Mater Dei’s Elijah Brown is trying to ‘stand on his own two’

Everything about Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown signals a maturity level beyond his years.

He stands a lanky 6-foot-2, with a voice that already carries a hint of bass. He drops back from under center with the poise of a veteran, rarely hesitating, going through his progressions in just a couple seconds. He fires passes before receivers’ heads turn, leading them down sidelines or into the back corners of end zones for touchdowns.

But Brown is a freshman. In high school. And he’s played all of two varsity games.

“He’s slowly understanding that he has a lot to learn,” said Bruce Rollinson, Mater Dei’s head coach. “But he still has that excitement, that raw enthusiasm, and it’s going to be a fun process to watch.”

There is a philosophy that Brown’s father Kenneth likes to preach in their household: Whatever opportunities arise, tackle them head-on.

“Sometimes you’ve got to stand on your own two,” Kenneth defined it.

The younger Brown is standing just fine so far. He’s just the fourth quarterback to start at Mater Dei as a freshman, following NFL players Matt Barkley and Todd Marinovich and current Georgia starter JT Daniels. Those are big legacies to live up to — but in two games this season against JSerra and Orange Lutheran, both blowout wins, Brown has thrown for 359 yards and seven touchdowns while completing more than 75% of his passes.

He’ll get his biggest test on Saturday when the Monarchs play host to Trinity League rival Anaheim Servite.

“Following great quarterbacks like Bryce [Young] and JT, I have a high expectation — the team has a high expectation for me,” Brown said. “I just try to go out there and do the best I can.”

Before arriving at Mater Dei, Brown played youth football with the Inland Empire Ducks and Orange County Buckeyes. He had to make adjustments during this past offseason, he said.

“It’s a whole other speed at the high school level,” Brown said. “Going against our defense, our No. 1 defense, that really helped me … from their speed, it slows down a little bit.”

Entering the year, Brown faced competition for the starting quarterback nod with transfer Emmett Brown and sophomore Parker Awad. Ultimately, Rollinson said, Brown won the job thanks to his raw talent and the potential to develop once he had game experience.

“The kid kept coming on and coming on — he weathered the storm of a really good competition,” Rollinson said. “The [team], they have confidence in him, and that was part of our decision. You could just feel a little bit more energy and positivity when his reps were up.”

The program-wide belief in Brown is evident. Throughout a March 26 win against Orange Lutheran, teammates like receiver Kyron Ware-Hudson pulled the young quarterback aside on the sidelines and at halftime to offer encouragement. Even after Brown had a pass intercepted, yanking at his chin straps as he walked off the field, players and coaches were there to tap him on the top of his helmet.

That support is appreciated, Brown’s mother Shawna said, as Brown is trying to develop his own voice. Those who know him best will tell you he’s quiet. Reserved. Trying to come out of his shell.

The quality can be a positive. Shawna mentioned her son was humble from a young age, wanting to stay out of the limelight. But Rollinson looks forward to Brown becoming more assertive, and that’s an aspect of himself the quarterback says is slowly improving.

“I’ve tried just little, ‘Let’s gos,’ in the huddle, trying to get our team going,” Brown said. “I’m trying the best I can to speak up more.”

In the meantime, Brown is impressing with his mental game. Rollinson said the quarterback made a few “freshman mistakes” last week against Orange Lutheran, particularly a couple of missed reads and throws during Mater Dei’s first two drives, neither of which resulted in scores. Yet on the sidelines, Brown clutched a tablet, intently studying video of the game.

On the first play of the next drive, he threw a rope to junior receiver CJ Williams for a 31-yard touchdown.

“From having three other freshman quarterbacks, I’ve learned that you have to be very patient,” Rollinson said. “There’s no substitute for game experience. And he’s got two under his belt — I thought he was solid [Friday].”

As Mater Dei chases a goal of going 5-0 in a pandemic-shortened spring season, Brown and his family are happy he’s with the program. He’s been wanting to play for Mater Dei since he started taking football seriously at 10 years old, and those around him look forward to watching him grow — not only as a quarterback, but a young man.

“I’m just super proud of him,” Shawna said. “It makes my heart happy.”