Inland Empire & Orange County: Blackwell is questionable

Nonleague football games early in the season don’t get much bigger than Friday night’s showdown between traditional Southern California powerhouse Santa Ana Mater Dei and Corona Centennial, ranked No. 7 by ESPNLosAngeles.com. Thing is, the game might not live up to all the hype surrounding it if the Monarchs are without Victor Blackwell.

The standout senior receiver injured his left shoulder in a 14-10 loss to Carson on Sept. 4 and his status is unclear. Over the past couple of days, Blackwell was limited in practice. Without the USC commit in the lineup, Mater Dei (0-1) could be in trouble against the Huskies (1-0), who are coming off a 48-8 victory over Lake Balboa Birmingham.

“Victor is injured, yes, but he’s made some progress this week,’’ Monarchs coach Bruce Rollinson said after practice Wednesday afternoon. “We’re not going to rush him back before he’s ready and risk further injury, so he’ll be a game-time decision for us.’’

Blackwell is a game-changer, no doubt about it. As a junior, he finished with 52 receptions for 1,044 yards and 11 touchdowns for Mater Dei. That probably best explains why ESPNU ranks him as the nation’s No. 9 player at his position and No. 55 overall.

If Blackwell isn’t at full strength, it makes sense for the coaching staff to let him fully recover considering the Monarchs have a series of difficult nonleague games on the horizon before Trinity League play begins on Oct. 14 against Bellflower St. John Bosco.

“My injury happened on one of those freak kind of plays, and believe me, I know that this game against Centennial is big, I want to be out there to help my teammates more than anything,’’ Blackwell said. “But, I have to be careful, it’s a long season.’’

Whether Blackwell plays in Friday’s road game, beginning at 7:30 p.m., remains to be seen. One thing is certain: The Monarchs desperately need the 6-foot-1, 190-pound wideout in uniform against the Huskies to keep things close.