First of all, if your kid is happy doing what he’s doing, and is doing well in school, you might want to just let him be, and be careful not to pressure him. The California public system offers many inexpensive options for in-state residents. If it’s not UCLA, it will probably be one of the other UCs. If you’re hoping for a highly selective UC, because they’re not looking at SAT/ACT, and because they don’t consider race, recommendations for what to do might be different than, say, for Ivies and other highly selective schools.
Here’s what my child did. First of all, he virtually always took the most rigorous courses available to him, meaning honors and AP, and always took English, Math, Science with lab, History/Social Studies, and Foreign Language until he was done with AP foreign language. He studied hard and did his best in school, academically. He usually took a very full schedule, often 8 classes/day with no lunch (he’d eat during band or another class that allowed these kids to bring their lunch and eat during class), so that he’d get the most out of the offered electives. I think it’s great that your son is doing cross country to lose weight - it will help him with that, also he’ll make friends running together with the the other kids.
He took the PSAT and a free practice ACT and so found out by the middle of junior year that he was better-suited to the ACT than the SAT, self-studied for the ACT, got a very high score.
But here is where my kid was different, and stood out from most applicants. He played a brass band instrument that was versatile, could be played in jazz band, marching/concert band, and symphony orchestra, took lessons and practiced at least an hour a day from about age 8, and got very good at it. He won international (but held in US or Canada) competitions. He played with highly respected youth ensembles, both jazz and classical, in major cities. He did all this because he loved doing it, but it made his college applications really stand out. He had extraordinary achievement in one specific area, and clearly, the tippy-top school that took him liked this.
In your student’s case, because of the California issue of being test-blind, the only way that you can tell the California public schools that the applicant scores very highly on standardized tests (which often differentiates between high GPA students who come from highly competitive high schools vs high schools with extremely low academic standards) is to score high enough on the PSAT to become a National Merit Finalist. That way, the student can list National Merit (or Commendation) as an honor on their application, and hence bypass the “test-blind” policy. So I would encourage him to prep starting now for the PSAT (same prep books as SAT), which is given in the fall of 11th grade. It’s ironic, because by going test-blind, CA public schools now have put all the standardized test score stress onto the PSAT! It’s effectively an all or nothing phenomenon - you either make National Merit (or Commendation) so that you can put it in the Honors/Awards section, or its nothing, and you only get one shot at the test. But if he can get a very high score, he can let the CA schools know that by putting down the National Merit honor he could receive.
If your kid is musical, and is interested in starting and playing an uncommon instrument, such as the tuba, this could be a way in, anywhere that has an orchestra/band, but doesn’t have a conservatory to draw upon. When my kid was at the most prestigious, biggest-name precollege conservatory program, they could only find 3 tubas for the program, even though they were drawing upon an enormous metropolitan region. My kid said that only two were good - the third was not good, but they took him, because there just were no players available, and they needed him for brass quintets. Same goes for a number of other instruments - euphonium, bassoon, oboe, french horn. So this can be a big boost for a student in applications to schools that don’t have a conservatory, but want/need these players for band and orchestra. Again, this is only an option if your kid is musical (which he is) and if he is interested in trying this. If you’re in the LA area, I am sure that there is at least one, and possibly several precollege conservatory programs. We saw that my kid’s friends from his precollege conservatory/orchestra programs all got into top schools (and many chose top conservatories).
Another thing that impresses some highly selective schools are innovative extracurriculars “for a cause”. They seem to be looking for students who show tremendous drive and motivation to do things that are going to make their mark on the world, that are going to change the world for the better. Hence, the student who became a passionate campaigner for gun control after surviving a school shooting eventually got into Harvard.
So aside from doing well in the most rigorous classes that his school offers, and continuing with cross country and track for weight loss, health, and socializing, is there anything that your son really loves doing? It’s not too late to start an instrument that my kid’s first band teacher referred to as “scholarship row” (or in the case of Ivies, acceptance row), if he is willing and interested. But is there something else that he loves doing, some strong inclination, be it academic or extracurricular, that he could develop into something very outstanding, both for his own satisfaction, and for his application? It has to be something that he really likes to do, or he might be miserable, and it could backfire.
I saw my role as the facilitator, meaning that I made many opportunities for the kids to try things, and then we focused on those that the kids were good at, and enjoyed. By 9th grade, they had found what they really were good at, really enjoyed, and so were fairly focused in their extracurriculars by that age.