Mr. Football 2023: Elijah Brown

Elijah Brown gets set to throw a pass for Mater Dei during the CIF Open Division state championship vs Serra of San Mateo. Photo: Scott Kurtz.

For the fourth time in the last seven years, a player from Mater Dei of Santa Ana has captured the state’s longest running and perhaps most prestigious high school football honor. Elijah ended his career with several totals that put him ahead of all others who were considered: 42-2 record as a starter for three No. 1 state teams plus a 70.4 completion percentage.

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There’s a ton of history surrounding the quarterback position at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana with Heisman Trophies and Mr. Football State Player of the Year honors. Recently graduated Class of 2024 quarterback Elijah Brown had put his name into the conversation even before today’s announcement of him being Mr. Football for California for the 2023 season, but combining the four-year career that he had for the Monarchs with the season he had was enough for him to be named as this year’s winner.

Brown is the fourth State Player of the Year from Mater Dei in the last seven years. The Monarchs had quarterback J.T. Daniels for 2017, then multi-position receiver Bru McCoy for 2018 and then linebacker Raesjon Davis for the 2020-21 school year, which was that short spring season with no playoffs due to the pandemic. Their only other state player of the year has been wide receiver-defensive back Rod Perry for the 1996 season.

Elijah holds the CIF Open Division state championship trophy after his final game for Mater Dei with coaches and teammates. Photo: Fernando M. Donado / For OC Sports Zone.

“It’s an absolute honor for Elijah to get this,” said Mater Dei head coach Frank McManus when told on Wednesday of the impending announcement. “He carries on the tradition that J.T. Daniels started in 2017. It just goes to show what he was able to accomplish as our quarterback through last season.”

For all four of those recent seasons with a player of the year, Mater Dei either won the CIF Open Division state title or was No. 1 in the state for the spring pandemic season. Brown was actually a candidate for the top honor even as a freshman in that spring season since that was his first one as the team’s starting quarterback and starting quarterbacks for the No. 1 team are always a place to start when looking for player of the year honorees.

Mater Dei is more famous for its three Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks — John Huarte of Notre Dame (1964), Matt Leinart of USC (2001) and Bryce Young of Alabama (2021). Young was a junior on the Monarchs’ team in 2018 that won its second straight CIF Open Division state title, but the senior standout of that team, McCoy, was the one who received higher honors not just by Cal-Hi Sports but others locally. As a senior, Young’s team was topped in the CIF Southern Section D1 final by St. John Bosco, which then went on to win the state title and was led by QB D.J. Uiagalelei (later named Mr. Football).

The next quarterback for the Monarchs after Bryce Young turned out to be Brown, despite him being a freshman. Former head coach Bruce Rollinson explained at the time that he and the other coaches just noticed in practices how well Elijah could fit the ball into tight windows, and it’s not like Mater Dei’s defensive backs can’t cover anyone.

Brown continued to be extremely accurate in his four seasons for the Monarchs and while some may question considering a player’s entire career in a yearly honor, that has always been a consideration in the 45 years that Cal-Hi Sports has been selecting a Mr. Football winner and for all of the retroactive selections based on research that dates back more than 120 years.

First year Mater Dei head coach Frank McManus had his task of being in his new role made much easier by having a four-year starting quarterback at the helm of the offense. Photo: Scott Kurtz.

Inside The Numbers

In the CIF Open Division state final vs Serra of San Mateo, it was a case in which Brown and the passing game were more effective than the rushing attack. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns (all to different receivers) in the 35-0 victory. The defense obviously was even more impressive in many games for the Monarchs and junior linebacker Nasir Wyatt also was considered for the top overall player of the year selection.

The senior season totals for Elijah were modest in comparison to other quarterbacks, even St. John Bosco’s Caleb Sanchez, but he still passed for 2,950 yards and 39 touchdowns with just five interceptions. It’s when the career totals are added in when Brown’s impact at Mater Dei shows up the most.

Brown’s 42-2 record as a four-year starter with three No. 1 final state ranking finishes is perhaps the most impressive number for anyone else to beat. And it’s not like the Monarchs play in a sub-par league or in a sub-par section playoff. They are in the most highly regarded league in the state and nation (Trinity League) and due to competitive equity factors they also are in toughest playoff bracket in the nation (CIF Southern Section Division 1).

Brown stands with now retired Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson after regular season win over St. John Bosco in 2022. Photo: Mark Tennis.

A 70.5 career completion percentage over Brown’s four years also is historically significant. We haven’t updated state career records in that category since 2009, but the highest total we know of is 74.8 for Trent Edwards of Los Gatos (2000 & 2001). Brown’s total is higher than any other Mater Dei quarterback, including Young and Daniels. A 70.5 percent mark may be as high as in the top five all-time for the state among those who played 40 or 45 games or more.

