There is a saying in sports, the kind of motto you put on the back of your team T-shirts, “Raised locally, respected nationally.”
In the pride-frenzied arena of athletics, with its inherent turf war mentality, that saying is the ultimate boast. But for five Malibu native football players, that’s more like the intro to their bios.
This past prep season, these guys, playing at Malibu, Palisades and Loyola high schools, dominated their sport so entirely, playing so far above the other kids on the field, they now have a chance to play college football.
They’re graduating seniors now, but way back, when they were pre-teens, this group all played for John Mills’ Bruin’s team. They ran around the field, donning mini replicas of UCLA gridiron uniforms, having fun, and just playing football. They learned the game. They bonded with other kids interested in football, finding in themselves a burgeoning passion for the sport.
Speedster Matt Ware, playing quarterback and free-safety, this year took his Loyola Cubs to the CIF Southern Section Division One championship–the highest game for the highest level of high school sports in the nation. He played with incredible confidence and poise in huge games. So much so that FOX Sports News calls him “One of the best players in California.” Ware played with the Malibu Bruins only one year but said, “I learned everything there. It was just the greatest experience for me.”
So Ware is going back to his roots this year. He’ll be sporting the Bruin’s powder blue and gold this Fall on a full athletic scholarship as a safety for UCLA.
UCLA is scooping up a couple of the other former Bruins players as well. Dane Skophammer, a linebacker from Malibu High, and Jacques Lazarus, a receiver from Palisades High are also headed to Westwood.
Another Malibu High grad, Benny Townsend, a speedy corner- and running back, is waiting for word from Cal State Northridge. Otherwise, he plans to use Santa Monica Community College as a stepping-stone to a Division 1-A school.
And there is quarterback David Koral, whose name is known everywhere in the nation, from his stomping grounds at Palisades High where he tossed dozens of touchdowns to Lazarus, with his manic passing attack from the Dolphin’s backfield, to Tennessee, where he’ll be attending Vanderbilt University in the fall. Koral, who set two national single game passing records (10 td passes/764 passing yards), said it all started when he was a youth player in Malibu.
The stunning prep credits a great deal of his success, including 9,000 yards passing in two years to the football experience he had playing alongside Ware, Lazarus, and the others.
“Everything I know about the game, I learned there,” said Koral. “I came into high school head-and-shoulders above the other kids, and I had that advantage the whole way through.”
As stunning as this collection of talent is, it is hardly even remarkable for the Malibu Bruins program. Mills’ camp has already seen several alums go through major colleges on football scholarships. And a couple dozen former Bruins are playing ball right now at PAC-10 and Western Athletic Conference schools–two of the premier groupings in the nation.
The quarterback tradition is especially strong. Before Ware and Koral, there was Ryan Skinner, now vying for a starting spot at quarterback-heaven Brigham Young University; there was J.P. Losman, a prep phenom who recently transferred from UCLA to Tulane University, where he’ll be gunning for the top spot this year; and Reggie Haynes who is now at Tennessee State.
Speaking at a Rotary Club function honoring his former athletes, Mills said that nothing extra-special goes into the program.
“If you’re playing football on the Westside you are playing for the Bruins,” said Mills. “And we have a great area to draw from. Malibu just has great kids.”
Mills said he wasn’t at all shocked by the success of his former players, citing the past success of their predecessors, but made sure he said how proud he was of them. “It’s great to see these guys doing so well. I got a chance to watch Matt on TV this year, and he’s not even in college yet. I am excited for them. It’s probably just a start for most of them.”