Jason Elenberger has a sidearm delivery, but he has touch, and the ball gets there.
He doesn’t look much like a sprinter – more gallop than smooth stride – but good luck beating him to the corner. And his jersey No. 19? Who goes Johnny Unitas in this generation of single-digit unis?
Well, Elenberger does. The Jesuit High School senior had the Baltimore Colts legend partially in mind when selecting a number, “something not a lot of people have,” as a young man who appreciates a quarterback legacy.
Take Jesuit. Elenberger knows of all the past Marauders quarterback greats, from Ken O’Brien of the 1970s, to Greg Harcos of the 1980, to J.T. O’Sullivan of the 1990s, to CJ Bacher of last decade, to Thomas Sperbeck last season.
It’s time to lump Elenberger with that crop. And he’s as unique in perspective as he is football gifted. As the Marauders celebrate their 50th anniversary this fall, Jesuit could not trot out a better school spokesman. When discussing the magnitude of Friday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal against top-ranked Folsom and record-setting passer Jake Browning, Elenberger was sure to compliment his counterpart, whom he has known since they were kids. Elenbeger is a Folsom resident who admires the success of Browning, but this is also a confident leader. He concedes nothing. He is counting on his own passes hitting the bull’s eye and expecting an upset of the Bulldogs.
More telling is Elenberger understands the big picture of football, results and real life. Folsom hammered Jesuit 56-14 earlier this season in a Delta River League game. Folsom does that to most everyone, so no shame there. It’s how one deals with such a humbling outcome that counts, Elenberger said, and his team has responded like a champion, winning two playoff games on the road over Merced and Tracy.
“We love the position we’re in, and Folsom was the better team last time, and it showed,” Elenberger said. “And Jake ... have to appreciate his game.”
Elenberger has passed for 1,496 yards and 17 touchdowns, and he has raced for 582 yards and nine scores. He was an all-league defensive back and wide receiver last season when he was named the team’s defensive MVP. He entered this season hungry for a chance to quarterback a playoff team.
“Not only is Jason as good as any quarterback in our area, he’s as good as any athlete in the area,” Jesuit coach Marlon Blanton said. “And he’s has taught me a few things about our journey.”
A 3.85 grade-point average student with eyes on an Ivy League program, the 6-foot, 175-pound Elenberger doesn’t bring up touchdown runs or winning streaks when asked about moving experiences this academic year. He brings up images of poverty and the sounds of sorrowful voices.
Elenberger and his classmates worked with the needy in different parts of the country, or out of the country, as part of Jesuit’s commitment to community betterment.
“We decided to stay in our own backyard of Sacramento,” Elenberger said. “We worked at food banks, went to a school for a once-a-week dinner where the homeless came in. We prepared food, sat and ate with nice people, like Donny. He didn’t know anyone, and he was grateful just to have a meal. It had us thinking, ‘This guy, he made 10 new friends here.’ It was our goal to help.”
“It’s shows how lucky we really are,” Elenberger continued. “It’s easy to sit around and think after a Folsom loss, ‘I hate life!’ But there are people out there who are really struggling. Our struggle is just a game.”
Elenberger recognizes the finality of Friday, too.
“We win, we go on, and if we lose, our high school careers are over,” Elenberger said. “We realize the power is with Folsom, the whole nine yards, and that’s what makes it exciting.”
But how to deal with that Browning fellow? Elenberger will play some downs on defense, so he’ll be extra engaged. Browning has a state-record 68 touchdowns this season, and the junior from Folsom is well aware of Elenberger.
“He’s 10 times a better runner than I am, and he can throw the ball,” Browning said. “He’s always been a playmaker, since we were little. He’ll make a play, and it’s, ‘Damn, how’d he do that?’”
Elenberger is all smiles these days, and he has an answer for that, too. His father, Jeff, is an orthodontist and mother, Lisa, a dentist.
“Teeth are huge in my family,” Elenberger said with a laugh. “Mom was worried when I was younger about football and my teeth. Believe me, I’m still brushing and flossing every day.”