The high school football regular season won't kick off until September, but here are some impressions from nearly two months of traveling around Southern California for seven-on-seven passing competitions:
Good hands people
The crop of receivers is the best in years. Good luck trying to figure out who rates best among George Farmer of Gardena Serra, Victor Blackwell of Santa Ana Mater Dei, Antoine Arnold of Temecula Chaparral, Nelson Spruce of Westlake Village Westlake, junior Jordan Payton of Westlake Village Oaks Christian, junior Bryce Treggs of Bellflower St. John Bosco and Richard Mullaney of Thousand Oaks.
And there are some other juniors ready to join the conversation, such as Gabriel Marks of Venice, Kodi Whitfield of Los Angeles Loyola and Darius Powe of Lakewood.
Another receiver to watch is 6-foot-4 junior Brendan McKinney of West Hills Chaminade. He had a seven-inch growth spurt several years ago and is finally getting comfortable with his body. As a sophomore, he caught 16 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns.
He seems primed for a breakout season, and he certainly has the genetic makeup. His father, Odis, used to play cornerback for the Raiders.
"He definitely keeps me humble," Brendan McKinney said. "If I ask him how I did, he'll tell me the truth."
Newcomer to watch
Nick Holland of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame didn't play varsity last season, but the sophomore cornerback, a 21-foot long jumper, has speed, skills and toughness. He was a terrific player on the Knights' freshman team last year and during the summer was a standout in one-on-one coverage. His cousin is former Notre Dame and USC quarterback Garrett Green.
As Lake Balboa Birmingham proved in winning four recent City championships, a competent passing attack complementing a solid running game is a must. It's apparent other City Section teams have been paying attention, too, because better passing has become a trend.
Dorsey, with quarterback Joseph Gray, has raised its passing productivity. Crenshaw, with the return of quarterback Marquis Thompson, should only build on what was accomplished last season.
Narbonne, which has reached the Coliseum the last two seasons because of an improved passing attack, has an outstanding sophomore prospect in Troy Williams, while Woodland Hills Taft is ready to unleash Westlake transfer Michael Bercovici.
There's also Garfield, which has made good progress behind quarterback Leonardo Vaal, and Carson, which will rely on veteran quarterback Justin Alo.
Strength of schedule
There's good and bad news to report among Marmonte League teams.
The good news is that the 10-team league is probably second-best in Southern California to the Trinity League. The bad news is that there are only five guaranteed playoff spots.
There are so many good matchups involving Marmonte teams that any fan who wants to see the best games in Southern California could end up going to Marmonte League games almost every week.
How do you pass up Thousand Oaks-Westlake (Sept. 16), Oaks Christian-Ventura St. Bonaventure (Sept. 17), Westlake-Oaks Christian (Oct. 1), Westlake-Moorpark (Oct. 15), St. Bonaventure-Thousand Oaks (Oct. 22), Oaks Christian-Moorpark (Oct. 29), or Westlake-St. Bonaventure (Nov. 5)?
While the passing tournaments are showcases for the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, linebackers and defensive backs, high school linemen have been lifting weights, performing drills and preparing to put on the pads and make a big impact.
Seven-on-seven competitions are excellent for identifying top skill-position players, but adding linemen can change a team's outlook immediately.
Among the schools expected to make a big jump because of their linemen are Los Alamitos, Huntington Beach Edison, Anaheim Servite, St. Bonaventure, Bellflower St. John Bosco, Mission Viejo, Lakewood and Norco.
There have been some big position changes, with more to come. The most visible was moving standout defensive ends Corey Waller of Long Beach Poly and Cody Kurz of St. Bonaventure to linebacker.
When practice starts next month, don't be surprised to see Anaheim Servite tight end Troy Niklas playing offensive tackle. Already in the Trinity League, Santa Margarita has moved 6-6, 251-pound junior tight end Max Tuerk to the offensive line as part of new Coach Harry Welch's rebuilding process.
Early top 10
1. Mission Viejo, 2. Westlake, 3. Servite, 4. Lakewood, 5. Long Beach Poly, 6. Los Alamitos, 7. St. Bonaventure, 8. Gardena Serra, 9. Temecula Chaparral, 10. Crenshaw.