Four quarterbacks spanning three divisions agree on one thing: Statistics and winning streaks are nice, but they matter little if they fall short of leading their teams to the ultimate goal: winning a Sac-Joaquin Section championship and extending the season at least one more week.
As team leaders, the four seniors eagerly bear the burden.
Folsom’s Joe Curry has flourished in his first year as a varsity starter. The Bulldogs have won 19 consecutive section playoff games, a run that includes four consecutive championships. The Bulldogs (12-1) face St. Mary’s of Stockton (12-1) for the Division I title Saturday night at Sacramento State.
In Division II, Stone Smartt directs defending section champion Del Oro, which has won nine consecutive postseason games, including the 2015 state championship. On Friday night at Sac State, the Golden Eagles (11-2) meet Inderkum, led by its versatile three-year starter, Trajon Cotton. Inderkum (11-2) has won 10 consecutive games, toppling higher seeds the past two rounds and needing to do it once more to win the program’s first championship.
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In Division III, Christian Brothers carries an 11-game winning streak into its first section championship appearance since 1986, playing Oakdale (11-2) at Lincoln High in Stockton. The Falcons (11-2) posted a 29-0 semifinal win over American Canyon behind Tyler Vander Waal. Known for his strong arm, Vander Waal rushed for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to beat the higher-seeded Wolves.
By air or ground, the quarterback mantra is this: Whatever it takes.
People say that there’s nothing like high school football, the bonds you make, the memories, and it’s so true. Playing for championships under the lights, in front of family, in front of friends, you can’t beat it.
Tyler Vander Waal, Christian Brothers quarterback
“I think all of us quarterbacks feel the pressure to win, but we all like it,” said Vander Waal, who has passed for 2,781 yards and 23 touchdowns and rushed for 408 yards and six scores. “If you don’t love that pressure in football, then I don’t think this is the sport for you.”
Each quarterback takes his rolepersonally. They credit teammates in victory and fault themselves in defeat.
“You have to,” said Curry, who has passed for 3,511 yards and 50 touchdowns. “Every day, we work on getting better.”
Said Smartt, who has passed for 2,519 yards and 23 touchdowns and rushed for 716 yards and nine scores, “As a quarterback, people know you. Students look up to you. Teammates look up to you. Everyone in the community knows you. There’s a responsibility (that goes with the position).”
Curry said he and the other quarterbacks “couldn’t wait to play in high school.” He said this as he ran his hand across his month-old beard. Unlike his game, Curry’s beard has some rough patches. He doesn’t want to shave it, saying, “It’s a ‘no-shave’ December, and I’ll keep it as long as we’re winning.”
Cotton has passed for 1,566 yards and 20 touchdowns. He passed for four scores and ran for two in Inderkum’s 52-35 semifinal win over Jesuit, and he anchors the secondary as a three-year starting cornerback.
“I try to be the best leader I can be, to have us ready, prepared, and I love the role,” Cotton said. “None of us want the season to end.”
The four quarterbacks recalled their early days in the sport, how bulbous their heads looked with helmets, how their arms looked like twigs sprouting out of shoulder pads. And they recalled their “welcome to football” moment. As a 7-year-old, Smartt was clobbered in his first tackle game and wasn’t sure he wanted to return to the huddle.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to play anymore after that, but the coaches encouraged me, and I’m glad I stuck it out,” Smartt said.
Said Vander Waal, “I remember when I was 6, how the ball was almost bigger than I was, and when you try and pass, it goes 5 yards. Our coach used to run us hard in drills. He’d say, ‘If you’re going to cry, then go!’ I was thinking this might not be for me because I was ready to cry.”
As a quarterback, people know you. Students look up to you. Teammates look up to you. Everyone in the community knows you. There’s a responsibility (that goes with the position).
Stone Smartt, Del Oro quarterback
Three of the quarterbacks are certain they will land on a college roster next fall. The most statistically accomplished is not so sure. Curry understands football is about numbers, and we’re not talking about passing yards and touchdowns. Scholarship programs want big bodies. Curry is 6-foot and 170 pounds.
“I’d like to keep playing, somewhere, anywhere,” he said. “But I’m focused on this team right now.”
The 6-4, 205-pound Smartt has several scholarship offers, including from Sac State. The 6-1, 180-pound Cotton has scholarship interest to play cornerback from Pacific-12 Conference programs. The 6-4, 210-pound Vander Waal has verbally committed to Ball State.
For now, the quarterbacks are focused on winning a section title and advancing to the Northern California finals and possibly the CIF championships.
“People say that there’s nothing like high school football, the bonds you make, the memories, and it’s so true,” Vander Waal said. “Playing for championships under the lights, in front of family, in front of friends, you can’t beat it.”
At Sacramento State
Folsom (12-1) vs. St. Mary’s-Stockton (12-1), 6 p.m.
At Sacramento State
Del Oro (11-2) vs. Inderkum (11-2), 7 p.m.
At Lincoln High School, Stockton
Christian Brothers (11-2) vs. Oakdale (11-2), 7 p.m.