There was plenty of hand-wringing in Ram Land earlier this year when football coach Justin Utupo stepped down to pursue collegiate opportunities (he’s an assistant at Azusa Pacific this season). The nervousness was well-founded. With the energetic young Utupo at the helm, Millikan went from a 1-9 season to being the second-best team in Long Beach the last two years, finishing 5-1 in league both times with their only losses coming to Poly.
The Rams 17-6 two-year stretch featured a pair of playoff wins, the first time that had happened since the early 1980s. Adding to the trepidation was the graduation of a huge senior class and the school’s decision to hire a relative unknown in Romeo Pellum, a young coach taking his first head job.
Have no fear, Rams fans. At a practice last week, Millikan was organized, with practice run by a college-style schedule. There were several high-pedigree assistants around Pellum including coaches from last year’s team and Poly guys like Derek Jones, Matt Rowe, and defensive coordinator Carlos Lara (the brother of longtime Poly coach Raul Lara). The team is at least as talented as last year’s, and looks poised for a big season.
Pellum, a North Long Beach native, was clear-eyed in his assessment.
“I’m curious to see how it goes,” he said. “I’ve been away from the Moore League for a while–I think it’s wide open. Talent-wise, I think we’re second in the league. At that point it comes down to coaching.”
Pellum is right about the talent. Millikan features perhaps the top quarterback in the league in returner Qeanu Campbell-Caldwell, and the top-rated receiver in Ezavier Staples, a lanky junior who enters the year with a handful of scholarship offers already. QCC has plenty of other options including Nathan Martinez, Aaron Okoro, and Jerron Lincoln, as well as a speedy back in Ajae Gravelly.
Up front, John Padilla, Patrick Gallagher, and Ethan Petaia are providing some heft.
Defensively, Millikan has a good-sized line as well with Mehki Bowman, Eli Noa, Malefai Maiava, JT Bernal, and more. The Rams will run a base nickel package with five DBs, put they believe Joshua Robinson-Little is one of the citys’ best linebackers, joined in the interior by Alapai Laguana. The DBs will be led by Anthony Brayboy, Aaron Seja, Jakarai Wimbley, and others.
Offensively, the Rams are trying to be a tough week of practice, as Pellum puts it. They’ll run a high-tempo offense that will give QCC the ability to spread defenses out and pick his best matchup.
“This was a good team before I got here, this is a good group of kids,” said Pellum. “I’m trying to help get them to the next level–I think our perimeter guys are strong.”
His players have taken to him as well, a difficult task given that Utupo was popular among his players.
“I just feel really lucky to play for both of them,” said Campbell-Caldwell. “They’re both really cool guys, they care about their players. I think this year we’re an even tighter team, we’ve got a real brotherhood.”
The Rams will debut the brotherhood at home against Carson and Carlsbad, then visit Aquinas and La Mirada before diving into the Moore League, where they want to push Poly and try to win the school’s first league championship since 1985.