La Mirada High School is not usually the first name that rolls off the tongue when people talk about Southern California prep football recruiting hotbeds.
Until this year, that is.
While most local teams are doing the usual offseason weight lifting and conditioning in preparation for the upcoming season, La Mirada is doing that and entertaining heavy interest in several top recruits that lured a who’s who college football coaching personalities to their campus this winter.
“What we try to do here as a coaching staff, athletic department and administration is split the season into three different parts,” La Mirada head coach Mike Moschetti said. “You’ve got summer and spring football, you’ve got your season, then you’ve got your recruiting season.
“These kids at La Mirada, on the field and in the weight room, they give you their heart and soul. So, in return as an administration and a coaching staff, we try to give them back our heart and soul when it comes to recruiting.”
La Mirada has been no stranger to sending players to the next level in recent years, but this year is different. The Matadores feature two of the top recruits in the country in linebacker/tight end Tyler Luatua and receiver Dallis Todd. Pick a college football powerhouse and odds are that both Luatua and Todd have an offer from it.
Then, there’s Class of 2015 quarterback Kevin Dillman, who already had nine offers in tow in between his freshman and sophomore season. Dillman getting injured during his sophomore season, but the interest has picked right back up. Also getting interest is junior-to-be lineman Anthony Cerillo, who had an offer from Colorado as a freshman before ever playing a down of varsity football.
Keep in mind, this is La Mirada we’re talking about. Not Servite. Not Mater Dei. Not Bishop Amat. Not La Habra. But La Mirada, a team that was bounced from the CIF-Southern Section playoffs last fall in the second round by Santa Fe.
The trick is in the marketing, according to Moschetti. He and his staff work tirelessly to get out the names and highlight films of their players. And they send them not just to Division I schools, but also to Division II, III and NAIA colleges as well. In addition to being proactive with the colleges, Moschetti is also relentless with the media. It’s not uncommon for media members and recruiting experts on his list to receive several text messages a day updating the recruitment of his players.
“A lot of schools have players, it’s just that nobody knows about them,” Moschetti said. “When our football season is over, we make all our kids highlight tapes and start sending them out to every school in the country. We have guys who are relentless. Not just sending the film out, but you’ve got to email. We have 10 to 12 different coaches who are making phone calls every single day making sure the tape gets watched.
“But I think what makes me proud about La Mirada is that our coaches will keep calling schools, whether it’s Auburn or Adams State or an NAIA school in Ohio. We will keep calling and calling and calling until they say ‘We’re not interested.’”
La Mirada is surrounded on all sides by private schools, some of which with top-flight programs. The competition just to keep the local talent home is also fierce, but Moschetti is clearly winning the battle. When a well-known private school program recently made several overtures at his players, Moschetti responded by getting on the phone and making it clear to that coaching staff that they were barking up the wrong tree.
“I’m not going to get into schools’ names, but I can name one that’s close that’s actively recruiting our kids right now,” Moschetti said. “I’m not going to give names, but I get on the phone and I’m not going to back down to them.
“Tyler Luatua’s been recruited by a certain school for two years. They say ‘You should want to play against the best and for a private Catholic school.’ But Tyler’s argument back is ‘My brother (Isaac) played at La Mirada and he’s now at Alabama and they’ve won two national championships, so I don’t need to play for a private school.’”
As a player, Moschetti was a fiery competitor who quarterbacked La Mirada to a CIF championship in 1992. He later played at Colorado by way of Mt. SAC. That same bulldog spirit that helped him overcome any size limitations and led him to a successful college career seems to reemerge when he talks about maintaining a neighborhood football program at his alma mater, which very well could be pillaged for talent by bigger-name schools in the absence of Moschetti’s ownership.
“You can go to Mater Dei and pay tuition, but you can come to La Mirada where it’s free and still get recruited by Florida, Notre Dame, USC and Alabama,” Moschetti said. “The big misconception is ‘I have to go to Servite. I have to go to Bishop Amat. I have to go to Crespi to play Division I football’.
“I’ve never had a college coach once ask me ‘What division do you guys play in?’ If you make plays on film and take care of business in the classroom, you’re going to get recruited if you get your film out there.
“That’s my big argument. That’s our selling point. Why go to Servite? Why go to St. John Bosco when you can come to La Mirada and still get recruited? You can still play at an Ivy League school. You can still have a Steve Sarkisian or a Brian Kelly or Alabama’s offensive coordinator on our campus. And they’re not asking about what division you’re in or who you played against.”
Moschetti’s detractors will point to the fact that even with all that talent, the Matadores were bounced from the Southeast Division playoffs by a nondescript Santa Fe team. Prior to that, though, La Mirada gave a strong account of itself in the nonleague by beating St. Paul, La Habra, St. Francis and even giving Bishop Amat a good run before losing by 10.
Moschetti has won a CIF title as a coach. In 2009, he guided La Mirada to a 13-1 record and Southern Division championship. But anything less than another division title in 2013, given all the talent on hand, will be considered a major disappointment.
Moschetti knows all the recruiting buzz will lead to high expectations and put a target on his team’s chest. The area will quickly know just what to make of La Mirada and all its talent because the Matadores have a nonleague schedule that includes Servite, Tesoro, La Habra and St. Francis.
“It was a disappointing season for us,” Moschetti said about 2012. “I’m as hard on myself as anybody. I’ve got to coach better. Last year was a huge disappointment. We want to win just like everybody else.
“I think the excitement now is not necessarily about recruiting, it’s about getting better. Spring ball is right around the corner. That’s what the kids are excited about.”