football Edit

Breaking down Mater Dei-IMG showdown

Trey Sanders
Trey Sanders (Nick Lucero/

SANTA ANA, Calif. - Arguably the two best high school programs in the country, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei and Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy, faced off on Friday night with Mater Dei winning a 28-24 thriller. Here are my impressions on many of the top prospects in the matchup:

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The five-star running back was the best player on the field, rushing 13 times for 181 yards and one touchdown and he was also amazing in the punt return game returning one for a score but it was called back for a penalty and he had another long return called back because of another flag.

Sanders is such a strong and determined runner, he has quick feet in the hole and gets upfield so fast without dancing and wasting time. It was an outstanding performance against a tough Mater Dei defense that knew IMG was going to run the ball.

If you’re looking for a quarterback with incredible poise, smarts and moxie, look no further than Young, who led Mater Dei on a game-winning drive with perfect passing and then he ran five yards for the score to put the Monarchs ahead for good.

In such a tense setting, the 2020 quarterback could have folded but instead he led Mater Dei down the field and didn’t blink an eye. When the USC commit had time in the pocket, he delivered bullets. He’s also more than comfortable getting outside, keeping his eyes down the field and making something happen. His height will remain a concern because he has to get outside sometimes to scan the whole field, but Young had an outstanding performance and he’s a big reason why Mater Dei won.

Nolan Smith
Nolan Smith (Nick Lucero/

Smith made an impact on almost every play defensively and he was great rushing off the edge (he drew a holding penalty at least once and put pressure on Mater Dei’s backfield all game) and playing in coverage. The five-star hits like a truck, he’s aggressive and relentless and I admired his leadership ability. As things got tough for IMG at times throughout the night, Smith was the vocal leader the team rallied around. He has a special attitude to his game that is contagious.

Bru McCoy
Bru McCoy (Nick Lucero/

McCoy had a very impressive night at receiver especially working the back-shoulder throws successfully and asserting his physical presence against IMG’s cornerbacks. He caught a touchdown pass early in the game, had a nice gain on a slant and when Young was looking for a conversion, McCoy was always available in the passing game.

Dealing with injuries in recent seasons, Ware-Hudson has been off the radar for a while, but he came through in a massive way on Friday night. The Oregon commit has a great power base, he uses his hands so well inside and he’s surprisingly fast so Ware-Hudson lived in the backfield making plays. Early in his career, Ware-Hudson played on the outside and then went to linebacker for a while but he’s grown into a defensive tackle - and a good one.

Listed as a three-star offensive tackle, Whitner has been moved to the defensive line and he had a tremendous impact on Friday night. He’s long and massive, so Whitner takes up a lot of space and is powerful at the point of contact. His aggressiveness and speed gets him in the backfield to make plays and he made plenty of them as he was a problem all night for Mater Dei’s offensive line.

In a two-back system trading carries with Sanders, Cain was excellent as well and finished with 21 touches for 130 yards and a score. The four-star running back runs with incredible toughness and he bounced off a Mater Dei defender early in the game to set the tone. He’s more physical than he looks, tough to bring down and is great in tight spaces.

If there is a trim 360 pounds, Neal looks the part probably because I remember seeing him when he was nearly 400 pounds last year. The five-star played offensive tackle all night and did an excellent job handling power and speed. He plays with a mean streak, he moves well for his size and he’s stayed lean this season, which is important over the long term.

The four-star Oregon commit is strictly playing safety for Mater Dei and he’s doing an excellent job. Criddell still has the instincts of a cornerback to break on the ball and make plays and over the last year or so he’s added that physical ability to pop receivers across the middle or come down into the box to make a big play. He had numerous tackles and was always around the ball.

Redding was IMG’s top receiver and he made a phenomenal circus catch near the sideline of the end zone over Oklahoma commit Darion Green-Warren, who also had a nice game. He dealt with some cramping issues and IMG really doesn’t throw the ball much with Sanders and Cain in the backfield, but when Redding’s number was called he showed great hands and concentration.

The Florida State commit is all of 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds and he could be an immediate contributor in Tallahassee since the Seminoles have issues along the offensive line. Lucas is massive and one of the meanest, gritty offensive linemen in recent years. Mater Dei’s speedy defensive tackles had some success against IMG’s interior offensive line but Lucas pushed the pile numerous times and opened lots of holes.

Ricks had an interception in a big spot and he shut down his side of the field all night although IMG was not throwing the ball all that much. The 2020 five-star cornerback has such incredible length that it’s hard to get around him on short passes as he wraps up well and near impossible to get behind him because Ricks has great speed as well.

He did get some unnecessary penalties - including one on a fair catch call when he was returning a punt - but we’ll give him a pass for being too hyped up in a big setting.

Out on his own island, Cavazos did a nice job against Mater Dei’s receivers and he had an excellent pass deflection on a deep ball where if Cavazos didn’t tip the ball it would have gone for a touchdown. He’s a fast, physical kid who is aggressive which is good out of cornerbacks. He strangely had two offsides penalties called, though, against him as he lined up too close to the receiver ready to jam.

Pretty quiet for most of the night, Dollars came on in the second half when the four-star Oregon commit scored on a flea-flicker. Dollars broke wide open and cruised into the end zone to put Mater Dei ahead. But the Monarchs seemed to use Dollars more as a decoy and allowed RB Shakobe Harper more touches throughout the night. Still, the four-star is explosive and a highlight-reel-waiting-to-happen with the ball in his hands.