The best piece of advice regarding football that Johnathan Kaelin has ever received was from his grandfather.
“Never give up.”
The sentiment may seem cliché on the surface, but it holds immense meaning to the Golden Valley defensive back and receiver. One reason being the person it came from.
Kaelin’s grandfather, who died a year ago, was one of his biggest supporters growing up, attending every game and always had words of wisdom at the ready. He played defensive back for USC, but never made it to the pro level.
Prior to every game, Kaelin prays to his grandfather to watch over him. During every game, Kaelin takes one step closer to accomplishing the goal his grandfather fell short of achieving.
“I’ve just got to get a scholarship and try to make it pro for my grandpa,” Kaelin said.
With his success with the Grizzlies, that objective isn’t just a dream. In his junior campaign thus far, Kaelin leads his team in receiving yards (275), receiving touchdowns (4) and rushing touchdowns (4).
He’s also second on the team in terms of tackles with 30. Derrese Morganfield II is first with 49.
Although he can play just about any position on the field, Kaelin favors defensive back because of its physicality. He played defensive end at Bishop Alemany and when he joined the Grizzlies last season, the GV coaching staff knew they had to put him in a position where his tenacity would be maximized.
“He thrives on that physicality,” said defensive coordinator Tony Brown, “being able to come up on an open space, making tackles with a nice collision.”
While his tackles are enough to hush a crowd and his touchdowns are enough to bring it to its feet, Kaelin’s demeanor is mild upon first impression. He’s not rambunctious at practices and after scoring a touchdown, there’s hardly any celebration.
“I love that,” Brown said. “He’s not out there trying to dance around and act like it wasn’t expected. He’s expecting to score and that’s a good thing when you can hand the ball back to the referee with no shenanigans. Let’s just go back to work.”
He has a quiet air of competitiveness as well. Tyler Walker, another junior defensive back, has been competing against Kaelin ever since his days in youth track and field. Their ages have since changed, but the rivalry is still the same.
“We have competition every day of the week,” Walker said. “We’ll have ones on defense and he’ll go to offense just to try to mess with me.
“Even in games when we make big plays, we get stickers, so as of right now he has more stickers than me. We compete with stickers, in the weight room. The classroom is a big competition with us and I’m winning with that one, too.”
Although Golden Valley hasn’t exactly picked up where it left off last year, a postseason that included a trip to the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 finals, Kaelin is content with his decision to stay with the Grizzlies.
He still works out with DeGabriel Floyd, who transferred out of Golden Valley and into Westlake in the offseason, but maintains a sense of commitment to the Grizzlies.
“I think that’s why the people left. They probably thought we weren’t going to be as good,” Kaelin said.
“I was like, I’m going to stay because I’m going to be able to make them good. Help them. I feel like we weren’t going to be as bad. I felt we were just as good as last year’s team.”
While Golden Valley’s 1-4 record against some tough preleague competition hasn’t brought in sell-out crowds, the Grizzlies – Kaelin specifically – aren’t ready to give up yet.
“Just to win every league game,” Kaelin said of this season’s goals, “Make playoffs, see how far we can go.”