When three key players transferred from Lakewood (Calif.) to Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco this past offseason, there wasn't much thought that those transactions would shape the Trinity League as quickly as this fall. But in arguably the biggest game of the season to this point, one of those key transfers -- safety Jaleel Wadood -- came up with one of the key plays in the Braves' win over Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei.
With the Monarchs driving at the end of the third quarter and down 24-10, a trick play called for a wide receiver reverse pass in the hopes of taking advantage of a young secondary. But Wadood stayed deep on his man and outleapt the receiver at the goal line to come down with the interception.
"I think that was a great momentum-booster," Wadood said. "They were driving and about to score."
The win kept the Braves perfect in league play and gave them a victory over a Mater Dei team that was ranked in the top 25 in the nation last week. Though St. John Bosco's record is 4-4, the Braves are 8-0 on the field this season--four wins were forfeited because of an ineligible player -- and have bounced back from that stunning news early in the season.
"When it first happened, we were really hurt," Wadood said. "We didn't think our season was over, but that week we went into the mindset of 'let's never lose again.' We want to play for the person who can't play with us anymore and we don't worry about our record. We know we're 8-0 and we're striving to go far in the playoffs."
How far the Braves travel in those playoffs will rest largely on the shoulders of an incredibly young defense. Nine of the 11 defensive starters are juniors, led by the former Lakewood trio of Wadood, cornerback Naijiel Hale and linebacker Chandler Leniu, as well as cornerback Shay Fields.
"Not a lot of teams have nine of 11 players on defense as juniors," Wadood said. "We're trying to prove it doesn't matter what grade you're in, as long as you get the job done. We look forward to making that bond the rest of this year and next year as well. We try to make it a habit that we're going to be the leaders of the defense."
College coaches have taken notice of Wadood, whose older brother Rashad Wadood is a sophomore at Arizona State. The younger Wadood already holds offers from Arizona State, Colorado and Oregon State, though the 5-foot-10, 152-pound safety said recruiting has been pushed to the back of his mind while he focuses on the season.
"I don't really have any favorites," Wadood said. "I like UCLA, USC, Arizona, basically the whole Pac-12 -- and SEC schools as well, like Florida and Mississippi. I like a lot of schools."
He added that he has begun looking into his three offers.
"They took the time to offer, so why not take the time to look into their programs," Wadood said. "They all have pretty good coaches and programs. Obviously Colorado is struggling, but that's still a good program. Oregon State and Arizona State are doing some pretty good things this year."
Wadood and St. John Bosco will have an opportunity to close out the season in style, as the Braves play Anaheim (Calif.) Servite and Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) in their final two games. Wadood, who has been fighting through a sprained ankle for the past two weeks, and the young defense will look to show they are ready for the big tests that come with closing out a regular season and preparing for a postseason run.