A body crumpled to the turf, landing on Downey High quarterback Aidan Chiles’ arm. In the snap of a bone, everything was back to where it started.
Back to the shadows of the sidelines after spending fruitless years there at Los Alamitos. Six games, six brilliant games of dual-threat magic, weeks of clawing for a starting job at Downey — whisked away.
Chiles kept a happy face in that game last year, as was his custom. But the first week after that broken wrist ended his junior season, he was in pain.
The external hurt was fine. The internal, much worse.
“I didn’t know how to feel — I didn’t even go to school,” Chiles said. “I was in a cast. I can't even shower. Bro, it was sad.”
He stands an imposing 6-foot-4 today, his combination of lightning-quick delivery and wheels drawing recruiting buzz across the nation. Yet in his mind, Chiles is still the same skinny 5-8 quarterback from his underclassmen years, stuck behind Malachi Nelson at Los Alamitos. The same kid who Downey offensive coordinator Justin Alegria had no idea existed.
With three seasons in his high school career lost, Alegria told Chiles this is his arc. This is his journey to the mountaintop.
“I got more heart than most of these dudes out here, I’m just gonna keep it a stack,” Chiles said. “If I gotta compete with somebody, I’m gonna compete.”
Chiles sprinted across the grass, gleefully dapping receiver and longtime friend Bryant Carey after a long touchdown toss. They went into their customary routine — two taps, a slap of the chest, and a motion over the head like pulling on a ski mask.
“Skis,” Carey called it.
There was plenty to celebrate for Chiles on Saturday at the Long Beach Millikan Tournament of Champions. The soon-to-be senior tossed a few balls during the seven-on-seven competition that would dissect any coverage, particularly a pinpoint find of receiver Ian Hernandez on a deep out route.
Alegria has trained countless quarterbacks across a 20-year coaching career. Chiles, he said, has the best natural release of any.
“The way the ball jumps out of his hand — it’s absolutely shot out of a cannon,” Alegria said. “That’s what college coaches really, really drool over.”
Could he have made that throw to Hernandez two years ago?
“Hell no,” Chiles said with a smirk. “Hell nah. Not at all. I’m telling you — Downey changed me.”
Chiles said he feels he was never given a fair shot at Los Alamitos. Nelson, a five-star recruit who committed to USC, was the man there. Chiles was the backup, existing on the fringes.
“We went in thinking he was going to get his opportunity for a position that only one person was going to play,” his father, Adrian Chiles, said. “He didn’t get that opportunity.”
Even as Chiles was stuck in neutral, he was growing. Quite literally. When he returned to in-person classes after the initial COVID-19 shutdown, he’d sprouted over 6 feet tall — and he just kept growing.
“Hopefully I’ll stop soon,” Chiles said. “I’m not trying to wear these big shoes anymore.”
Carey noticed the growth spurt. He persuaded Chiles to look at Downey, and eventually, the quarterback transferred in before his junior season.
“I’m just trying to show, ‘I can play with you guys,’” Chiles said. “I can compete with the big guys. And sometimes, those big guys aren’t even better than me. And I’m not even a cocky dude — I’m just being honest.”
Nelson’s one of those “big guys.” So is Long Beach Poly’s five-star recruit Nicholaus Iamaleava.
Chiles has earned a spot in their class, Alegria said.
“By the time he got hurt, he was playing some of the best ball in California, to be honest with you,” Alegria said.
Tall words for a tall quarterback. The stats don’t lie. Chiles threw for 1,187 yards on just 96 attempts to begin the season, completing over 72% of his throws, adding four touchdowns on the ground.
Then, in the sixth game of the season, his throwing hand was crushed.
“My heart broke,” Alegria said.
So did the team’s. Morale collapsed, Carey said. A promising season ended in a 35-14 first-round playoff loss to Glendora. Even though the team finished 8-3, energy perking up when a cast-wearing Chiles returned to the sideline, they couldn’t help wondering what if?
What if he’d started in a better situation? What if the growth spurt came earlier? What if that defender had never fallen on his wrist?
And somehow the ball coming off his fingertips is even hotter.
“When he did come back, he had a new level of strength,” Alegria said. “All this was completely healed … it’s effortless.”
Recruitment is starting to heat up. Chiles has received offers from Oregon and Washington, along with a constant stream of college coaches at practices and showcases.
Yet the attention is crickets to Chiles. He’s never been a blue-chipper. What makes him special is his heart and his confidence, he feels, attributes that’ll be on full display at Downey this fall.
“I try to prove myself,” he said, “every time I step on the field.”
— Bellflower St. John Bosco went undefeated, beating Anaheim Servite 40-8 in the championship game to cap a dominant tournament. Returning senior quarterback Pierce Clarkson was kept on the sidelines because of a sore back, so rising junior Caleb Sanchez got a chance to shine, carving up opposing seven-man units all afternoon.
“Everybody has to earn it at Bosco,” coach Jason Negro said in response to a question of whether Sanchez could push Clarkson for the starting job. The Braves, however, want to scrap the two-quarterback system they’ve been utilizing for the last two seasons.
— Servite had an impressive showing despite missing a few players who were competing at the Southern Section Division I track and field finals. After graduating 22 players from last season, including stalwart quarterback Noah Fifita, and leading rusher Houston Thomas and top receiver Tetairoa McMillan, the Friars were tossing darts at the wall to see if they’d stick.
Thomas cycled through three quarterbacks on Saturday.
“The guy started, and he got to stay in as long as he scored, so when he didn’t score, it was the next guy … we’re having some fun with it,” Thomas grinned.
— Santa Margarita senior quarterback Jaxon Potter displayed some refined decision-making and touch from his junior season. Potter threw for 2,869 yards and 23 touchdowns last year but 17 passes were intercepted.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.