Previewing the Top 50 high school football teams in California: No. 34 Junipero Serra (Gardena)

SBLive California is previewing the Top 50 high school football teams in the state ahead of the 2020-2021 season. Even with the season on hold, we will continue to highlight the best teams, players and coaches in California. Here’s an inside look at the Serra Gardena Cavaliers of the CIF Southern Section, the No. 34 team in our countdown.

SERRA GARDENA TEAM PAGE | 2021 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

SERRA GARDENA HEAD COACH

Scott Altenberg, 22nd season

2019 AT A GLANCE

  • 6-5 record
  • 1-4 in Mission League (6th)
  • Lost to Rancho Verde 26-20 in the first round of the Division 2 Southern Section playoffs

ALL-SOUTHERN SECTION DEPARTURES

  • LV Bunkley-Shelton – WR

2021 SCHEDULE

  • Jan 8, 2021 @ Garfield – 7:00PM – Non League
  • Jan 15, 2021 vs. Calabasas – 7:00PM – Non League
  • Jan. 22, @ Long Beach Poly – 7:00PM – Non League
  • Jan. 29, 2021 @ Carson – 7:00PM – Non League
  • Feb. 5, 2021 vs. JSerra – 7:00PM – Non League
  • Feb 12, 2021 @ Chaminade – 7:00PM – League
  • Feb 19, 2021 vs. Cathedral – 7:00PM – League
  • Feb 26, 2021 @ Notre Dame – 7:00PM – League
  • Mar 5, 2021 @ Bishop Amat – 7:00PM – League
  • Mar 12, 2021 vs. Alemany – 7:00PM – League

RETURNING STARTERS

  • 6 on offense
  • 5 on defense

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Devin Kirkwood (Senior-DB) (UCLA commit) (6-3, 175)

Coach Altenberg: “Devin is a 4.0 kid. He’s got long arms. He’s a great athlete. He’s one of those kids that’s an alpha out there on the field.”

2019 stats: 34 tackles, one interception

Lando Brown (Senior-LB) (6-0, 230)

Coach Altenberg: “Lando’s not the tallest kid, but he’s literally unblockable. He’s a little undersized, but all he is, is just the best player on the field all the time. Recruiters get so married to the height and the weight and I say just watch him. We had three different teams last season construct their offense differently just to deal with him. He’s that kid for us.”

2019 stats: 99 tackles, 19 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

Maalik Murphy (Junior-QB) (6-4, 215)

Offer sheet: 29 Division 1 scholarship offers, per 247Sports.com. Includes: Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Alabama, USC and UCLA

Coach Altenberg: “We have a fantastic quarterback in Maalik. It’s his turn. He hasn’t started a game yet at Serra High School yet and he’s a five-star kid. He’s smart and poised. He’s got every tool in the book and he’s a great kid. Maalik learned a lot from Doug Brumfield last season, who’s now at UNLV. He’s going to be great.”

2019 stats: Completed 26 of 58 passes for 305 yards. Two interceptions

Tyray Odell (Senior-LB) (6-2, 210)

Offer sheet: Nevada and Utah State

Coach Altenberg: “Tyray is a three year starter for us. He’s a freak athlete who runs like a wide receiver. He was one of our leading tacklers last year. He’s an amazing kid. 4.0 student. If he had a spring to showcase himself, he’d be a Pac-12 kid. He’s that good.”

2019 stats: 86 tackles, two sacks, one fumble recovery, a blocked punt

Devin Ford (Senior-WR/DB) (5-11, 165)

Offer sheet: Brown

Coach Altenberg: “Devin is the anchor leg on the 4-by-100 team in track. He’s really fast and has a 3.6 GPA. He had a good year last year, but he’s a late developer. He’s another kid who would have had his recruitment blow up if we had had a spring. He’s a great receiver.”

2019 stats: 18 catches, 238 yards, one TD, 12 tackles on defense

Elijah Davis (Senior-RB) (5-8, 200)

Offer sheet: Nevada

Coach Altenberg: “Elijah is a fantastic every down back. He has great hands and he’s a great route runner. He’s just a bowling ball running the ball as well as being a fantastic blocker.”

2019 stats: 157 carries for 915 yards and seven TDs. 21 catches for 273 yards and a TD

AJ Nkele (Senior-OL) (6-8, 330)

Coach Altenberg“AJ also plays basketball. He’s a great knee-bender. He’s been banged up in the past. If we can get on the field, he’ll be healthy and ready.”

Billy Claxton (Senior-OL/DE) (6-5, 246)

Coach Altenberg: “Billy has very long arms. He’s a kid who played a lot of tackle last year for us. He could play more defensive end this year.”

Brody McKinnon (Senior-WR) (6-1, 185)

Offer sheet: BYU

Coach Altenberg: “Brody’s a player that will have a great year for us in the slot.”

2019 stats: 13 catches, 106 yards

IMPACT TRANSFERS

  • Marion Miller – 2021 OL (St. Paul)
  • Jadin Brazil – 2022 WR (East High in East St. Louis, Ill.)

WHO TRANSFERRED OUT?

  • Justyn Martin – 2021 QB (Inglewood)

IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON GARDENA SERRA FOOTBALL

COVID-19 has affected every high school football team differently. Coach Altenberg shares how COVID-19 has impacted Gardena Serra football over the past few months:

“We’ve had 12 weeks of working, conditioning and doing a modified version of football. It’s been great. The kids are really appreciative of being able to get out here. One positive of this whole COVID thing, if there is one, is that the kids now have an appreciation of what they have. No one takes football for granted. The kids understand that and they’re excited to get to work. I’ve never seen kids skip and run to practice like they have now.

“We’ve taken our weight room outside. We’re doing whatever we can to make it work, but the uncertainty is certainly unsettling. Every few weeks is a recalibration and that’s been difficult.”

BEST-CASE SCENARIO FOR GARDENA SERRA

If everyone stays healthy and Serra receives a favorable playoff draw, the Cavaliers could win a Section title.

MOST REALISTIC SCENARIO

3-2 in the Mission League and win a playoff game or two. Injuries have really hurt Serra in the past and depth is always a concern. If there is a season, Serra has the talent to win the Mission League, but between the depth issue and just how talented the league is, a second or third place finish seems more likely. A lack of experience on the defensive line is another potential concern.

COACH SAID

“I think we’re going to be really good. I think our kids have been mentally really strong. A lot of times you can face adversity and kids will shrink to it, but this whole COVID thing is teaching our kids to be more resilient. In recent times, for a lot of reasons, there’s been a move towards being less resilient and I think that is changing now because of this.

“The Mission League is going to be really good this year. I think Chaminade and Alemany will have some of the best teams that they’ve had in a while. And of course Amat is always good. Even though Joe (McNab) is new at Notre Dame, he’s been there forever so they’ll be good. We’ll see how Cathedral looks. I don’t anticipate the league being that different.

“I think we’ll do really well. I think we’re underrated. A lot of people see us as losing Justin Houston (Fresno State), Doug Brumfield (UNLV), Devyn King (Maryland), Ronald Gilliam (SDSU), Jaylon Armstead (SDSU) and LV Bunkley-Shelton (Arizona State), but I think we have young guys that will be fantastic. Our issue is always with depth, having fewer than 200 boys at the school.

“We had one game where we lost seven starters all for about three weeks last year. That was hard to overcome.”

— Scott Altenberg

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