camp since he already had received an invite to this year’s Elite 11 Finals (top 20 QBs in the nation) from a regional camp he attended during NFL Draft weekend in Las Vegas.

Three others from California besides Nelson also already had earned their invites to the Elite 11 Finals from previous regional camps: Nicholas Iamaleava of Long Beach Poly, Pierce Clarkson from St. John Bosco of Bellflower and Jaden Rashadaof Pittsburg.

There were no Elite 11 Finals invites handed out after last Sunday’s six-hour camp concluded and earlier this week there also were no additional California QBs who gained any of the final invites that were given. Still, four is a relatively strong number considering previous Elite 11 Finals and it’s an event that still gets literally every top quarterback in the nation to want to be in. This year’s Elite 11 Finals will be held at a school nearby Mira Costa, Redondo Union of Redondo Beach, from June 28 to June 30.

One of the best parts of any Elite 11 Regional is to check out the quarterbacks from many of the top projected teams in the state all in one setting.

Carson Conklin (left) and Israel Carter are the two QBs who both will play a lot at probable preseason state No. 3 Corona Centennial. Photo: Mark Tennis / Cal-Hi Sports.

Defending CIF Open Division state champ Mater Dei of Santa Ana will have junior Elijah Brown once again behind center. Brown, who started as a freshman and is a leading contender to be in the Elite 11 Finals coming into his senior season next summer, was on target as usual. He is just exceptional at getting the ball into tight windows. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to speak to him. This was not for any reason other than confusion on our part looking for different players during a short window of time.

With St. John Bosco’s and Los Al’s QBs not there, it then became more intriguing to look at some of the others who were there, especially the duo of Israel Carter and Carson Conklin from Centennial of Corona, Kadin Semonza of Mission Viejo, Jaxon Potter from Santa Margarita of Rancho Santa Margarita and Maeailiuaki Smith from Serra of San Mateo. Centennial, Mission Viejo and Santa Margarita should all be among the top seven or eight in preseason state rankings while Serra may be top 10 or 12.

Since Centennial only lost to Mater Dei by 21-16 last season, the Huskies are expecting to field another team capable of the same or better. Carter and Conklin began sharing the quarterback duties as sophomores and they have made what to the outside may seem awkward very natural.

“It’s pretty much how we connected from the start,” Carter said. “Whatever the team needs is first. We’re all friends and it’s just not hard to do it.”

“I think our playing styles complement each other well,” Conklin said.

It also helps that they’re doing it while under the tutelage of head coach Matt Logan, perhaps the most highly regarded public school head coach in the nation.

“There’s definitely more players coming in and more stuff we’re going to be doing that we want to implement when the season starts,” Carter said. “We felt we had that game last year (against Mater Dei) and we have that trauma of losing pushing all of us to be better.”

Carter has committed to Arizona State and had nine other offers at the time. Conklin hasn’t committed but is listed with an offer from ASU along with those from Kansas and Cincinnati.

Mission Viejo was another CIF Southern Section D1 team from last season that was quarterbacked by a junior. For the Diablos, that was Kadin Semonza. He doesn’t have the size of some of the others, but has a great attitude, almost that little bit of swagger that we’ve seen from many Mission QBs over the years, including Bret Johnson, Rob Johnson and Mark Sanchez.

Semonza completed the camp by winning the Pro Day Accuracy Challenge and did well in everything the coaches put him through.

“Things are looking good and we are planning to make a run at state,” Semonza said. “We’ve got as much at the skill positions as anybody (in the state). The key for us is going to be making sure we’re mentally right when the season starts.”

Semonza added that he’s hearing from a lot of schools and that he just got an offer from Weber State. No offense to Damian Lillard of the NBA, but Kadin probably can do better.

One of the biggest questions entering the season in Southern California will be about the strength of the team at Santa Margarita. The Eagles have a loaded group of returnees, including QB Jaxon Potter, who passed for more than 3,000 yards as a junior, and while they don’t project to be in the same class as Trinity League rivals Mater Dei or St. John Bosco (only a handful of teams in America are) they could be the third best team in the league since Servite of Anaheim is losing so many stellar players from its 2021 squad.

Gage Burnett and Emmett Mosley have transferred in from Servite and we’ll see what happens,” Potter said. “We’re just going to put our heads down. We will definitely go out every week and compete with anyone.”

Potter said he and his teammates had no problem watching league rival Orange Lutheran win the CIF Southern Section D2 title and then make a run at the D1AA state title after the Eagles defeated the Lancers by one score in the regular season. Santa Margarita instead was in the CIFSS D1 bracket and had to play Servite in the first round (34-3 loss).

“We were happy for Orange Lutheran for what they did,” he said. “For us, we wanted to throw our hat into that other ring.”

There also were quarterbacks there who are coming into more prominent roles for their teams after serving as back-ups last season. The main one among those worth seeing was Smith, who will be a junior at Serra, the No. 1 team in the final NorCal rankings from 2021 and the team that had to play Mater Dei at the end in the CIF Open Division final.

“I learned what it took to take a team far at the end,” Smith said of his experience playing behind graduated standout Dominique Lampkin. “The hardest thing for me right now is just getting out there after not playing much last season.”

