By Rick Assad
It’s hardly a coincidence that the Burroughs High quarterback and wide receiver are always on the same wavelength.
After all, Jake Scozzola and senior signal-caller Chris Kulikov have been best friends for a decade.
Watching Scozzola run perfect pass routes and snare the ball is something to behold, but it’s when he fakes out a defender or defenders, that the fun begins because he’s always looking for extra yards and ultimately the end zone.
Spanning 15 games across one and half seasons, they have formed a dynamic duo and in 2023 they helped guide the Bears to the first Pacific League championship since 2015.
“Chris has been my best friend since kindergarten and my quarterback since fourth grade,” said Scozzola, the Bears’ senior and leading receiver with 951 yards on 60 receptions and 12 touchdowns. “We know each other and our tendencies so well that it’s easy for us to be on the same page even without saying anything.”
Scozzola, who was a first-team, all-league pick as a junior and a captain this campaign, added: “Having this chemistry really helps us further our success as a team and as individuals,” he noted.
“Jake understands the game very well. The way he controls his speeds, his elusiveness, this all comes from Jake having the feel for the game,” Kulikov offered. “When he makes plays, it just comes natural to him. It’s kind of like he already thought of what he was going to do after he catches the ball. He’s super fun to play with. And he has some of the best hands anyone will see. He can do it all. If the ball is in the air, Jake will be there.”
Ironically Scozzola, who also has four interceptions as a defensive back, and Kulikov didn’t begin their prep careers at Burroughs.
“Transferring from Notre Dame to Burroughs has definitely been a different experience, but I have enjoyed being here at Burroughs. I left Notre Dame because of some coaching issues, and I thought it was time for a change of scenery,” said Scozzola, who had 17 receptions for 337 yards and seven touchdowns over five games in 2022. “And my quarterback was also transferring to Burroughs from Cathedral, so that definitely helped influence my decision.”
The Bears are 9-1 and 5-0 in the league and will face Agoura at Memorial Field on Friday night in a CIF Southern Section Division VII first-round playoff game, with a 7 p.m. kickoff.
This mark hasn’t been a surprise to Scozzola, who wants to play football in college, because he knew the Bears had a great deal of talent on both sides of the line.
“The team has had a lot of success this year and I think a big part of that goes to our new offensive [Joe Maiale] and defensive [Ron Davis] coordinators,” he said. “They do a great job of game planning and are able to set us up for success. The rest of it goes to our team for being disciplined and working hard to further our success.”
Burroughs coach Jesse Craven has been there for every game and is still impressed with Scozzola.
“Jake is probably pound for pound the best football player I have ever coached. For every bit of a football player he is, he is an even better person,” he said. “He comes from an incredible family and he is uniquely mature for his age.”
When it comes to the gridiron, Craven is keenly aware of Scozzola’s gifts.
“On the field he has proven time after time to be a fantastic receiver, a solid defensive back and this year we found out he is also an elite punter,” he pointed out. “When you are around him, he can be very unassuming and laid back, but when the lights turn on, he always shines bright.”
It takes four games in order to win a Division VII title and Scozzola stands firm that Burroughs can turn the trick.
“I’m excited for the playoffs because I believe this team is one of the best Burroughs teams we’ve had in a long time,” he stated. “We definitely have the talent to win a CIF title and as long as everyone stays safe and disciplined, I think this team can go really far.”
Every game played is a battle, but they’re even more intense in the postseason where every play can change the momentum of a game.
“There’s definitely more pressure now because I’m a senior and it’s my last year,” Scozzola admitted. “I’m also a bigger part of the team now at Burroughs than I was when I was a sophomore at my previous school. But I’m very calm under pressure so it doesn’t affect me very much.”
Scozzola is blessed with an incredible set of hands that seem to grab everything thrown his way.
“I definitely don’t use glue on my hands, but I can understand why it might look like it,” he said of his catching prowess. “It’s all about timing and understanding your surroundings. On a passing route, I try to think about my specific job, whether it’s running a decoy route to get someone else open or if the play is designed to get me open and I’ll also try to make sure of my surroundings and see who’s near me to get as much run after catch yards as possible.”
Being free and having fun seem to help Scozzola relax.
“I always try to have a good time whenever I’m on the field,” he noted. “Talking with everyone and just trying to be relaxed is a good way to keep me calm before a game and I think it helps better my performance when I’m more level headed.”
Knowing what you want to do on the field gives good receivers an extra advantage over cornerbacks, even those that are exceptional.
“I think my IQ of knowing the defense and knowing how to get open paired with my catching ability are my best assets on the field,” Scozzola said. “Those assets have never disappointed me.”
Scozzola isn’t too tall at 5-foot-11 but is a solid 185 pounds and likes to play physical.
“My favorite part of the game is the physicality,” he said. “The physicality makes it so much different compared to any other sport so that’s very appealing to me.”
One NFL receiver caught Scozzola’s eye at a young age and impressed the youngster.
When that former Kent State University player teamed up with Tom Brady, arguably the NFL’s greatest field general, they grabbed three Super Bowls for the New England Patriots.
“I definitely try to pattern my playing style off of some receivers I admire. But the receiver I admire the most has to be Julian Edelman,” Scozzola said. “He’s been my favorite receiver in the NFL since I was a kid and growing up, I was nicknamed Edelman by coaches and other players.”
All things considered, that’s not a bad player to emulate.