For career passing yards and career TD passes, Elijah put his final totals at 9,289 and 115. The yards will go into the state records in the top 35 all-time. Another well-known Mater Dei quarterback, Matt Barkley (2005-2008), isn’t far in front of Brown at 9,471 yards. Barkley didn’t have any games wiped out by a pandemic, however. The career TD passes for Brown are tied for 18th on the all-time state list with Folsom’s Dano Graves, another former Mr. Football State Player of the Year (selected for 2010).

“It’s been a great journey,” Brown said of his four years at the school when he was asked following this season’s state final. “It’s been long with great moments and great experiences. I couldn’t have done it without the coaching staff and my teammates.

“What I’ll remember the most probably is the connections I’ve made. These are going to be my friends for life.”

The Stanford Connection

Brown reported for his new home at Stanford University on January 6. He chose the school and stuck with it despite a difficult 2023 season for its academics and where he’ll be guided by head coach Troy Taylor, who was one of the co-coaches at Folsom High in 2014 when the Bulldogs had Mr. Football honoree Jake Browning. At Folsom that season, Browning set national and state records for passing yards and touchdowns and the team finished 16-0.

“He reminds me a lot of Jake Browning who I coached in high school,” Taylor told during his signing day press conference last month. “Similar in that they won a lot of games, really accurate, the temperament, anticipation all of those things.”

It is the hope of McManus and other former coaches of Elijah’s that he’ll now get to have stability with his offensive college coaches.

“It’s even more impressive when you look at what he did with four different offensive coordinators in four years,” McManus said. “He’ll be missed here. All the credit to him. We wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done the last four years without him. (Winning Mr. Football) is a great way to cap off his Mater Dei career.”


(All selected by Cal-Hi Sports but done retroactively based on research prior to 1975 by our late founder, Nelson Tennis):

Roderick Robinson (now at Georgia) holds CIF state championship trophy after Lincoln won the school’s first-ever state title in 2022. Photo: Mark Tennis / Cal-Hi Sports.

