Part-Big Ben, part-Cam Newton: Meet D.J. Uiagalelei, the No. 1 prospect in the 2020 class

Yahoo Sports

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — When D.J. Uiagalelei was in fourth grade, his father, David, would drop him off at school and young D.J. would wave goodbye.

David Uiagalelei worked for years as a celebrity bodyguard, a 420-pound lunar eclipse of man who has protected everyone from Chris Brown to DJ Khaled.

Big Dave’s professional instincts have carried over to fatherhood, as young D.J. would notice his father looming on the periphery of the playground. Eventually, D.J. would ask why his dad was hanging around.

“I’m just making sure nobody was bullying you,” Big Dave would say.

“But dad,” D.J. would plead. “I’m the biggest one out here, right? Who’s going to bully me?”

These days D.J. Uiagalelei, 16, has grown into the most intriguing athlete in all of high school sports. He’s a 6-foot-4, 235-pound high school junior who ranks as Rivals.com’s No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2020. He received his first scholarship offer in the sixth grade and projects as a blend of modern quarterbacking prototypes – Ben Roethlisberger’s dropback poise and Cam Newton’s spread versatility.

“In terms of arm talent and skill set, he has all the tools to become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time,” said Jason Negro, the coach at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California, who coached Josh Rosen there. “There’s a lot of factors that go into that, but he has all the tools to accomplish that, right mindset, physical make-up and all the things a quarterback needs at a high-level college or in the NFL.”

D.J. Uiagalelei is the No. 1 prospect in the 2020 college football recruiting class, according to Rivals.com. (Photo credit: Nicolas Lucero/Rivals)
D.J. Uiagalelei is the No. 1 prospect in the 2020 college football recruiting class, according to Rivals.com. (Photo credit: Nicolas Lucero/Rivals)

Uiagalelei can throw a football 85 yards and a fastball in the 90s. He projects long term as a first-rounder in both sports, and eventually he’ll face a choice between them.

Uiagalelei plays at Bosco, the USA Today No. 1 football team on the West Coast which also had two MLB draft picks last season. He has more than a year to decide which famous Bosco grad’s career path to chase – Rosen or former Red Sox star Nomar Garciaparra.

“I’m not sure what I want to do now,” D.J. told Yahoo Sports this summer at the QB Collective Camp. “I know I just want to play both as long as I can.”

As D.J.’s profile rises, his father plays the dual role of protector and promoter, a persistent presence on social media and on the sideline of D.J.’s games. D.J. admits to having a bit of a “love-hate” relationship with his father’s constant promotion on social media but appreciates the genuine place it comes from. “I promote him a little bit too much now,” Big Dave said. “Because he’s like, ‘Dad, that’s enough. You did your job. Everyone knows who I am now.'”

Big Dave is a fixture around the Southern California sports scene, with his hearty laugh and halogen smile belying his imposing figure. He’s the one dealing with the hovering baseball agents, much of the media tied to D.J.’s football recruiting and is constantly tweeting out awards, videos and accomplishments of D.J. and his teams.

D.J. is much more low key, as Negro compliments his ability to stay locked into his teammates and attacking what he needs to get better. D.J. jokes that his favorite subject in school is lunch, yet he’s studious enough to win Bosco’s Student Athlete of the Year.

He has stayed grounded as accolades came fast, starting with a scholarship offer from Indiana after a highlight tape Big Dave posted on Facebook while his son was in sixth grade. “I didn’t even really know what that really meant,” D.J. said. “I remember I was at Magnolia Elementary in Upland. My dad told me, ‘Hey, D.J., you know you got an offer by Indiana?’ I was like, ‘What does that mean, dad?'”

The scholarship represents D.J. reaching potential that Big Dave never fulfilled. There are stories around Southern California about Big Dave’s promise as a left tackle, including him being able to reverse dunk a basketball while he weighed 360 pounds. “Everyone who knows me or remembers me from growing up they all know,” Big Dave said. “They always look at D.J. and say, ‘You got your talent from your dad.'”

By his own admission, Big Dave had academic shortcomings and was a self-described “class clown.” He eventually found his niche working security in the Hollywood club scene, where he met his wife, Tausha, and built the connections that found him traveling the world with Nick Cannon (five years) and Chris Brown (four years).

When D.J. turned 9, Big Dave put his celebrity bodyguarding career on hold to spend more time with his family. He’d traveled the world, visiting 40 countries and filling three passports. But he wasn’t around a lot, a big reason why Negro observes that D.J.’s personality mimics his mother’s – reserved and humble – more than his father’s. (Tausha’s family has elite athleticism, too, as her father played professional baseball and uncle played in the NFL.)

