Previewing the Top 50 high school football teams in California: No. 35 Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits

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 Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits of the CIF Southern Section, the No. 35 team in our countdown.

LONG BEACH POLY TEAM PAGE | 2021 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

LONG BEACH POLY HEAD COACH

Stephen Barbee, third season at Long Beach Poly (16-7)

2020 AT A GLANCE

  • Overall record: 8-4
  • League play: 6-0 (first in Moore League)
  • Postseason: Beat Orange Lutheran 27-24 in overtime in Division 2 playoffs. Lost 21-7 to Rancho Cucamonga in the CIFSS Division 2 quarterfinals

2020-21 SCHEDULE

(All game times 7 p.m.)

  • Jan. 8 @ Westlake
  • Jan. 15 vs. Mission Viejo
  • Jan. 22 vs. Gardena Serra
  • Jan. 29 @ Corona Centennial
  • Feb. 5 vs. Millikan
  • Feb. 12 vs. Long Beach Wilson
  • Feb. 19 @ Cabrillo
  • Feb. 26 vs. Compton
  • Mar. 5 @ Jordan
  • Mar. 12 @ Lakewood

ALL-LEAGUE DEPARTURES

RB Malachi Rice – Offensive Player of the Year

OL/DL James Maae – Offensive Lineman of the Year, First Team All-Defense

QB Mehki Jordan – First Team

WR Ashun Brown – First Team

OL Mase Suaava – First Team

CB Amajay Gravelly – First Team

DB Aaron Smith – First Team

DL Jonathan Scott – First Team

DL Marcelle Logan – First Team

LB Anthony Parker – Second Team

PLAYERS TO WATCH

LB Bryun Parham – SR.

3-star San Jose State commit was among Poly’s leaders in many defensive statistical categories last season with 102 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and three forced fumbles. He also recorded three QB-hurries, a blocked punt, four passes defensed, a fumble recovery, and an interception. Parham made first team all-league.

DE/DT Jacob Tuioti – SR.

Tuioti recorded 61 tackles last season, 22 of which came for loss. He also had five sacks, 10 QB-hurries, a fumble recovery, and two forced fumbles. Tuioti was named the Moore League Defensive Player of the Year and committed to the Army over Colorado State and UNLV.

WR Keyonta Lanier – SR.

The 3-star New Mexico commit was the Jackrabbits’ second-leading option at wideout last season, catching for 433 receiving yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. Lanier made First Team All-Moore League.

WR Jordan Riles – SR.

A 3-star recruit, Riles caught for 180 yards last season and holds multiple D-1 offers.

QB Shea Kuykendall – JR.

Last season, junior Shea Kuykendall threw for 554 yards and seven touchdowns on only 75 pass attempts with senior Mehki Jordan set as the QB1.

WR Anthony Curtis – SR.

Curtis came on strong late last season and led Poly with 42 crucial receiving yards in their playoff win against Orange Lutheran. He finished with 139 total yards.

WR Kyren Racheal – SR.

Racheal caught for 290 yards and three TDs as part of Poly’s deep receiver corps last season. He made second team all-league.

OL Michael Fesili – SR.

Fesili made first team all-league last season as a junior.

OL Brandon Pati – SR.

Pati was named Second Team All-Moore League last year.

LB David Bakalar – SR.

Bakalar registered 38 tackles and eight TFLs last season to go with three passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He’s one of the top candidates to replace lost production in the front seven and take a big individual leap.

CB Kamren Blanton – SR.

The 3-star UNLV commit was second on the Jackrabbits with 14 passes defensed in 2019, and made first team all-league. He leads a fast secondary that also includes Jordan Wheeler and Torion White.

DL/LB Kione Carey – JR.

Carey can play essentially any position in the front seven, and is likely to have an increased role on Poly’s defensive line this season. He had 15 tackles (six for loss) and four sacks in eight games last season.

IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON POLY FOOTBALL

“Our coaches have been incredible. We have virtual Zoom meetings both for football and for our personal growth,” said Shea Kuykendall. “We have followed guidelines and been safe in our practices. Additionally most of us train privately while staying in touch with our coaches. Feel blessed to have that kind of support through these tough times.

“COVID-19 has affected all of us so much. Terrible thing to go through. Most of all I worry for our seniors. We have adapted and all continue to work hard. Nothing will stop us.”

BEST-CASE SCENARIO

It’s rare for a team to lose the senior class Long Beach Poly did and come back potentially even more dangerous. But the Jackrabbits are loaded with talented upperclassmen, and have a leg-up in experience against most other Southern Section powerhouses. On top of a few established stars committed to D-1 schools, the Jackrabbits have numerous seniors who have already been important rotation fixtures but are ready to take it to the next level.

At QB, Kuykendall has already been offered at the D-1 level and has a strong chance to break out in a big way. He will have at least four strong options to pass to, including two 3-star D-1 commits in Lanier and Riles, and two more talented returners in Racheal and Curtis. That group alone makes one of the deeper receiver corps in the section. Fesili and Pati lead a physical O-line.

The defense has to replace numerous departures, primarily in the front seven, but they have a chance to be even better than last season. Plus, a lot of underclassmen from Poly’s second unit got a decent amount of in-game reps, so the transition should be smooth.

If it all comes together, Poly will build on last season’s unforgettable Division 2 playoff win over Orange Lutheran, and contend for a Division 2 title. Even a Division 1 playoff berth is feasible if everything clicks.

MOST REALISTIC SCENARIO

Last season, it took a couple weeks for Poly to round into its top form, but once it did, it was a clear Division 2 playoff threat. That team has quite a few key seniors to replace, including their QB1, RB1, WR1, top offensive lineman, and numerous defensive anchors. But even if the Jackrabbits have an adjustment period to start the season, they’re still very likely a Division 2 team.

KUYKENDALL SAID

“Our reputation is Long Beach Poly vs. Everyone. Teams know our history. Know what city we rep. As a team this group is really tight. We come to battle. Really great coaching staff that wants to see us be the best we can.

“There’s a collective belief within the team that … this is the best Poly team in many years. My class, 2022, went undefeated as freshmen and it has grown since. We have many top seniors this year. Best receiver crew and line out there.”

— QB Shea Kuykendall

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