2023 — Elijah Brown (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) QB
2022 — Roderick Robinson
(Lincoln, San Diego) RB
2021 — Tetairoa McMillan
(Servite, Anaheim) WR/DB
2020 — Raesjon Davis
(Mater Dei, Santa Ana) LB*
2019 — DJ Uiagalelei
(St. John Bosco, Bellflower) QB
2018 — Bru McCoy
(Mater Dei, Santa Ana) WR
2017 — JT Daniels
(Mater Dei, Santa Ana) QB (Jr.)*
2016 — Wyatt Davis
(St. John Bosco, Bellflower) OL
2015 — Najee Harris (Antioch) RB (Jr.)
2014 — Jake Browning (Folsom) QB
2013 — Adoree’ Jackson
(Serra, Gardena) WR-DB
2012 — Michael Hutchings (De La Salle, Concord) LB
2011 — Deontay Greenberry (Washington Union, Easton) WR-DB
2010 — Dano Graves (Folsom) QB
2009 — Dillon Baxter (Mission Bay, San Diego) QB-RB
2008 — Tyler Gaffney (Cathedral Catholic, SD) RB
2007 — Milton Knox (Birmingham, Lake Balboa) RB
2006 — Aaron Corp (Lutheran, Orange) QB
2005 — Toby Gerhart (Norco) RB
2004 — Desean Jackson (Poly, Long Beach) WR-DB-KR
2003 — Sean Norton (Hart, Newhall) QB
2002 — Whitney Lewis (St. Bonaventure) WR-RB
2001 — Derek Landri (De La Salle, Concord) OL-DL
2000 — Tyler Ebell (Ventura) RB
1999 — D.J. Williams (De La Salle, Concord) RB-LB
1998 — Kyle Boller (Hart, Newhall) QB
1997 — DeShaun Foster (Tustin) RB
1996 — Rod Perry (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) WR-DB
1995 — Chris Claiborne (J.W. North, Riverside) RB-LB
1994 — Daylon McCutcheon (Bishop Amat, La Puente) RB-DB
1993 — Keith Smith (Newbury Park) QB
1992 — Travis Kirschke (Esperanza, Anaheim) OL-DL
1991 — Amani Toomer (De La Salle, Concord) WR
1990 — Napoleon Kaufman (Lompoc) RB
1989 — Ryan Hancock (Monta Vista, Cupertino) QB
1988 — Tommie Smith (Antelope Valley, Lancaster) RB-DB
1987 — Bret Johnson (El Toro) QB
1986 — Russell White (Crespi, Encino) RB (Soph.)
1985 — Terry Rodgers (Sweetwater, National City) RB-KR
1984 — Aaron Emanuel (Quartz Hill) RB
1983 — Ryan Knight (Rubidoux, Riverside) RB
1982 — John Paye (Menlo School, Atherton) QB
1981 — Kevin Willhite (Cordova, Rancho Cordova) RB
1980 — Michael Alo (Banning, Wilmington) FB
1979 — Kerwin Bell (Edison, Huntington Beach) RB
1978 — John Elway (Granada Hills) QB
1977 — Marcus Allen (Lincoln, San Diego) QB
1976 — Freeman McNeil (Banning, Wilmington) RB
1975 — Charles White (San Fernando) RB
1974 — Myron White (Santa Ana Valley) RB
1973 — Frank Manumaluena (Banning, Wilmington) LB
1972 — Wally Henry (Lincoln, San Diego) RB
1971 — John Sciarra (Bishop Amat, La Puente) QB
1970 — Pat Haden (Bishop Amat, La Puente) QB
1969 — James McAlister (Blair, Pasadena) RB
1968 — Jesse Freitas (Serra, San Mateo) QB
1967 — Calvin Jones (Balboa, San Francisco) RB (Jr.)
1966 — Mickey Cureton (Centennial, Compton) RB
1965 — Greg Jones (South San Francisco) RB
1964 — George Buehler (Whittier) LB-OL
1963 — Tim Rossovich (St. Francis, MV) LB
1962 — Steve Grady (Loyola, Los Angeles) RB
1961 — Mike Garrett (Roosevelt, Los Angeles) RB
1960 — Kent Nance (Madera) RB
1959 — Willie Brown (Poly, Long Beach) RB
1958 — Daryle Lamonica (Clovis) QB
1957 — Jim Josephson (Bellarmine, San Jose) FB
1956 — Randy Meadows (Downey) RB
1955 — Mickey Flynn (Anaheim) RB (Jr.)
1954 — Dick Bass (Vallejo) RB
1953 — C.R. Roberts (Oceanside) RB
1952 — Ronnie Knox (Santa Monica) QB
1951 — Marty Keough (Pomona) RB
1950 — Charley Powell (San Diego) E
1949 — Paul Larson (Turlock) HB
1948 — Johnny Olszewski (St. Anthony, Long Beach) FB
1947 — Hugh McElhenny (L.A. Washington) FB
1946 — Al Pollard (L.A. Loyola) HB
1945 — Paul Haynes (Pasadena) HB
1944 — Jackie Jensen (Oakland) HB
1943 — Don Burnside (Grant, North Sacramento) QB
1942 — Glenn Davis (Bonita, La Verne) QB
1941 — Billy Agnew (Piedmont) HB
1940 — Tommy Fears (L.A. Manual Arts) E
1939 — Johnny Petrovich (Alhambra) QB
1938 — Jim Jurkovich (Fresno) FB
1937 — Frankie Albert (Glendale) QB
1936 — Mike Klotovich (San Francisco Mission) HB
1935 — Kenny Washington (L.A. Lincoln) QB
1934 — Doyle Nave (L.A. Manual Arts) HB
1933 — Vic Bottari (Vallejo) QB
1932 — Nello “Flash” Falaschi (Bellarmine, San Jose) HB
1931 — Larry Lutz (Santa Ana) T
1930 — Charles “Chili” Bertoli (Berkeley) HB
1929 — Ervin “Cotton” Warburton (San Diego) QB (Jr.)
1928 — Orv Mohler (Alhambra) QB
1927 — Gus Shaver (Covina) HB
1926 — Erny Pinckert (San Bernardino) FB
1925 — Francis Tappaan (Los Angeles) T

*Davis was a senior and played in five-game spring season in 2021. Daniels played as a junior during the 2017 season and is being listed as a junior for this list. He reclassified to senior status after the season with goal of graduating early.

Note: List continues back to 1890 in the Cal-Hi Sports Record Book & Almanac.

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

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  1. Tom Kotiranta
    Posted January 22, 2024 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    How can the #2 ranked public school, San Clemente High football team only have 2 underclassmen listed on your all state teams? The entire defense was made up of Juniors. Several of which received 1st team league honors. Does your staff just look for players with stars. Other teams with less wins and lower rankings had more.

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted January 22, 2024 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Didn’t think two from San Clemente would result in negative comments. Thought we picked the right two and had a hard time which of any of the others should be next. Every player is checked to see if they have offers, but stars don’t matter.

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