One of the keys to Bishop Gorman’s run of football success has been its depth, with players rarely seeing time on both sides of the ball.
But one of the keys to success this season may be having senior Jalen Nailor play both ways.
Nailor was the team’s top receiver in 2016, but he’s also starting at safety for the Gaels this season. He and the rest of an inexperienced secondary will be tested when Gorman (1-0) plays top-ranked Mater Dei (California) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Santa Ana Stadium in Santa Ana, California. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Prime Ticket.
“He’s one of the more talented kids on our team, so we felt that we need to address the issues that we have in the secondary, especially with the teams that we’re going up against,” Gorman coach Kenny Sanchez said. “He’s a pretty hard worker and he’s really good with stamina. And we’ll give him rest on defense here and there. He won’t play the whole game non-stop, because we want to keep him fresh for offense, too, because he’s such a great playmaker.”
The 6-foot, 180-pound Nailor has committed to play receiver at Arizona State. He made plays on both sides of the ball in the team’s 35-23 win over DeMatha Catholic (Maryland) in the season opener. Nailor caught three passes for 88 yards, including a 68-yard TD reception. On defense, he had a team-high eight tackles.
“Other than practice, that was his first time (playing safety),” Sanchez said. “He’s just a good football player. He could play that in college if he wanted to. He could play safety. It makes you feel a lot better when you have guys that can do that.”
Gorman returned no experienced players in the secondary with the graduation of Bubba Bolden (Southern California), Alex Perry (Arizona State) and Greg Francis (UNR). The team dismissed Greg Oliver, who would have been the lone player back.
That forced the Gaels to use Nailor at safety.
“It’s been tough,” Nailor said of playing both ways. “I’ve been working through it, working back in on defense again. It’s been a minute since I’ve been on defense, so it’s been tough. But I love it.”
Nailor joins seniors JoJuan Clairborne and Noah Lopez and junior Kyu Kelly as starting defensive backs. They face a huge challenge this week against Mater Dei quarterback J.T. Daniels, one of the top juniors in the nation. Daniels, who has committed to Southern California, completed 16 of 23 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown in the team’s season-opening win over Bishop Amat (California).
“They bring a high-powered offense,” Nailor said. “The can run the ball. They definitely can pass the ball.”
The Gaels also will be playing another televised game against a nationally-ranked opponent. Senior linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, who has committed to Southern California, said those kinds of games are nothing new for the team’s experienced players.
“I’ve played in them since my sophomore year, so it’s just like a glorified practice almost,” Gaoteote said. “The biggest thing is just slowing down the game and kind of just not being shy with the lights and the cameras and just playing your game.”
The Gaels are ranked No. 3 nationally by USA Today, so they have a little extra motivation as they seek a fourth consecutive mythical national title.
“Every day we’re just working as best we can to get to that top spot, get to the top of the mountain,” Nailor said. “And they’re No. 1 … we’ve just got to go get that No. 1 spot.”
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4587. Follow @DamonSeiters on Twitter.