The Kid with the Golden Arm

DJ Uiagalelei is 2020's No. 1 QB recruit and is getting Cam Newton comparisons. He also has a 95 mph fastball and reminds scouts of a young Roger Clemens. Is he the next two-sport superstar?
photo of Adam KramerAdam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterMay 3, 2019

CHINO, Calif. — His right arm can throw a football 85 yards, has made him the consensus top quarterback recruit in the country and has earned him comparisons to Cam Newton. It can also throw a baseball 95 miles per hour and has inspired MLB scouts to say he reminds them of a young Roger Clemens.     

But on this Friday night in February, DJ Uiagalelei's right arm is doing neither. Doctor's orders.

The junior from St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California, has been asked to avoid throwing a football, a baseball, anything, as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left (non-throwing) middle finger. A spring that was supposed to be occupied with football and baseball has been temporarily derailed.

So instead, wearing gym clothes as he sits on his family room couch, he scrolls through a Twitter feed that doesn't care about where his right arm is right now or the status of his middle finger—as long as it doesn't get in the way of seemingly limitless future.

The speculation there is endless. And it will be until he commits to a college on May 5. Clemson, Oregon and Mt. San Antonio College (where his uncles coach) are the finalists, he announced Wednesday, but he's also been offered by Alabama, USC, Ohio State, Michigan, on and on.


Editor's note: Uiagalelei committed to Clemson on Sunday.


And when he picks a college, it will only begin the next wave of speculation. Football or baseball?

Former Oklahoma quarterback and center fielder Kyler Murray has recalibrated the definition of the two-sport athlete, having been selected by the Oakland A's in the top 10 in the 2018 MLB draft and now by the Arizona Cardinals No. 1 overall in the 2019 NFL draft. Uiagalelei could follow in his footsteps.

Why not?

Courtesy of DJ Uiagalelei

"I want to play both sports in college," Uiagalelei tells B/R. "I really would like to play football and baseball as long as I can. If I get lucky enough to be able to play Major League Baseball or in the NFL, that would be a blessing."

His right arm is opening the doors. Uiagalelei just needs to choose which ones to walk through.


DJ isn't the only Uiagalelei blessed with remarkable genetics. His younger brother, Matayo, who is still in eighth grade, has multiple football scholarship offers of his own, including ones from LSU and USC. At 6'4" and 225 pounds, Matayo is on track to be one of the most coveted tight ends or defensive players in the country when his time comes.

For as big as the brothers already are, they live in the shadow of their father, David Uiagalelei, a 394-pound mountain of a man with the smile and personality to match.

In high school, David—who is now known around Southern California as "Big Dave"—went by the nickname "Halftime Show." His ability to uncork spectacular dunks at more than 300 pounds was widely celebrated, although these moments never came during actual games. They came during halftimes and intermissions, when he was often in street clothes, ineligible to play to suit up because of his grades.

"I was what you might call a troubled kid in high school," David says. "I didn't like school. I didn't follow the rules. I always thought I could get away with things because of my athletic ability.

"I made sure both of my sons were nothing like me."

David turned his comic book physique into a career. For more than a decade, he traveled the world with Chris Brown, T-Pain, DJ Khaled and other popular musicians as a personal bodyguard.

But in 2010, when DJ was nine, he began to question why his father was never around. So David abandoned his lucrative profession for a job as a resource officer at his former high school, Ganesha High in Pomona, California—the very place his own enormous athletic potential was never realized.

David knew early on that things would be different for DJ, who liked school and avoided the setbacks that he could not. When Indiana offered him a scholarship in sixth grade, David knew it was just the beginning, even if DJ didn't understand what the offer meant. Before he threw a single pass at Bosco, DJ had five scholarship offers in hand.

Having never enjoyed a recruitment of his own, David has embraced the hysteria.

"This guy, he's a social butterfly," his wife, Tausha Uiagalelei, says. "He can talk to anybody."

On occasion, David and DJ will clash about what the former shares on social media or the things he says, but the two mostly see eye to eye. And when it comes to the games themselves, David has removed himself of all influence and direction with the coaches.

"I'm not trying to be the next LaVar Ball," he says. "I'm just enjoying every minute of this and helping my son make the decision that is right for him."


In the past five years, Jason Negro has coached two once-in-a-lifetime high school quarterbacks. The luxury is not lost on Bosco's head football coach, who sits behind his desk in his spacious football office while preparing for another camp.

To his right, a handful of framed football jerseys of former Bosco players hang on the wall. The most notable is Josh Rosen, who committed to UCLA as the nation's No. 1 quarterback recruit in 2015 and was selected by the Cardinals 10th overall in the 2018 NFL draft.

Years from now, Uiagalelei will have his own space on the wall.

"I think they're both going to be amazing NFL players," Negro says of his former and current quarterbacks. "I know that's saying a lot about where I believe DJ is going. But if he continues to trend in this direction, I don't see him being anything less than what Josh is."

