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  • HECTOR AMEZCUA / hamezcua@sacbee.com

    Sacramento State junior quarterback Garrett Safron, who passed for 2,540 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, has three of his top four receivers back.

  • BRIAN BAER / Special to The Bee

    Hornets quarterback Garrett Safron is tackled by the Aggies' Marques Barron in UC Davis' victory. Bee file, 2012.

Sac State QB Safron grows as starter

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 8:40 am

Garrett Safron loves watching YouTube highlights of Johnny Manziel, the playmaking Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Texas A&M.

It makes sense. There is a lot of Manziel in the way the Sacramento State junior quarterback plays.

There's that swagger and penchant for risk-taking. There's the ability to make dramatic plays with both his arm and feet, especially in big games.

But when it comes to Safron's off-the-field role model, it's Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III all the way. Unlike Manziel, who has garnered negative headlines this offseason, Griffin is one of the sport's true ambassadors.

"Johnny Manziel is my guy - he does some great things on the field," Safron said. "But off the field I look up more to RG3. He's my favorite player."

The choice reveals a lot about how much Safron has evolved since coming to Sac State as a walk-on from Santa Monica High School with a chip on his shoulder and maturity issues.

Entering his second season as the Hornets' full-time starter, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Safron is a little more introspective, a little less emotional and seemingly the right guy to lead a team on the cusp of a breakthrough year after a near-miss 2012.

"When I first got here, I brought a lot of emotion," Safron said recently. "I felt I had a lot to prove. Coach (Marshall) Sperbeck rung my bell a couple of times in practice for things, let's just say, that are better left unsaid. But he did it out of love. He taught me it's not about me, it's about the team."

Sperbeck and second-year offensive coordinator Paul Peterson have worked with Safron to channel his competitive nature in a positive way.

"He's gotten a lot better," Sperbeck said. "You're going to have your good moments and your bad moments. He's doing better about keeping his emotions in check.

"Sometimes when you have a great competitor, those emotions come out. That's natural."

Safron had some memorable performances last season.

In Week 2 in Boulder, Colo., Safron directed a 10-play drive in front of 47,000 fans - mostly cheering against him - in the final 2:26 that ended with a last-second, 30-yard field goal to give Sac State a 30-28 victory over Colorado of the Pacific-12 Conference.

Safron completed 25 of 37 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns against the Buffaloes.

He was 31 for 38 for 250 yards and four scores in Week 9, helping the Hornets beat Football Championship Subdivision No. 11 Cal Poly 35-29. It was the Mustangs' only conference loss as they finished as Big Sky Conference tri-champions with Montana State and Eastern Washington.

Even in a 34-27 loss to UC Davis in the season-ending Causeway Classic, Safron provided excitement. He set Sac State's single-game records with 37 completions and 67 attempts while throwing for a career-high 324 yards.

"He outplayed us as far as offenses," UC Davis quarterback Randy Wright said. "It was our defense (six points scored) and special teams (22 points) that won it for us. I have the utmost respect for him. He's savvy. He plays the game with a lot of passion."

For the season, Safron passed for 2,540 yards and 22 touchdowns and rushed for 377 yards and two touchdowns to earn all-conference honorable mention. Sac State's team MVP set single-season school records for completions (246) and completion percentage (64.2).

But it was a mixed bag for Safron and the Hornets. After a promising start, they lost three of their last four games to finish 6-5 and miss the playoffs for the 24th consecutive season.

Now, as Sac State prepares to play at San Jose State in Thursday's season opener with an experienced offense that includes eight returning starters, Safron and the Hornets are feeling confident but not cocky.

"I'm excited about the season and, really, I feel no pressure," Safron said. "Coach P (Peterson) gives me great game plans, so all I need to do is execute the plays. I've got a great offensive line, and all I need to do is feed my playmakers and let them go to work, so that makes it easy."

Now on scholarship and with two full seasons to play if he remains healthy, Safron has the chance to be one of the top quarterbacks ever at Sac State.

It's a far cry from where he was coming out of high school with no college scholarship offers. It was enough to make Safron wonder if his decision to give up baseball after his freshman season was a mistake.

But his mother, Elizabeth, and Santa Monica coach, Travis Clark, kept Safron thinking positive.

Sperbeck usually brings in one walk-on quarterback a season, and Safron was one of a number of candidates for that spot in the fall camp of 2010.

"His name kept popping up, and he reached out and showed he had a strong interest in coming here," Sperbeck said. "You could tell he wanted to play Division I football. And on film he showed a lot of athleticism. He had the intangibles we like."

He showed some of his gifts in his first game for the Hornets midway through his redshirt freshman season in 2011. Filling in for injured starter Jeff Fleming and alternating with Tommy Edwards, Safron rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown in the Hornets' 42-35 overtime loss to Eastern Washington at Hornet Stadium.

"I just saw it as an opportunity and to take advantage of it," said Safron, who played in five games and eventually became the starter that season. "I did a pretty good job. But I was still young, still not experienced."

While he misses the beach and hanging out with his friends in Santa Monica, Sacramento has become a comfortable second home.

"I sometimes miss home, but I'm here for a reason and that's to be a student-athlete and to help this team go somewhere where it hasn't gone before," Safron said.

Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Bill Paterson



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