It isn’t easy being the top dog.
At St. John Bosco in Bellflower, Calif., head coach Jason Negro has his share of blessings. There’s the brand-new, privately-funded football facility on campus. No more bus rides to play home games at a local junior college. The ride to the top of the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 rankings has been phenomenal. (The Braves are also No. 2 in the USA Today Super 25.)
Mililani is already in California preparing for their Friday showdown with the Braves. It wasn’t easy finding an opponent for this weekend, Negro said. His first head coaching stint was at Trabuco Hills for seven years, where his teams went 40-10 in the last five seasons. He arrived at St. John Bosco, and in his fourth season with the Braves, he led them to a 16-0 season in 2013, taking the national title with No. 1 rankings by MaxPreps and USA Today.
The longtime Braves coach chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Wednesday.
HPW: What’s it been like for you and your staff to build this program to where it is?
Jason Negro: You get a big sense of pride having an opportunity to build a program, especially as an alum, to be mentioned like a Saint Louis or a Mater Dei. It’s humbling and a great sense of pride.
HPW: Going three years without a home field, now having everything intact, right on campus, with an office. That has to be a relief.
Negro: The important thing is it really allows you to be as successful as you possibly can. You can take away the excuses, we have to take a bus to games, we don’t have a locker room at games. Now we can be more efficient with our time. Our training room, our field are right there. The weight room. It allows us to be much more efficient. We had a locker room and weight room, but we upgraded in those areas, as well. We have our team room, where we watch film. Doing things to make it more efficient for our staff and all our facilities.
HPW: Do you share the field with other teams, like soccer?
Negro: There are no soccer lines on our field. It’s football-only. Our soccer team has their own field.
HPW: I saw on the website there’s a Jacob Negro who coaches on staff and is a math teacher. Is that your brother or cousin?
Negro: He’s my brother. He coaches special teams and helps with the freshman team as the defensive coordinator. He’s always hustling back and forth.
HPW: Are you a math teacher, too?
Negro: By trade, I’m a teacher, I’m a math teacher, but since I’ve been back at Bosco, I’m 100 percent football only.
HPW: I know most high school coaches dream about working at the next level, but even then, maybe there’s nothing quite like coaching at this level, with this kind of support.
Negro: I certainly believe that the collegiate level, you can probably be paid more, but there’s something to be said about quality of life. My daughters, one is a sophomore and one is in seventh grade. I like being able to spend time with them, not having to travel. Bosco provides me an incredible lifestyle in a location that’s great. I’m able to be part of a program that allows us to be on the national stage.
HPW: When I look at your roster, you’ve got a 6-foot-5, 238-pound quarterback who’s only a junior (DJ Uiagalei). He’s a prototype QB, but I wonder if colleges have already asked about him lining up at another position just because.
Negro: With DJ, I think initially on paper you look at him and say that’s a great size for a defensive end or tight end, but if you saw him, he’s very slender and has an incredible physique and an incredible arm. He looks more like 218 than 238. He’s an incredible athlete with strong bloodlines.
HPW: The only thing that would be more amazing is if he was a lefty.
Negro: No, he’s a righty. He’s ranked #1 in the country in both junior and senior classes. He’s got offers from all over, from Clemson to Alabama to Georgia, USC, UCLA. He’s like Cam Newton.
HPW: And maybe more accurate?
Negro: He might be.
HPW: One of your running backs, George Holani, also plays linebacker.
Negro: George is a three-year running back, two-year starter. We have a lot of talent on offense. The main goal for us is to get the ball into our playmakers’ hands based on what the defense is giving us.
HPW: You’ve got another two-way player, (WR/CB) Jake Bailey, who had a big game in your opener.
Negro: We have so many packages and schemes offensively and defensively, there are kids at the skill spots who go both ways.
HPW: What have you seen from Mililani that you like?
Negro: You know what, first and foremost, what Coach (Rod) York has done, we’ve followed this program for the past few years. We had Josh Rosen as our quarterback when we played Saint Louis and Tua (Tagovailoa) was a sophomore, and Coach York and his team are very impressive. They’ve got a lot of weapons. They can run the ball. Dillon Gabriel is accurate and can run, and on defense they’re extremely aggressive. We know they’re going to be physical.
HPW: Your athletic director (Monty McDermott) mentioned that this is a home-and-away series.
Negro: It’s already set in 2019 for Sept. 20 or 21. We’re excited to play at their field, a neighborhood school.
HPW: What’s the one thing about St. John Bosco that might be overlooked as a program, as a school and culture.
Negro: One of the things that really defines who we are is the community that we call Brave Nation. We believe in being a brotherhood. We’ve got 850 kids, an all-boys school. We have a very tight bond and we take a lot of pride in family and brotherhood, a lot of pride in being culturally diverse. We’re a melting pot. We resemble what we have in the city of LA: Polynesians, Pacific Islanders, Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, whites, African-Americans. I enjoy being a person who has an opportunity to work with all these cultures. I take a lot of pride in my relationships with my players and our families.
HPW: There have been so many elite high school programs from SoCal. I remember seeing De La Salle in their heyday with Maurice Jones-Drew, and they didn’t have a huge roster when they traveled to Hawaii and played Saint Louis. How many players do you have on the roster?
Negro: We’ve got 82. When you have to travel so it’s difficult, but you’re providing an opportunity to a lot of kids who want to be part of of what we’re building. Everyone understands their role.
HPW: Any final thoughts about the game?
Negro: We ave a ton of respect for Mililani. There’s a lot of teams that told us they don’t want to play us. Coach York did not do that at all. He has a lot of faith in his players. I have a lot of respect for their coaches and players for wanting to play us.