Over the past two seasons, Uiagalelei has accounted for 87 touchdowns (77 passing) and has thrown only nine interceptions. He's also lost only two games—both to fellow California powerhouse Mater Dei.

"He has generational arm talent," says Barton Simmons, director of scouting for 247Sports. "It's certainly one of the strongest arms we've ever scouted."

This past season, 16 out of 32 seniors at Bosco signed with Division I programs. Even for a school that regularly pumps out Division I prospects, it was a historic year. Amid the surplus of talent all over the field, though, Uiagalelei is approaching a threshold few ever have.

As a result, the coaching staff is doing everything in its power to protect its prized asset—denying almost every interview request and treating him the way a college or NFL team treats its stars.

"He has a four-year window to make the best of high school, and we certainly don't want all these external forces clouding that up," Negro says. "Right now, everyone wants a piece."

While his recruitment has finally slowed with the potential suitors more clearly defined, there was a stretch when Uiagalelei says he was receiving scholarships daily. The number of offers is so robust that he laughs at the thought of keeping track.

247Sports, which has Uiagalelei as the No. 3 overall recruit in the 2020 class, lists 30 major programs as having made offers. Rivals, which has him at No. 1 overall, lists 32. Both have him as a 5-star prospect and the top quarterback in the class, and both predict he'll commit to Clemson.

"I honestly think a year or two from where he's at now, he could be one of the 32 guys starting in the NFL," Negro adds. "As long as he stays healthy and continues down this career path, he's gonna be a top-five or top-10 pick."


Before this spring, it had been more than four years since Uiagalelei actually pitched. As a freshman, he played the outfield to conserve his arm. Last season, he skipped baseball entirely.

This season, Uiagalelei pitched in two scrimmages, showing flashes of his potential before he suffered his finger injury. His fastball, his favorite pitch, sits in the low to mid-90s. His arsenal of off-speed pitches, headlined by a curveball and a slider, have bite despite having been mostly dormant for years.

Bosco head baseball coach Don Barbara had long waited to see these flashes.

"It really was unbelievable," Barbara says. "I don't think it would take him that long to get to the big leagues. Not with his arm and not with his curveball. ...

"I hear from agents and from scouts. There are a lot of people interested in him. If that guy was pitching right now, the stadium would be filled. It's crazy."

Barbara is not the only one who has heard from interested parties. Some of baseball's most prominent agents have reached out to David, trying to gauge how baseball may or may not fit into his son's future plans.

Given all of DJ's time away from pitching, it might come as a surprise that he'd create such an impression so quickly. But not to DJ himself.

Courtesy of DJ Uiagalelei

"I've probably played more baseball than football in my life," he says. "Growing up, I played all year long. I wanted to be a baseball player."

Murray's decision to spurn baseball for football could ultimately impact whether a Major League Baseball team feels strongly enough about DJ to draft him next season, if it were to come to that.

What has become clear, through the uncertainty and the speculation and the regular check-ins, is that his arm and size are too tantalizing not to pursue.


It's mid-March, and the middle finger of his left hand is now covered by a glove. Underneath his mitt, his wrist is heavily wrapped, and the middle finger is taped to his ring finger for support. Doctors advised Uiagalelei to rest his finger for a full three months. But after only two months and nowhere close to 100 percent healed, he wanted to return to the mound.

His fastball sits in the low 90s in his regular-season debut against Orange Lutheran. Although he walks a batter and gives up a run in his return, the fact it is even happening sparks more intrigue. The question isn't how good Uiagalelei will be when he is finally healed, but what a finished, polished version of the pitcher could look like sometime down the line.

Whether that time will ever come remains to be seen. Scouts and recruiting analysts believe football is his ultimate destination. But Uiagalelei still hopes to play both as long as he possibly can.

Despite their differences in size and style, Uiagalelei intently observed how Murray navigated his way between the two sports.

"He got drafted in the first round for baseball, but I feel like people didn't know how big of a deal it was until he started showing how good he was in football," Uiagalelei says. "I felt like he could've had a lot more leverage a lot earlier in his situation."

Money and security unquestionably complicate any decision. Murray got a $4.66 million signing bonus from the A's.

"I mean, I'm still in high school," Uiagalelei says. "It's a whole different story with me and Kyler Murray. I'm just trying to play both sports right now, and there's a lot of people who are trying to do that."

Soon, Uiagalelei will announce his college destination of choice, likely altering the landscape of college football over the next 3-4 years. He then intends to turn his attention to recruiting, hoping to attract more young talent to the program he chooses. 

Along the way, he will continue to pitch. At least that's the plan right now. Not because he's worried about draft stock or the millions of dollars that could be just a year away or the pressure to grow into the next great two-sport star—a supersized encore to the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL draft.

But because for much of his life, he's known no other way.

       

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @kegsneggs.

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