See if this sounds familiar.
A parochial high school in a major metropolitan area hires a new coach to ignite an underachieving football program. Within a few years, the team is ranked among the nation’s elite and stocked with Division I talent.
Sounds a lot like Bishop Gorman, huh? But in this instance, it’s St. John Bosco (Calif.).
“I think we’re kind of mirror images of each other in terms of our teams,” fifth-year Braves coach Jason Negro said.
Following decades as an also-ran in the Southern California prep football scene, St. John Bosco has quickly emerged as a national power under Negro. The top-ranked Braves (3-0) will put that newly minted reputation and a 19-game winning streak on the line Friday when they meet No. 2 Gorman in a battle between the top teams in the USA Today Super 25 rankings.
The game starts at 6 p.m. at Gorman’s Fertitta Field and will be televised live on ESPN (Cox Cable 30).
“High school rankings are all mythical anyway, and we know that,” Negro said. “Luckily, we’ve been in this boat for the last three years. We’ve been ranked No. 1 in the country for the last three years at some point during the season, so our kids have experienced this. But staying there is the hardest part.”
St. John Bosco, an all-boys school in Bellflower, Calif., about 20 miles from Los Angeles, spent years as fodder on the football field for larger Catholic schools such as Mater Dei. Negro was lured away from Trabuco Hills (Calif.) in 2010, and it didn’t take long for him to elevate the program.
The Braves won the Trinity League, widely regarded as the state’s toughest, in Negro’s third season. Last year, St. John Bosco won its first section title in school history and capped a 16-0 season by winning the California State Open Division bowl game. Bosco finished No. 3 in three major national polls.
“I think the school’s always had quite a bit of talent,” said Negro, a 1991 Bosco graduate. “When my staff came in here, we totally changed the culture and changed the attitude and told the kids, ‘Look, we can compete in this league. We definitely have the talent, but now we’ve got to go out there and do it.’
“Once we started closing the gap in the first year in terms of the scores, the kids started to buy in and believe, and then we started to attract more kids that wanted to come here.”
St. John Bosco’s rise also coincided with the arrival of Josh Rosen. The 6-foot-4-inch senior is rated by Rivals.com and Scout.com as the nation’s top quarterback recruit and last week signed a financial-aid agreement to attend UCLA.
Rosen, a former nationally ranked junior tennis player, has thrown for more than 6,000 yards and 67 touchdowns in his career. Rosen also has a unique background: His father is Jewish, while his mother is a Quaker and a relative of the renowned Wharton family.
“I think his physical tools are superior to a lot of his peers, that goes without saying,” Negro said. “But what I think really separates him is the mental part of the game. His preparation, his film work, the things that he does in the office or in the meeting rooms is something that really separates him from a lot of the other quarterbacks.”
Rosen spearheads a potent spread offense that includes 5-8 jitterbug Sean McGrew, one of the nation’s top all-purpose running backs in the class of 2016. The Braves feature an inexperienced defense, but Negro doesn’t expect them to be overwhelmed by what is certain to be an electric atmosphere.
“We’ve certainly played in some pretty big games, so I anticipate us coming out and playing well,” Negro said. “But these young guys are going to have to step up against an opponent like Gorman. We haven’t played a team like these guys this year.”
Contact reporter David Schoen at email@example.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.