Ian Book’s football initiation was not favorable.
He was 8 years old and in third grade, with twigs for arms and a helmet almost as wide as his body. On his first play during a youth game, he was sacked hard from the blind side, squashed like a bug by a boot.
Welcome to quarterbacking.
“I hated it,” the Oak Ridge High School senior said. “I got nailed, had grass in my face mask. I started crying. Didn’t want to play anymore. It was awful.”
The tears went away, replaced by the thrill of competition and the camaraderie of teammates. Book now uses his arm and legs to make plays for the Trojans, The Sacramento Bee’s No. 3-ranked team, and celebrates victories by toasting his teammates.
Book appreciates not getting plowed on scrambles so much he created a team-bonding ritual last year. After games in which he’s not sacked, he invites the offensive starters to his El Dorado Hills home for a Sunday evening spread – spaghetti, tacos, pizza or burgers. No one complains about the menu, and no one goes home hungry. You’ve never seen such a gathering of grinning, polite football players in a kitchen, asking, “Can I have thirds, Mrs. Book?”
Book already has hosted three times during the Trojans’ 5-1 start, showing appreciation to receivers, running backs and especially linemen Parker Blomquist, Bryan Catchings, Connor Floden, Brysen Klinefelter and John Moestopo.
Book even invited the crew over after being sacked, explaining that one was on him, not them.
“It’s a great way to reward the guys, to get everyone together,” Book said. “They ask after a game, ‘No sacks? I think we’re on for Sunday dinner.’ ”
“Oh, it’s motivation every game,” wide receiver Kevin Kassis said. “No one wants to give up a sack, and we all love to eat.”
Putting up big numbers
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Book has flourished as a dual threat in Oak Ridge’s new spread offense after playing in a pro-set formation.
This season, the third-year starter has passed for 1,606 yards and 17 touchdowns with just two interceptions and completed 74.2 percent of his passes. His favorite targets are Tommy Dunnigan and Kassis, who have combined for 1,035 receiving yards and 11 touchdown catches. Book also has rushed for 312 yards, second on the team behind Michael Pittman (408 yards), and seven touchdowns.
“He’s been great,” Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said in almost an understatement.
Book showed promise as a sophomore, passing for 2,558 yards and 30 touchdowns and rallying Oak Ridge to victories at Grant and Jesuit. As a junior, he completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 2,025 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Now, as a senior, he’s more polished. He throws short and long with velocity or touch. He extends plays with his legs, and he sprints to evade trouble. And he scored on a 70-yard run against Burbank, one of the region’s fastest teams.
Book also has a 3.8 GPA, and he fielded several scholarship offers. He picked Notre Dame, the first quarterback from the region to commit to the Fighting Irish. Despite that opportunity, he’s modest and focused on this season. The way he interacts with teammates, it would be hard to guess he’s a Notre Dame recruit.
“The Notre Dame offer has really boosted Ian’s confidence as a player and those around him as well,” Cavaliere said. “But Ian has remained incredibly humble and is happy to be an Oak Ridge Trojan.”
Cavaliere knew he had a unique prospect two years ago, when the Trojans had fallen far behind Jesuit at halftime on a sweltering day, yet Book was unfazed.
“His demeanor is always even-keeled, and he never gets rattled,” Cavaliere said. “We’re in the middle of that big comeback, and Ian comes off the field after a play. He’s standing next to Steve White, our athletic director and a teacher on campus, and asks him about a test he took. How relaxed is that?”
Explained Book this week: “Well, Mr. White was standing there. Just asked him if he had graded the math test from the day before. I guess I was really calm. Think I got a B-plus, too.”
Trojans like a family
Many of Oak Ridge’s players have grown up together, with football and food a common bond. Kassis, a rising prospect, has caught passes from Book since fifth grade.
“The thing about Ian as a kid is he could always throw,” Kassis said. “As kids, we were able to separate ourselves because we could pass. We were the only team that could. We look at old clips of Ian and me doing what we’re doing now, and it’s hilarious. We’re much better at it now.”
Mark Watson has worked closely with Book as a quarterback mentor since Book was 10. Watson, a former Oak Ridge coach who led the Trojans to championships in the 1990s, also has been a mentor of sorts to Cavaliere.
“I really respect coach Watson a lot,” Book said. “We’ve got a good thing going.”
But amid the good vibes, there is a twinge of sadness hovering over the program.
Two years ago, Dylan Ridolfi was killed in a sledding accident when he hit a tree, just months after a successful freshman football season. To honor Ridolfi, a lineman, Oak Ridge players have stickers bearing his initials on the back of their helmets.
“It was a terrible tragedy,” Cavaliere said. “Dylan was all about Oak Ridge football, one of the gang. It was so sad and surreal. The guys still remember him.”
Said Book: “We definitely play for Dylan every game. His parents still come to games. It’s important to us. We’re a close team. I’ve been on the same teams as a lot of these guys forever. Football is definitely a family. You experience a lot.”
High school football coverage
The Sacramento Bee’s print edition will feature expanded coverage of high school football every Sunday, including insight from Joe Davidson, highlights of the weekend’s top games, how The Bee’s Top 20 fared, scores and more. Can’t wait until Sunday? Go to sacbee.com after the games on Friday nights for highlights, scores, photo galleries and more.
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