Greatest Mater Dei High School Football Players of All Time
In the history of American high school football, no school has produced more Heisman Trophy winners than Mater Dei High School — a private, Catholic school located in the heart of Santa Ana, California.
In all, three former Mater Dei standouts have lifted the Heisman Trophy over the years, but the Monarchs' success has been about much more than individual accomplishments. Mater Dei won its first high school football national championship in 1994 and has won six national titles in all, including four in the last six years.
Here's a look at some of the students behind that dynasty — the Top 10 greatest Mater Dei high school football players of all time.
10. Thomas Duarte
Position: Tight End/Wide Receiver
Graduation Year: 2013
Bottom line: The only Mater Dei player on this list to go on to play for UCLA, Thomas Duarte was named a USA Today All-American in 2012 when he had 58 receptions for 1,025 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was also named The Los Angeles Times Player of the Year and Orange County Register Offensive Player of the Year.
Duarte struggled with injuries during his first two seasons at UCLA before having a breakout season in 2015 when he was named All-Pac-12 and opted to skip his final year of college football to enter the NFL Draft.
Duarte was drafted in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins and played two seasons in the NFL.
9. Larry Williams
Position: Offensive Line
Graduation Year: 1981
College: Notre Dame
Bottom line: One of the few players outside the modern era from Mater Dei to make the list, Larry Williams went from California to South Bend, Indiana, where he was a two-time All-American at Notre Dame in the early 1980s.
Williams, 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds, went on to play nine seasons in the NFL for four different teams before going into a career in athletic administration, where he was an athletic director for the University of Portland, Marquette and Akron.
8. Domani Jackson
Graduation Year: 2022
Bottom line: Domani Jackson showed us enough in his first two seasons (and part of last two seasons) at Mater Dei to earn a spot on this list.
Jackson, 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, has seemed like an NFL-bound cornerback since early in his high school career, earning MaxPreps All-American honors as a freshman and sophomore before losing his junior season to the pandemic and seeing his senior season cut short because of a knee injury.
Jackson, the No. 1 recruit in California for the Class of 2022, signed with USC and is already projected as being a first-round pick in the NFL Draft when he's eligible. One big reason for the confidence in Jackson is his speed — he tied the California state record in the 100-meter dash in 2021 in a blazing 10.25 seconds.
7. Amon-Ra St. Brown
Position: Wide Receiver
Graduation Year: 2018
Bottom line: Amon-Ra St. Brown was a USA Today All-American as a senior for Mater Dei in 2017 when he had 72 receptions for 1,320 yards and 20 touchdowns playing with quarterback JT Daniels, the National Gatorade Player of the Year.
Brown played college football for USC, where he was an All-Pac-12 pick as a senior in 2020 and a fourth-round pick by the Detroit Lions in the 2021 NFL Draft. Brown set the Lions franchise rookie record with 912 receiving yards in 2021.
6. Matt Barkley
Graduation Year: 2009
Bottom line: Matt Barkley was a four-year starter at Mater Dei, where he became the first freshman to start at quarterback since Todd Marinovich in the mid-1980s.
Barkley was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year and Gatorade National Male Athlete of the Year as a junior in 2007 — and was the first junior to win the award. Barkley was widely considered one of the top prep quarterback recruits of all time and signed with USC, where ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said he would eventually become the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft before his freshman season.
Barkley's career at USC largely fell flat; he was an All-Pac-12 pick as a junior in 2011 and a fourth-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. He has shown some staying power in the NFL as a career backup and was on his ninth franchise in 10 seasons in 2022.
5. John Huarte
Graduation Year: 1961
College: Notre Dame
Bottom line: The oldest player to make this list by several decades, John Huarte starred at Mater Dei in the late 1950s before going to play collegiately at Notre Dame, where he became the first of three Mater Dei quarterbacks to win a Heisman Trophy in 1964.
Huarte played 11 seasons of professional football spread across the AFL, NFL and WFL, including winning a Super Bowl as a backup with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1969.
4. JT Daniels
Graduation Year: 2019 (reclassified to 2018)
Colleges: USC/Georgia/West Virginia
Bottom line: JT Daniels was a two-time California Gatorade Player of the Year and the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a junior at Mater Dei in 2017 when he also led his team to a 15-0 record along with a CIF championship and national championship.
The No. 1 high school football recruit in the country, Daniels reclassified to the Class of 2018 and became the starter at USC in 2018, when he should have been a senior at Mater Dei, and lost his spot to injury in 2019. Daniels transferred to Georgia, lost his spot to injury once again and was a backup on the Bulldogs' 2021 CFP National Championship team. Daniels transferred to West Virginia in 2022, and he still has two years of eligibility remaining.
3. Matt Grootegoed
Position: Running Back/Defensive Back/Linebacker
Graduation Year: 2000
Bottom line: USC head coach Pete Carroll said it best about former Mater Dei star Matt Grootegoed: "Things just happen when he's on the field."
Grootegoed was a running back and safety at Mater Dei, where he earned both Offensive and Defensive Player of the Game honors in the 1998 CIF Division I championship game. As a senior in 1999, Grootegoed won the Glenn Davis Award from The Los Angeles Times and was named a USA Today All-American.
Grootegoed signed with USC, where he was a four-year starter at linebacker and capped his career with back-to-back national championships in 2003 and 2004 alongside Mater Dei teammate and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart.
Grootegoed, who was an AP All-American as a senior, played one season in the NFL and two seasons in the CFL.
2. Bryce Young
Graduation Year: 2020
Bottom line: Bryce Young transferred to Mater Dei for his final two years of high school football from Cathedral High in L.A. and capped his career by throwing for 4,528 yards and 58 touchdowns as a senior on the way to being named California Gatorade Player of the Year and being named USA Today Offensive Player of the Year.
Young signed with the University of Alabama as a five-star recruit and was a backup on the CFP national championship team in 2020. Then, he won the Heisman Trophy in his first year as a starter in 2021 after he threw for 4,872 yards, 47 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
1. Matt Leinart
Graduation Year: 2001
Bottom line: Matt Leinart is best known for his time at USC, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 2003 and back-to-back national championships.
Before he became one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all time, he was named the 2000 California Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior at Mater Dei and led the Monarchs to the CIF Division I co-championship as a junior.
Leinart was the No. 10 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and played seven seasons for three different teams.
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