LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. — Ball in hand, dropping back, and letting it fly.
It's a progression that Los Alamitos sophomore quarterback Malachi Nelson has known all his life. The football field, for better or for worse, his second home.
After a year away from that home though — as the pandemic forced the postponement of his high school football season — his emotions upon returning were difficult to describe.
"I can’t explain that," he said shaking his head. "My mom asks me the same question and I can’t explain it. Friday night lights, running out of the tunnel, it’s a different feeling," said Malachi.
Playing high school football has always been a dream for the young quarterback. As an elite player, Malachi began getting college offers before setting foot on campus, so playing at Los Alamitos was less about the exposure it would give him and more about the experience.
“I went to private school kindergarten to fourth grade and then I ended up getting homeschooled until high school," he explained. "Coming to Los Al, I just felt right, I felt at home,” he said.
As California high school football has continued to grow, so too has the trend of some of the state's most elite players heading to the private school circuit. Take a look at Los Alamitos High School, however, and you'll see that's not always the case. To Malachi and fellow sophomore Makai Lemon, this program and this team felt like family.
“We have a lot of good kids that could definitely start at Trinity league or private schools," Makai said. "I think it speaks to this school. It’s a great school, great academics, great football team.”
"It makes you unique growing up here instead of traveling somewhere else to play ball," Makai added. "You grew up with these kids and take off with them.”
In fact, he and Malachi have been playing football together since they were 5-years-old. Both played together at the club level and are now back in the huddle donning the same Los Al uniform.
“Here it’s a real family," Malachi said. "We’ve been together, we live together, it’s a year-round thing. I think that’s the biggest difference, the guys got your back.”
To both players, that bond is what makes high school football so unique.
Yes, they are playing to win games, to compete, and to make it to the next level, but they are also playing for their school and their city.
"We had to keep the legacy going at Los Al," Makai said. "You got the lights on, the crowd. They hype us all up."
"Everyone wants to come out and support the football team," Malachi said. "It’s crazy you’re representing this town and them.”
It's a comfort level you only truly find at home, or in this case, playing under the Friday Night Lights.