Joe Davidson

‘This much space, and he’s gone’: Can Oak Ridge’s explosive QB lead upset of Folsom?

Oak Ridge senior Marco Baldacchino is just getting warmed up

Marco Baldacchino of Oak Ridge High School talks about quarterbacking the Trojans to a 9-0 start and how diminutive players cope with college recruiting.
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Marco Baldacchino of Oak Ridge High School talks about quarterbacking the Trojans to a 9-0 start and how diminutive players cope with college recruiting.

To describe the exploits of his star quarterback, Eric Cavaliere held his hands about a foot apart.

“He needs about this much space,” the Oak Ridge High School coach said of Marco Baldacchino. “And then he’s gone. So fun to watch.”

Baldacchino is a senior dual-threat marvel who belies his diminutive stature by playing big. He’s a blur on the field, capable of sprinting off guard for long gains, or scanning the field to fire passes short or long and with touch. His talent and determination has played a paramount role for Oak Ridge, which is 9-0 with a solid hold on The Bee’s No. 2 ranking.

As has been the case in recent years, Folsom remains in front of the Trojans. The teams meet Friday at Oak Ridge to decide the Sierra Foothill League championship and the No. 1 seed for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.

A year ago, Folsom made just enough stops to beat Oak Ridge 17-16 in the regular-season finale.

Baldacchino and his teammates remember.

“We were so close to beating them last year,” Baldacchino said. “I had to put that game away quickly. This is what we’ve been working for, waiting for, and it’s in front of us.”

Baldacchino has been one of the most dizzying talents in Northern California, passing for 1,692 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushing for 728 yards and 12 scores this season.

“The burst is what’s so amazing,” said Oak Ridge quarterbacks coach Mark Watson, the program’s head coach in the 1990s. “His ability to go from one speed to the next is incredible, and it’s as good as I’ve ever seen. That’s what makes Marco special.

“And he comes from good lineage. My goodness.”

Baldacchino’s cousin is Dano Graves, a virtual clone in ability, personality and results.

Graves was The Bee and MaxPreps National Player of the Year in 2010 when he spearheaded Folsom’s CIF State Division II championship at quarterback. Graves’ older brother, David, was a record-setting passer at Folsom in the late 2000s. David went to Hawaii on scholarship, and Dano wound up at Cal Poly, where he had a nice career despite myriad injuries as an undersized, overachieving team captain.

Dano Graves is all of 6 feet tall, and that’s what Baldacchino is listed as, generously, with a 170-pound frame. He blends into a crowd, until he breaks free from one. Baldacchino has his eyes set on Folsom and the rest of the season, but he also pines to play in college.

But is his size a hindrance? He hears it, fears it, but refuses to let any of it dampen his mood.

“My family says I’m a good salesman as I send out film all the time to college coaches,” Baldacchino said. “I’m getting some interest, and who knows? Maybe it is a size thing. I’m not the biggest body, but I play hard, know the game, love the game, make plays.”

Baldacchino has had contact with college programs large and small: Arizona, Colorado State, Cal Poly, Montana State, Azusa Pacific, Southern Oregon and others.

“Dano Graves is proof that you don’t need to be a 6-2 quarterback to be a success,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said. “Marco can make all the throws, he’s an incredible runner, great field vision, just an incredible player. We’ll have our hands full, and he’s a year older, a year better, a year stronger. He’s the real deal.”

Baldacchino talks regularly with Graves, now the Cal Poly quarterbacks coach with a heavy program role in NorCal recruiting.

“He gives me good advice,” Baldacchino said. “He says to keep doing my thing.”

His thing some day may be coaching or something in engineering. This is a young man who thirsts to learn. He will stay up at all hours breaking down game film, jotting down notes, communicating with Watson to go over schematics and ideas. He has worked tirelessly to improve his footwork, his throwing motion, to be a complete quarterback.

“He’s been a pleasure to coach,” Cavaliere said. “He really has a strong football mind and understands schemes so well.”

Baldacchino is hardly alone in propelling the Trojans. He has another cousin, Davin Simmons, to take handoffs in the backfield. He has a strong offensive line anchored by UNLV-commit Bryan Catchings. His main targets are Austin Jarrard, Matt Jenner and Justin Poerio. The defense has been strong, too, headed by linebacker Nate Otto.

“I’m nothing without our defense, which has made our job easier,” Baldacchino said.

Otto said Baldacchino has the attention of his teammates.

“Marco is a guy that emerges as a leader just by the way he plays,” Otto said. “On top of running the offense, he keeps all 11 guys in check and brings our guys up to the level he knows they can play at.”

Otto added, from a fan’s perspective, “From a play-making standpoint, Marco is so quick and has breakaway speed. It’s honestly mind blowing.”

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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