The last time St. John Bosco came to the islands, the Braves took care of business.
It was a runaway win over Saint Louis in 2014, the first year of Cal Lee’s second return to coaching. This time, the Braves are still a national powerhouse, ranked No. 2 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25. They’re 4-0, all nonconference games, and stacked with Power-5 conference prospects, mostly at the four- and five-star level.
St. John Bosco is in the back half of a home-and-home series with Mililani. Bosco won last year’s matchup in California, 52-14. Saturday’s matchup at John Kauinana Stadium is unprecedented for the Trojans, who have perhaps their best defensive unit ever.
Braves coach Jason Negro, who is one of three coaches to beat both Lee and York, chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Tuesday.
HPW: It’s a long way from Bellflower (Calif.) to Oahu.
Negro: Especially having to play a team like Mililani that’s playing super well. Coach (Rod) York’s doing a pretty good job there.
HPW: I look at the vitals on your QB, D.J. Uiagalelei. The stats. The wins. Close to 6 feet, 5 inches, 246 pounds, moves so well, but what’s the most underrated aspect of D.J. that most people don’t get to see.
Negro: I think where he’s really advanced the most is his leadership on and off the field. He’s become more local, more confident in his leadership skills, and his work ethic is unseen by most people. Whether he’s practicing in the weight room or in the film room to get better mentally, the kid is a complete package.
HPW: So he is 95 percent locked in with Clemson.
Negro: I would say 99.5 percent he’s going to Clemson. I think the only way is if Dabo (Sweeney, head coach) wasn’t somehow there. DJ is not the type to change after committing. The most important thing is the fact that he’s such a committed kid, not only to the current Clemson kids, but the commits who commit based on his decision. And that’s the QB.
HPW: I’m looking at your roster and there are so many talented, high-achievement level athletes. Kris Hutson, a commit to Oregon, sounds like a dynamic playmaker at wide receiver.
Negro: The perfect word for him is dynamic. He can play slot, outside, run vertical routes. We motion him in the fly game some. It’s really hard to focus on just one thing.
HPW: Isn’t it amazing that just 10 or 15 years ago, most NFL teams would say, this offensive lineman doesn’t fit into our scheme because his team was in the four-wide, or this receiver or running back doesn’t work in our system because we ground and pound. Now they’re grabbing linemen and playmakers from spread offenses and running those college offenses. It took them all this time to change.
Negro: It’s true. We just find the the best football players and put them on the field.
HPW: Just by numbers, you have two sophomores doing a lot of the work at running back, Rayshon Luke (5-8, 153) and Jabari Bates (5-8, 145).
Negro: They’re young and a little on the small size. Shawn McGrew our little back from 2014, when we played Saint Louis, he had a big night. These guys are little, but powerful with great speed and really good in the passing game. They both can block well.
HPW: I noticed you have Nathaniel Jones, who is a UCLA commit, but hasn’t played a lot. Is he injured?
Negro: Nathaniel is coming off an ACL injury last year. He’s gotten significant reps in recent games.
HPW: An elite offense usually has elite linemen. Drake Metcalf, 6-2, 276, a commit to Stanford. Nineteen offers! Where does he play?
Negro: Drake is at left tackle. He’ll translate to a guard in college. He’s a three-year starter leader of that group. Super durable and the most technically sound and physical. We’ve got a few (offensive) linemen with offers.
HPW: You’ve also got some solid receivers like Logan Loya (13 offers) and Beaux Collins. Let’s talk about your defense. Kourt Williams and Jonathan Vaughns. Jonathan is listed as a linebacker on one website, and a safety on another.
Negro: Jon-Jon is a hybrid (S/LB). We’re a 4-2-5 defense. We’re trying to get as athletic as we can on the field
HPW: Who’s your defensive coordinator?
Negro: Our DC is Chris King.
HPW: Sounds like you like to have a back seven who can basically use a variety of fullcourt presses. That must be fun.
Negro: We’re pretty complex. What we want to do is get into as many fronts and coverages with the same guys on the field.
HPW: Up front you’ve got Kobe Pepe (6-1, 294), a USC commit. He’s at nose tackle?
Negro: Nose. He’s another guy we can move around.
HPW: You’ve also got James Smith at corner, 6-1, 180. Thirteen offers, committed to Washington. He sounds like a stud at CB.
Negro: From a size and skill-set standpoint, absolutely. He’s an NFL-looking guy.
HPW: Coming to the islands, taking in some sights and having two, three days before kickoff, being 4-0, No. 2 nationally — is it tough to keep your team’s edge?
Negro: I’ve stressed to the team all week we have to stay focused. We cannot take for granted that Mililani is going to roll over for us and not play hard. Our kids can’t allow these guys to sneak up on us. They played us tough last year. They competed and played with us toe to toe for a lot of the game and we pulled away.
HPW: There are concerns for any team coming from the mainland.
Negro: The game is starting like 10 p.m. our time. It will finish after midnight. We’ll have disrupted sleep, we’re not in school. It’s all a bad recipe for a football game. We as a staff have to do a good job communicating we’re playing a 6-0 football team, and Coach York and his staff are doing a great job.
HPW: How old are you?
Negro: I’m 46.
HPW: Let’s go in the time machine. You’re 72. Retired. Moved to the islands. Living in a quiet town maybe on a neighbor island. And the local high school’s athletic director hears you like it there.
Negro: I would never say never. If they can get a package together to get me and my family. A cabana on the beach.
HPW: But let’s say the school is lacking resources for football. Program is struggling. The AD wants to meet you for lunch because he believes you could light a fire in the community and turn the team around.
Negro: You’re making a compelling argument.
HPW: I can’t see it happening, not the way you and your staff and players have succeeded for so long at St. John Bosco. But I like to ask coaches about a scenario like that. When do you arrive in Honolulu?
Negro: We leave Wednesday morning.
HPW: Thank you, Coach.