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Jonathan Saavedra: Turning the corner

Posted: September 1, 2013 9:45 p.m.
Updated: September 1, 2013 9:45 p.m.

Santa Clarita Christian junior quarterback Jonathan Saavedra is brimming with confidence as he heads into his second season as the full-time varsity starter.

 

Last season, Santa Clarita Christian football was nearly there.

Nearly good enough to compete for a San Joaquin League title and maybe, just maybe, a run in the CIF-Northeast Division playoffs.

Their quarterback was in a similar place — nearly there, but still a little bit raw.

Now, in his second full season as the Cardinals’ starter, junior Jonathan Saavedra is ready to lead an SCCS team that feels like it has turned the corner in its third season of 11-man football.

“He has to lead. Whether he’s ready or not, old enough or not,” says SCCS head coach Garrick Moss. “The quarterback of any program, he’s the one that touches the ball literally every play and has to make great decisions when he’s throwing and reading defenses and has to make great decisions audibling, changing plays — and he’s old enough.”

Saavedra has grown with the program, a freshman during the Cardinals’ first season of 11-man football after developing into an 8-man power under Moss. The junior quarterback has been surrounded by change since he first stepped on the field.

“Last year I thought I was ready,” Saavedra says. “I thought I was, but I always know there’s room for improvement and last year my eyes were open on the first game. I didn’t know it was going to be that fast paced. That was my first year starting as a varsity quarterback. It was a bit of a shock for me.”

Now in his third season and second as the starter, though, his confidence and understanding of the offense has coaches and teammates excited for the potential.

“His preparation, his mental knowledge of our offense, his footwork, everything was very, very good,” says Moss of Saavedra’s summer.

He has developed his agility and footwork and is ready to thrive in the Cardinals’ spread offense — a far cry from the power running formation SCCS utilized during its 8-man days.

“It’s been really cool,” says running back Derek Lewis. “I’ve known him since he was a little freshman, really nervous and quiet to come to where he is now where he’s confident.”

But it hasn’t come without work.

Saavedra is a student of the game; a player who loves to watch film as much as he loves to throw a touchdown.

The 16-year-old quarterback says he can often be found at the computer watching tape of professionals like Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick, and even says he admires crosstown players.

“I like to watch people around the valley. I like Cade Apsay from Canyon. I really think he has good footwork. I like his release. He has a good release. I like to see the other quarterbacks and see how they do and compare myself to them,” Saavedra says.

He’s also a good student off the field — carrying a 3.7 GPA at SCCS. Though, he admits, he’s a little bit of a procrastinator — writing essays the night before they are due because he says he thrives under pressure.

A pretty good quality for a quarterback.

“I’m just a guy that’s really good under pressure. I like to have pressure,” he says. “I perform better with pressure, the feeling of having the ball on every play, being able to contribute and distribute the ball around and passing or running or giving it off. I love that position and everything about it.”

Saavedra figured that out pretty quickly in his football playing career. He started with the Canyon Country Outlaws youth football program at the age of 11 after watching the team practice and wondering why he was playing soccer instead.

He was known as having the best hands on his team as a wide receiver for the Outlaws, and confidently boasts that he still has those quality hands today.

He was also a strong running back, but in his second season the youth team needed a quarterback and tried out everyone. When it was his turn to throw, he impressed and has played quarterback ever since.

“That’s when I fell in love with the position of quarterback,” he says.

This season, he hopes to couple that love with a San Joaquin and CIF Northeast title.

Last year the Cardinals just missed out on the postseason, despite a 7-3 record that SCCS was confident would get it an at-large bid.

The Friday before the announcement the Cardinals were preparing for possible playoff opponents, even instituting some trick plays.

And then by Monday, it was all over.

“It was hard. The whole situation was just a weird situation to be in and not something we’re used to,” Saavedra says. “I’ve never ended a season in my whole life with a win. I’ve always ended it with a loss, meaning I’ve always gone to the playoffs.”

Saavedra says he heard the news when his father received an email that Saturday morning from Moss saying the team had been left out of the postseason.

“As soon as I heard that I broke down crying and I went in my room and I locked the door and stayed there thinking of what we could have done, what we were hoping for and the feeling that we couldn’t get anywhere,” he says.

And that’s a feeling neither he, nor his teammates want to feel again this season. So Saavedra has made it his mission to take the next step as a varsity quarterback.

He may not have been quite there last season, but this year he’s confident a San Joaquin title, and maybe more, is in the cards.

“That’s how we practice. We practice to get better. We practice to be better than last year,” Saavedra says. “Our motto is ‘leave no doubt,’ Leave no doubt that we’re the best team, that we deserve to be in the playoffs.”

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