The Braves entered the CIF-Southern Section championship game as the #1 team in California with a 13-0 record and a chance to beat rival Mater Dei for the second time in the 2018 season. The winner of the game was the favorite to take home the state title. SJB beat Mater Dei earlier in the season 41-18 in a lopsided victory.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t go as planned and the Braves fell 17-13 and failed to advance to the CIF Open Division State Bowl game. Mater Dei went on to win the state championship the following week over De LaSalle.
Although the Braves didn’t accomplish their ultimate team goal, the team did win the Trinity League championship and finished ranked #3 in the final USAToday National Top 25 poll. SJB has a winning tradition and is considered a Top 5 national powerhouse program. They won the 2016 California State Championship and were the 2013 State and National Champions.
The Braves and head coach Jason Negro were disappointed with how 2018 finished up, but their only focus in 2019 is to work even harder in the offseason and win it all this season.
They lost a lot of great talent from last year’s team, including Sua’ava Poti (Oregon), George Holani (Boise State), Colby Bowman (Stanford), Marist Talavou (Utah), Spencer Lytle (Wisconsin), Ralen Goforth (USC), Trent McDuffie (Washington), Chris Steele (USC), Titus Toler (Wisconsin), and Cole Aubrey (Princeton).
Even having lost all these great players, the Braves are loaded this year and have one of the most talented teams in the country. This team is confident and ready to compete for a state championship.
Offensively, the Braves have the #1 rated quarterback in the country in D.J. Uiagalelei. The 6’5 245-pound Clemson commit completed 69.9% of his passes, threw for 3,366 yards and 48 touchdowns. He rushed for 312 yards and scored 7 touchdowns on the ground. He was the Trinity League MVP and was the California Gatorade Player of the Year.
Uiagalelei will have a lot of weapons to throw to this season. Kris Hutson (5’11 170) was his go-to receiver last season, catching 46 passes for 844 yards and 13 touchdowns. He earned 1st Team All-Trinity League and is committed to Oregon. Beaux Collins (6’3 180) is one of the top receivers in the 2021 class and already has over 25 Division 1 offers. Collins caught 9 passes for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2018. Jode McDuffie is another 2021 receiver that has offers from Oregon and Arizona State.
The offensive line is led by 1st Team All-District senior Drake Metcalf (6’3 270). Metcalf was outstanding last season and has racked up close to 20 offers and Logan Bednar (6’4 293) started at right tackle. Earnest Greene (6’5 280), Che’ Womack (6’2 275), Maximus Gibbs (6’6 390), and Mataio Tupuola (6’5 290) will all compete for the 3 remaining starting spots. The Braves have depth and talent at this position group.
True championship contenders at any level have a balanced offensive attack. The Braves can air it out, and they have the running backs that can get the job done on the ground. Nathaniel Jones (5’11 190), Keith Savage (5’8 202), and Matt Colombo (5’11 185) all return after playing well last season. Jones has 5 Power 5 offers, Savage rushed for 671 yards and scored 7 touchdowns, and Colombo averaged 7 yards per carry and scored 5 touchdowns. All 3 are talented, and together will provide the spark in the running game.
Defensively, the Braves dominated the entire season, holding opponents to 11.9 points per game, with 4 shutouts. In two games against Mater Dei, a team that averaged 42 points per game on the season, they held the #1 ranked team in the nation to only 17.5 points. This is an example of just how good they were.
The strength of the defense starts upfront with the guys in the trenches, and this year’s leader for the Braves is Kobe Pepe (6’2 270). He had 68 tackles and 5 tackles for loss in 2018 and he has 14 Division 1 offers. He will get help from returning starter at defensive end, Matthew Jordan. Jordan is a 6’3 240-pound senior that had 32 tackles and 8 sacks last season and has picked up a few Division 1 offers in the late spring. Khalil Bennett (6’0 283) and Malachi Finau (6’2 240) will also be key defensive linemen that will contribute. Bennett is a senior and Finau is only a sophomore.
The Braves have an elite secondary that is loaded with Division 1 talent and depth. Kourt Williams (6’0 200) leads the way after recording 74 tackles as a junior. Williams played strong safety last season but could move down and play outside linebacker because of their depth and his projection of playing that position at the next level. He has 20+ offers from Power 5 programs all across the country and just recently committed to Ohio State.
James Smith (6’2 185) was probably the best backup defensive back in the country last year. Smith is a special talent and his 10 Division 1 offers confirm that. Josh Alford is another senior corner that didn’t start last season but had a great spring and offseason, picking up a few Division 1 offers prior to the start of the season.
Jonathan Vaughns (6’2 210) and Jake Newman (6’1 200) both return after strong junior seasons. Vaughns had 59 tackles and 4 Power 5 offers. Newman had 49 tackles and has 5 Power 5 offers. Tayvion Beasley is a young 2022 defensive back. He is the future of the program and will be a key player for the Braves this season. USC and several others have already offered Beasley, and more will follow.
Logan Loya (5’11 180) is a 4-star wide receiver that earned 1st Team All-Trinity League honors as a junior at Orange Lutheran last season. Loya is a game-changer for the Braves and has 16 Division 1 offers with Oregon and UCLA being the favorites to land him. Jahsiah Lockhart is a 6’3 275-pound 2021 offensive guard transfer from Citrus Valley. He is a 2-way player that will definitely give the Braves more muscle inside. AJ Gatto is a 6’4 230-pound outside linebacker that had a great season for Orange Lutheran last season. He could end up putting his hand in the dirt and playing some defensive end. Mark Ard is a 6’1 170-pound defensive back transfer from Santa Margarita. He has early offers from BYU and Nevada and will provide even more depth to an already loaded secondary. Danny Lockhart is a 6’0 220-pound inside linebacker and Benny Lockhart is a 5’11 215-pound linebacker, both coming in from Citrus Valley.
The Braves are always struggling to find teams to play outside of the Trinity League opponents. They are confident and open to playing any powerhouse team in the country and will even fly them to California to accommodate them. Their first 5 games for this season are against elite programs that are consistently in the USAToday Top 100. They play DeMatha (MD) in week 1, Don Bosco Prep (NJ) in week 2, Liberty (NV) in week 3, Our Lady of Good Counsel (MD) in week 4, and will road trip in week 5 to Hawaii to take on Mililani. The big rivalry game against Mater Dei will be at home on October 25.
The Braves are on a mission in 2019 and anything less than a state championship will be a disappointment in their eyes. They have a challenging schedule and were even open to playing a few higher rated non-conference opponents. They have one of the most talented rosters in the country and have the #1 rated quarterback leading the way. This team is extremely confident, hungry, and ready to have the bragging rights for the year as the #1 high school team in California and nationally.