D.J. Uiagalelei is the No. 1 prospect in the 2020 college football recruiting class, according to Rivals.com. His father, Big Dave (above), plays both his protector and his promoter. (Yahoo Sports)
D.J. Uiagalelei is the No. 1 prospect in the 2020 college football recruiting class, according to Rivals.com. His father, Big Dave (above), plays both his protector and his promoter. (Yahoo Sports)

D.J.’s younger brother, Matayo, is also a promising football prospect. He’s a 6-foot-3, 210-pound defensive end/tight end who Big Dave jokes is a “real Samoan” because of his placement on the line of scrimmage. Big Dave now works as a campus security officer for the Pomona Unified School District, making in a month what he’d make in four days on the road in his old job. But he’s around to keep an eye on his boys. “God had intended me to have these situations, these experiences so that once I had my kids,” Big Dave said, “to know that they can never fall in those same faults that I had.”

So far, D.J.’s trajectory is on a much higher plane. Former Bosco offensive coordinator Chad Johnson, now the head coach at Mission Viejo, says that D.J. was further along last season as a sophomore than Rosen was at that stage. D.J. finished last year with 29 touchdowns and two interceptions. This spring, new offensive coordinator Steven Lo worked on touch with Uiagalelei, as he installed an RPO-heavy system that draws from every strain of offense – dropback passing, quarterback run and some option.

Through five games – just 10 quarters as Bosco has blown all their opponents out – D.J. has 18 touchdowns and one interception. “He’s learning not every ball needs to be thrown at 100 miles per hour,” Lo said.

D.J. says he’s in no rush to make a decision on where to attend school. Two early leaders appear to be Clemson and Oregon. (He’ll visit the Ducks this weekend.) When visiting Clemson, the Tigers football coaches also wisely gave him a baseball uniform to try on, acknowledging their support for him playing two sports. He plans on playing both in college, provided of course he doesn’t command enough MLB draft money to start his professional baseball career immediately. D.J. loved Clemson, leaving campus impressed with everything from the slide in the facility – “I did a somersault” – to the coaches bowing their head and praying before meals. “It was just a great atmosphere,” he said. “It feels like I’m talking to a family member.”

D.J. said he’s a long way from making any kind of decision, although he’s intrigued by the idea of going away for school. Oregon has long been a favorite, as Marcus Mariota and Jeremiah Masoli are two of his favorite all-time quarterbacks. He’s already visited a host of schools, including Alabama, LSU, Arizona State and Georgia, and there are visits planned to Oklahoma, Auburn and an additional trip to Clemson.

The mystery element of D.J.’s future will be how seriously he considers devoting himself solely to baseball if the opportunity arises to sign a lucrative contract after next season. D.J. didn’t play baseball as a sophomore at Bosco, something that expedited his physical development for football as he dropped from 255 pounds to 235 pounds and now has a vertical leap of at least 34 inches. He’ll play baseball the next two seasons – ruling out the chance at early enrollment for football – and Bosco baseball coach Don Barbara says the anticipation is such that he’s constantly getting calls from agents and scouts about D.J.’s baseball status. That’s all without having thrown a pitch in high school. “If he can pitch like he throws a football, his ceiling is unbelievable,” said Barbara, a former minor leaguer and college baseball coach. “He’s got a cannon already.”

D.J. will be eased in this baseball season, as he’ll pitch spot relief and play in the outfield. Barbara compares him to the Reds’ Michael Lorenzen, who pitches (3.03 ERA) and hits well enough (.296 batting average and four home runs) that he’s a capable pinch hitter.

There are already two other pitchers on the Bosco roster who throw in the mid-90s – Jon Jon Vaughns and Ty Collins – and project as prime 2020 MLB draft picks. It wouldn’t be a surprise if D.J. joins them, presenting a vexing crossroads after the MLB draft in June of 2020. “He’s too athletic and throws too hard,” Barbara said. “Someone is going to take a chance on him. He and his dad and family are going to have to decide what they are going to do.”

For now, they’re going to enjoy the moment. Bosco fell to traditional power Mater Dei in the Southern Section Division I Championship last season. USC freshman J.T. Daniels out-dueled Uiagalelei, as Mater Dei won 49-24 and gave Bosco fuel for the offseason. Then there will be a baseball season that will draw plenty of radar guns. After that, a senior season that will be loaded with expectations.

From there, Big Dave sometimes admits he catches himself dreaming ahead, pondering if life will come full circle from those elementary school dropoffs. There’s the potential that D.J. may make it big enough to require a professional bodyguard someday. And then Big Dave lets out his hearty laugh, knowing who won’t get picked.

“He won’t let me be his bodyguard. I’m hoping that one day he would get somebody … because where he’s going, he’s going to need one.”

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