It all starts with Kaiden Bennett, the quarterback, the one with the ball and control of the game.
Bennett is Folsom High School’s dazzling senior leader poised for an even better outing this fall. The starting line for the 2018 season is in Contra Costa County — in Concord, to be specific.
On Friday night, Bennett and friends take on storied De La Salle in a titanic season opener with the goal of halting the Spartans’ remarkable 27-year, 291-game unbeaten streak against Northern California competition.
Bennett would arrive days early for a head start, to get a feel for the place, if allowed.
“I can’t wait,” he said with a grin after Saturday morning’s scrimmage against Sheldon in which he tossed four touchdown passes. “I’m way ready to go. It’s been a long wait for the season to start. I want to do better at everything — leadership, reads, all of it.”
In 2017, Bennett was tough to handle. In earning Bee Offensive Player of the Year honors, Bennett shredded teams with his deft deep-ball touch and his short-route zip passes, often finding Bee Player of the Year Joe Ngata.
And Bennett — known as KB — could run, by improvisation or by design. He passed for 4,431 yards and 57 touchdowns while rushing for 1,218 yards and 16 scores for a team that barreled to a 16-0 season and a CIF State Division I-AA championship.
“It’s not just KB and me on the same page,” said Ngata, who has given a verbal commitment to Clemson. “He’s on the same page with everyone. He’s fun to watch and fun to play with.”
So here Bennett comes again, standing at just a hair under 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, ready to burden his share of the load.
Quarterback stars are nothing new here. This era of excellence under coach Kris Richardson started with Cary Grossart in 2008, then included, in order: Dano Graves, Tanner Trosin, Jake Browning, Jake Jeffrey and now Bennett. Those quarterbacks combined to win eight league titles, seven section and three CIF State championships with three additional 14-1 seasons thrown in.
“It always starts with the quarterback here,” Richardson said. “We can have great skill guys and good linemen, but if we don’t give the quarterback time, it doesn’t work. And the quarterback here runs the show. He’s got to make the reads, make the throws, be an extension of the coaching staff. (Bennett) does all of that and he’s an incredible athlete and leader.
“To be a great quarterback, you’ve got to control your emotions, and he’s great at that, too. We love him.”
Bennett smiles a lot, reflective of a young man in his element. He arrived just before his freshman year by way of Reno, where his father, Derek, grew up. His mother, Jasmine, grew up in Sacramento.
Bennett blended in on campus with his personality and ability to handle a ball.
KB, it appears, has been the man since he was a boy.
“I love the pressure, love being a leader, being the guy,” Bennett said. “Since I was a kid, I was the focal point. It was always, ‘Stop KB! Stop No. 1!’ It’s never changed.”
Bennett will be a focal point for De La Salle, which sports its most athletic and ferocious defense in a decade, according to Spartans coaches.
He anticipates another CIF State title run. Along the way, he hopes to generate more recruiting interest.
Bennett may not emerge as a major national recruit such as Elijhah Badger or Joe and Daniyel Ngata, but he has garnered scholarship offers from Utah, Sacramento State and UC Davis.
That he doesn’t have more big-school looks puzzles Richardson and assistant coach Bobby Fresques. They hear it plenty and tire of hearing it: if Bennett were only an inch or two taller ...
So add a bit more motivation for KB.
“He feels he’s still slighted by recruiters,” Fresques said. “San Diego State has offered him as an ‘athlete’ and same with Utah. The kid can play, and he can read defenses. We know that. Someone’s going to get a heck of a player.”
Bennett said he won’t let any slights hamper him.
“It stings a little, but I keep moving forward, keep working hard,” Bennett said of his recruiting profile. “It’s out of my control. I know what I can do.”
Bennett is not short of confidence, which his coaches say also will appeal to recruiters. Playing quarterback isn’t for the meek at any level.
Bennett hams it up with teammates, insisting he’s the fastest of them all. He reminds his father, who played prep ball in Reno, that he would run circles around him, then and now.
“He tells me he’s better, but I know better,” Bennett said with a laugh. “He can’t touch me.”
Bennett’s Twitter handle speaks of his confidence: “In Kaiden We Trust.”
“He’s the nicest kid around, but he competes and gets after it,” Richardson said. “He’s our guy.”