Expectations are high at Millikan, where an exciting crop of talent is set to adorn the new playing surface at DeHaven Stadium this season. The Rams were a second-place team in 2018, but stumbled last season with a 2-4 record in Moore League play.
Now in year two of the Romeo Pellum era, the Rams appear to be the most talented team in the league outside of Poly, and will look to make a push up the standings after a fifth-place finish in 2019.
“I learned a lot last year being a first year head coach in the Moore League,” said a candid Pellum. “It’s a really competitive league, so it doesn’t matter what a team does the week before, you better be ready to play when you play them. So, I’ll make sure that we’re ready to go. We won’t overlook anyone, we’ll take it one week at a time. We just have to worry about us and go compete, and we’ll see what happens at the end of this thing.”
The timing of the condensed season means the Rams will be without one of their best players. Wide receiver Ezavier Staples graduated early with plans to attend UCLA soon and get a jumpstart on his college playing career with the Bruins. Even without the talented Staples–who led the Rams with 1,087 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season–the strength of the team will still be in their skill position players.
The Rams have a Division I talent in 6-foot-2 junior Tacario Davis, who recently committed to Arizona. The wide receiver/cornerback said he prefers playing defense where he is a long, physical corner.
“I’m very excited to show everyone what I’ve been working on this offseason and to go to war with my brothers,” Davis said.
While Davis is an established returner from last season, perhaps Millikan’s most exciting player is a newcomer. Freshman Ryan Pellum–younger brother of head coach Romeo Pellum–is a dynamic all-around player who will see time at receiver, defensive back, and kick returner. Despite not playing a single snap of high school football, Pellum already has over 20 Division I scholarship offers, from schools like Florida State, Miami, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Oregon, and others.
He’s already the most sought-after recruit in the city, and the elder Pellum believes Ryan will be a five-star prospect before it’s all said and done. But there’s still plenty for him to prove before he reaches that status, and he’s excited to begin that process at the high school level.
“That’s what it’s all about. I’m from Long Beach, and I can finally play for my high school, it’s gonna feel good,” Ryan Pellum said. “(Romeo)’s been coaching me my whole life, so it’s nothing different, but it’s a bigger deal now, we’re in high school.”
Ryan was among the standouts this fall when several players from Millikan–and other area schools–competed in club football competition out in Arizona. He was able to showcase his breakaway speed and playmaking ability, while he and his teammates got some playing experience leading into this delayed 2020-21 season.
“I think it could give us somewhat of an advantage for the first two games, but after that everyone should be pretty much caught up,” said Romeo Pellum of his team’s potential benefits from playing club football. “We only played five games with very little practice. So for a few of the guys it’s somewhat of an advantage, probably more so defensively. Offensively we had a majority of guys from other schools.”
One of the players who did get some offensive snaps is senior quarterback Will Madonna. The Mayfair transfer will take over for three-year starter Qeanu Campbell-Caldwell, who broke the career touchdowns record at Millikan. Madonna will orchestrate Millikan’s uptempo spread offense and will have a reliable running back on his hip. Junior Ajae Gravelly was Millikan’s leading rusher last season, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and scoring four touchdowns.
The Rams are thin up front, but do have some experience in key spots. Junior Luke Clapham will be a key contributor at left tackle, and Patrick Gallagher is a three-year starter at the center position. Gallagher said he is grateful for the opportunity to play football as a senior.
“It means a whole lot to me,” he said. “I was playing on this field before it was turf, so to be able to get my final season for my senior year makes me really happy.”
The strength of the Millikan defense seemingly lies in the secondary, where Davis and Pellum will join a pair of senior stalwarts at safety–Royce Smith and defensive captain Matthew Garcia. The latter was second on Millikan’s defense with 91 tackles during the 2019 season. Sophomore Jayden Hunt is also a player that Coach Pellum has high expectations for at cornerback.
The front seven will be young for Millikan defensive coordinator Carlos Lara. Freshman Riley Tuggle is a high-upside player starting at middle linebacker and sophomore Ty Atterberry is a player to watch on the defensive line. Clapham will also slot in on the defensive front, alongside senior tight end/defensive end Bryan Dubon and versatile captain Gavin Broderick.
The Rams will get tested right out of the gate with a non-league game at Los Alamitos on Friday. The Griffins are a dangerous team with highly-touted sophomore quarterback Malachi Nelson at the helm, and that game should provide a litmus test for Millikan’s title chances. The Rams begin Moore League play on March 19 at Jordan and close the season with a marquee matchup at Long Beach Poly on April 16.
“I just hope we win the Moore League,” said Garcia. “We haven’t done it in a long time so I hope this team pulls it out.”
3/12 at Los Alamitos (6pm)
3/19 at Jordan
3/27 vs. Compton (Saturday, 12pm)
4/3 vs. Lakewood (Saturday, 12pm)
4/10 vs. Wilson (Saturday, 12pm)
4/16 at Poly