Devin Bale, junior receiver for La Jolla High School, says his father Mark taught him to “catch the ball with your hands, not your body.”
“I remember I played catch in the alley with my dad,” the brown-haired, unassuming young man says. “He was a really good receiver at Arapahoe College [in Littleton, Colorado, just south of Denver].”
The key point about snagging the football with hands extended out from the body is “then the ball can’t bounce off your body” and go for a miscue, the 6-foot-2-inch receiver/kicker for the Vikings says.
Bale is one of a corps of pass catchers who have shined for Coach Tyler Roach’s offense through the first half of the 2019 campaign. While Bale adds the bonus of being a punter, place-kicker as well as field goal threat for La Jolla, fellow junior Luke Brunette has been effective on both sides of the ball. Cooper McNally has returned for his senior year to add his pass-catching skills, while sophomore Makai Smith is a newcomer and future star for the Vikings, moving here from Arizona. Most of the time, they’re taking heaves from sophomore quarterback Jackson Stratton, but returner Diego Solis also is in the mix at quarterback and catches a few passes himself.
On his impact as a place-kicker, Bale observes, “Kicking is a lot harder in the game, because of the pressure. You’re thinking about the situation. Also, you’re facing the pressure of the defense.”
“I was good at kicking because I played soccer so many years,” says the 170-pound defender in that sport. “I’ve played since I was 4.
“I really enjoy soccer. I like to stop opposing players and kick the ball really hard. Coach Victor [Zendejas, assistant coach of La Jolla High’s team] has been my coach on Impact [Club] since I was 9. We became friends just through my playing for him. I’ve always been able to talk to him. He always pulled me up to play with older kids.”
While the Viking football team split its first four games this season — holding a potent Bishop’s offense to 18 points in the season opener, falling narrowly, 18-9 — Bale went from one catch in the first game to five for 58 yards, four for 50 yards, and a pair for 19 yards in the next three games.
Meanwhile, Smith probably had the most spectacular grab, a one-handed haul-in of a Stratton pass at the extreme left edge of the end zone for a touchdown in a 28-14 thumping of a good Santa Fe Christian program in week three. For Makai, that was one of four receptions in the game for 38 yards. He also caught four for 37 yards against Del Norte the next week.
Solis also has showed spectacular athleticism, and a willingness to absorb punishment, with leaping catches contorting his body into a pretzel, including against Del Norte, though La Jolla dropped a disappointing 15-7 decision before the Nighthawks after two strong wins over Mission Bay, 34-13, and Santa Fe Christian.