Smith, who started as a freshman at Inderkum of Sacramento, also is part of a Class of 2024 at Serra that is loaded with D1 prospects and depth at many positions.

“We’ve got a lot of guys back on defense,” he said. “In the off-season, all of our (running) backs have been working hard and they’ll be ready. We’re deep everywhere.”

Smith displayed good size and strength at the event and should get more consistent with his accuracy as he develops.

It’s amazing how many of the QBs who participated in last Sunday’s Elite 11 Regional at Mira Costa will be Friday night heroes back in their hometown areas. Two of those from the Fresno area will be Dayton Tafoya (left) from Central of Fresno and Jayden Mandal from Buchanan of Clovis. Photo: Mark Tennis / Cal-Hi Sports.


(Sorry but it’s impossible to pay attention to everyone in such a short window of time. We also tend to look for guys who we followed last season as stat stars or as QBs on top teams.)

Dieter Barr (St. Pius X-St. Matthias, Downey)
He was someone we didn’t have on our “hit” list at the start of the day, but jotted his number down after several impressive throws. The 6-3, 180-pounder has excellent athleticism and he could have a huge senior season that may result in some strong D1 attention.

Garrett Bass-Sulpizio (La Jolla Country Day)
The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder had some great games last season and had more than 3,000 yards. The small school competition can work both ways with those you are playing against and those you are playing with. There were several throws by Garrett that were completed with the punch one is looking for. It’s no wonder Wyoming, Oregon State and others have offered.

Chris Cooper (Beaumont)
Second team all-state sophomore from last season was definitely someone we wanted to see. There were some throws he struggled with when the wind picked up, but on others he was fine. Chris is still young and should only get better. He passed for 3,610 yards and 35 TDs with nine TDs rushing as a sophomore.

Samuel Cooper (University City, San Diego)
He transferred to Uni City from San Diego Lincoln prior to last season and will be looking to build upon what he did for the Centurions. He looks more like a linebacker than a QB and has worked out as an LB at at least one camp. Cooper can spin it, though, and doesn’t back down from trying to get as many reps as he can. He was the KUSI Prep Pigskin Underclassman of the Year last season from San Diego.

Ty Dieffenbach (Agoura, Agoura Hills)
We got to know Ty because his dad used to be part of the Nike team that the founder of the Elite 11, Andy Bark, our longtime partner for 25 years at Student Sports, worked with for some years. Dieffenbach has the grades for Ivy League schools and is careful and smart about offers, about what might come in later and has many of the traits (6-5, 215) that colleges are looking for. He has a lot of upside potential.

Sophomore Steele Pizzella of Simi Valley gets set to throw during one of the very first drills of the day. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Jax Leatherwood (Scripps Ranch, San Diego)
Even at an event like this, Jax’s 6-foot-8 frame is hard to miss. He has committed to Nevada, but the hometown San Diego State Aztecs also may be lurking. We joked with Jax that this is the first time we’ve seen him without him winning a CIF state title since we saw Scripps Ranch win its title in football (D2-A) and in boys basketball (D4). He did play volleyball this spring and his team went to the SoCal playoffs in that sport as well.

Jayden Mandal (Buchanan, Clovis) & Dayton Tafoya (Central, Fresno)
These should be two of the top QBs in the CIF Central Section. Mandal, committed to Fresno State, showed well in a game last year when Buchanan gave Los Alamitos a battle in an eventual loss. He continued to look especially good at the event throwing on the run. Tafoya started last season as well at Central and will have a great returning cast of players coming back with him. He’s not quite as big as Mandal, but also throws well on sprint outs. Both players just finished playing with their baseball teams, although Tafoya played on into the previous week in the NorCal D3 playoffs. We forgot to ask him what it was like trying to bat against Eureka St. Bernard’s pitching phenom Nick Dugan.

Trey Kukuk (Capistrano Valley, Mission Viejo)
There were a lot of stellar Orange County QBs who made the trek to Mira Costa last Sunday and Trey was one of them. He’s in the state record book with a 611-yard game from last season and threw for more than 4,000 overall. Even with all of the yards, though, Kukuk is more of a dual-threat QB. He ran a 4.72 in the 40 two weeks ago.

Steele Pizzella (Simi Valley)
He was a freshman who came on for the Pioneers last season due to an injury to a senior starter and had some outstanding games. He was the first player we watched closely on Sunday just because he happened to be right in front of us. He’s not big, but can rip it well and can throw it well on the move.

David Rasor (Corona del Mar, Newport Beach)
After throwing for 2,300 yards and 34 TDs with eight TDs rushing for a 9-3 team in 2021, Rasor has a chance to make a move upward on all lists with just a few big games in 2022. We love it that the Sea Kings play up north once in a while and will be at Los Gatos for one of their first games. Rasor has an Ivy League offer from Penn and looks ready for the fall.

Evan Tomich (Mayfair, Lakewood)
Here’s a player that’s been quietly gaining a lot of attention over the last few months. He’s been a three-year varsity performer for the Monsoons so far, but has used his showcase opportunities to elevate his stock. With a compact throwing motion and looking good in all facets of his game, Tomich has reported offers from Arizona State, Cincinnati, Houston and Kansas among others.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports

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