It wasn’t that long ago when Bellflower-St. John Bosco High’s football program was in the shadows of more established Southern California schools such as Anaheim-Servite, Santa Ana-Mater Dei and Poly-Long Beach.

Today, St. Mary's faces Bosco at 7 p.m. at Whittier College in what can be called the state game of the week. Now, Bosco's matchup is the one casting the giant shadow.

Bosco (3-1) enters the game ranked No. 2 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and is in the top 10 of most national rankings. St. Mary’s (4-0) just moved up from No. 9 to No. 7 in the state after the previous No. 7 and No. 8 teams lost.

The Braves might have ascended to No. 1 in the nation if they would have won a matchup two weeks ago against Las Vegas-Bishop Gorman, but lost 35-20. Gorman instead is the current consensus No. 1 team in the nation.

The reputation of the Braves has become so strong that when Rams head coach Tony Franks was first asked by athletic director Jim Brusa about the possibility of his team playing them, he texted back: “Isn’t UCLA or USC available?”

So how did Bosco become such a powerhouse?

Certainly a lot of the credit has to go to head coach Jason Negro, a Braves’ alum who took over the program in 2010 after enjoying success as a head coach at Mission Viejo-Trabuco Hills.

Negro, with the commitment of the school’s administration and athletic director Monty McDermott, set out to build a program that would be highly attractive to the top talent – some of the best in the nation – that annually resides in the corridor near Los Angeles that includes Long Beach, Compton, Bellflower and Downey. The Braves’ rise also coincided with some coaching uncertainty and program deficiencies at schools such as Lakewood, Long Beach Poly, Compton-Dominguez and more.

Put it this way: If current NFL superstar Richard Sherman (who went to Dominguez) was growing up now, he’d probably want to go to Bosco.

By 2012, Bosco was beginning to make its move behind sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen. The Braves went 12-0 on-the-field (they had to take four forfeit losses for using an ineligible player) before losing to Long Beach Poly in the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division semifinals.

Everyone in Southern California knew that 2013 might be the Braves’ best team ever. It ended up being one of the best teams in Southern California history. Bosco beat Concord-De La Salle in the CIF Open Division state final 20-14 and Rosen was the State Junior of the Year. De La Salle's quarterback in that game was Chris Williams, who played for the 2015 Delta College baseball team.

The 2013 Braves finished 16-0 with a 30-point average margin of victory.

In Rosen’s senior year in 2014, a lot of defenders and linemen needed to step up due to graduation and they did as the Braves went to the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 final. They also had lost earlier in the season in a 34-31 shootout to Bishop Gorman but were favored in that title game and ranked No. 1 in the state until getting upset by Corona-Centennial.

Rosen, who passed for 8,473 yards and 90 touchdowns in his prep career, is now one of the top college quarterbacks in the nation for UCLA. Being the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft someday would not be a surprise.

Last season, Bosco didn’t play Bishop Gorman and was steaming along at 13-0 until once again running into Centennial in the Pac-5 title game. It was one of the craziest games ever seen, with Centennial leading 56-37 at halftime before eventually winning 62-52. The Huskies then lost to De La Salle in the CIF Open Division state final for the second consecutive season.

Sophomore Re-al Mitchell entered the game in the first half for the Braves after starting quarterback Quentin Davis suffered a shoulder injury. Mitchell directed several scoring drives. This year as a junior, Mitchell is one of the team’s top threats and will be a primary focus for the St. Mary’s defense. He has rushed for 236 yards and five touchdowns so far this season and has passed for 661 yards and four scores.

Mitchell’s emergence for anyone that saw the Centennial game isn’t a surprise, but Negro did need someone to step in for graduated running back Sean McGrew (now at Washington after scoring 85 touchdowns for the Braves in three seasons). Senior Terrance Beasley is the one who did and enters today with 451 yards rushing on just 54 carries.

The St. Mary’s offense has an immense challenge in Bosco’s defensive line, which has speed and size. That’s helped the Braves post two shutouts already and last week gave up just one score in a 56-7 win over Encino-Crespi.

The team’s top college recruit, however, is 6-foot-4, 320-pound Wyatt Davis, an offensive guard who has committed to Ohio State.

No one in Southern California expects much from the Rams because most people there think of De La Salle and only De La Salle when considering top Northern California programs. That’s why even a somewhat close game would say a lot about what Franks and his staff have assembled this season in Stockton.

— Contact high school sports contributor and Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis at MarkJTennis@gmail.com.