Column: No drought in Southland when it comes to future sports stars

If you cover high school sports long enough, no matter where you live in America, there’s a good chance at least one athlete will make it to the pro ranks.

The exception is Southern California, where so many future stars live among us that you can visit a t-ball field, pool, gym, park, beach, golf course, or soccer field to find unique talent.

It’s no wonder that predictions of greatness begin at age 5, gain momentum at 10, and pick up steam at 13, then the surreal life of dealing with college recruiters, choosing a high school, choosing a private one begins trainers, learning about rankings and planning for the future.

As the 2021-22 high school sports season draws to a close, fans in Southern California are in luck because there is no shortage of talent. The trajectory is still endless. COVID-19 presented us with unprecedented challenges. Some families left California, but many stayed while others might return.

Let’s take a look at what 2022-23 has in store in terms of who we have to see:

  • Chatsworth Sierra Canyon’s Juju Watkins and Studio City Harvard-Westlake’s Alyssa Thompson are the best in the nation for their age — Watkins in basketball and Thompson in soccer. They are rare female high school athletes who already have NIL deals. We’ll be seeing and hearing about them on ESPN for years to come. Thompson is committed to Stanford. Watkins will soon be making a college decision. They are seniors with extraordinary abilities.
  • Los Alamitos’ Malachi Nelson is the quarterback Lincoln Riley brought with him when he joined USC from Oklahoma. He will be a senior who stayed at the same public school all four years. He has his best collection of talents yet around him.
  • Santa Ana Mater Dei’s Elijah Brown is entering his junior year and has never lost a game as a quarterback. As turmoil continues to engulf the Monarchs, Brown remains above the fight, navigating a pressured position at a school that has produced three Heisman Trophy winners.
  • Bellflower St. John Bosco’s Peyton Woodyard is a junior defense attorney who is being courted by seemingly every top college program to leave Southern California. His character is exceptional, his work ethic is unwavering, and his understanding of how to treat others is a case study of what happens in the recruiting world when coaches see talent that fits their character.
  • Brady Smigiel of Newbury Park is a 6-foot-4 tall rookie quarterback and the son of new head coach Joe Smigiel. He looks like a phenomenon. Let’s see how this affects.
  • Sierra Canyon’s Bronny James is entering his senior year of basketball. Injuries over the past two years have prevented major leaps in development, although there have been flashes of what could be. It’s a key year to show where he could go on and off the pitch.
  • Villa Park’s Gavin Grahovac will be the talk of high school baseball in Southern California. He’s the best pro, an exceptional hitter with power and the kind personality to make others like him. San Juan Capistrano JSerra coach Brett Kay called him “the best player in the world.”
  • Gardena Serra’s Rodrick Pleasant is California’s fastest teenager. He broke a 37-year-old state record by running the 100 meters in 10.14 seconds. He also loves soccer. He’s a cornerback and receiver who should electrify return kickoffs this fall.
  • Granada Hills’ Dijon Stanley is passionate about showing that you can be an athlete in the city section and command attention. He was third place finisher at the state meeting in the 400 by 47.51. He will take that pace and lead football again for the Highlanders. The scholarship offers are piling up.
  • Sherman Oaks Notre Dame’s Ella Parker is an Oklahoma softball player who’s always good for a home run or two if the opponent ever decides to pitch to her. She had 11 home runs this season. Her uncle is Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
  • Twin brothers Leo and Lex Young from Newbury Park are distance runners who continue to chase records set by their older brother Nico, who runs for northern Arizona. Anything is possible in senior year.
  • Rex Maurer of Los Angeles Loyola nearly set a state record in the 500m freestyle while winning three Southern Section Division I championships as a junior swimmer. Think of the future Olympian.

There are many other athletes in water polo, volleyball, golf and lacrosse. Enjoy your summer break because the next school year has a chance to be entertaining and insightful. Column: No drought in Southland when it comes to future sports stars

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