Outside of his duties on special teams and an occasional appearance at defensive back, Tom Williamson spent most of the 1985 season on the sidelines, marveling at how J. T. Snow played quarterback for Los Alamitos High School.
Williamson was an aspiring quarterback, but he never thought he would be as good as Snow, who set school season passing records for completions (136), yards (1,790) and touchdowns (24) in leading Los Alamitos to a 10-2 record.
But a year later, Williamson, the Griffins' senior quarterback, is on the verge of breaking two of Snow's records.
Williamson finished the regular season with 1,628 yards passing by completing 124 of 205 attempts (60.5%) to help Los Alamitos to a 9-1 record and a second-place finish in the Empire League. He set the school record for completions in a game with 20 against Kennedy, breaking the previous best of 18 by Mike Olivas.
His eight touchdown passes aren't close to Snow's record, but Williamson can surpass Snow's marks in yards and completions with either an outstanding game against Foothill tonight in the opening round of the Southern Section Southern Conference playoffs at Gahr High or, at least, two more good games.
He wouldn't mind doing both--and more.
"It's important to break records, but it's more important that we win," said Williamson, a 6-foot 3-inch 180-pounder. "Stats are nice to look back on when the season's over, but when it comes down to it, I'd like to have a 13-1 record and a championship."
Williamson didn't get much of a chance to play quarterback last year. Entering a few games that the Griffins were leading by large margins, he threw only three passes, completing one.
But lucky for Los Alamitos Coach John Barnes, many of Snow's best attributes rubbed off on Williamson.
"J. T. had a lot of poise," Williamson said. "I have to have that same poise to stay in the pocket, to not chicken out when the rush is coming, to not see my defenders that much. When I do see them, that's when I get cautious and run out of the pocket."
Another thing Williamson learned from Snow is to stay cool, to be in control in the huddle. If a receiver drops a pass, he won't scream at him. If a lineman misses a block, Williamson will assure him that he still has confidence in him.
"They'll lose respect for you if you're constantly hounding them," Williamson said. "Of course, I have nothing but praise for my receivers and the line this year. I think I've been sacked about eight times all year. Some quarterbacks get sacked eight times a game."
The offensive line of center Steve Wood, guards Chris Rose and Chris Spoden and tackles Matt Fosdick and Peter Kropf has helped Williamson develop into one of Orange County's better quarterbacks, and Snow's influence last year helped.
But give Williamson some credit, too.
He spent many hours last winter throwing in the gym before school and many more hours this summer throwing on his own and in passing leagues.
"You can't really lift weights to make your arm stronger," Williamson said. "You just have to throw and throw and throw and throw. It's either you do it or you don't, and I knew I had to do it. Last year, I couldn't throw the good deep ball or zip it over the middle real quick. This year, my arm is a lot stronger and my timing is a lot better."
His timing will have to be perfect tonight. In the Knights, the Griffins will be playing a traditionally strong team that has won a first-round playoff game in each of the past five years.
Foothill has a solid defense, and its offense is bolstered by the return of running back John Fischbeck, who gained 115 yards against El Modena last week after missing four games with a knee injury.
In other Southern Conference games:
Canyon (5-5) vs. El Toro (10-0) at Mission Viejo High School--The No. 1-seeded Chargers, whose offense features the passing of Orange County's top-rated quarterback, Bret Johnson (1,934 yards passing and 20 touchdowns), and the rushing of Aly Diaz (869 yards), are heavily favored.
But that doesn't bother Comanche Coach Rod Hust. In 1983, Canyon was awarded a wild-card berth in the Southern Conference playoffs and upset No. 1-seeded and undefeated Lynwood, 14-13, in the first round.
"We have a big picture from that game hanging on our (office) wall, and it's the type of thing we hope to make a tradition of," Hust said. "We've reminded the kids that it has happened before. No one expects us to win, so we have nothing to lose."
Esperanza (8-1-1) vs. Santa Monica (7-1-1) at Santa Monica College--Both the Aztecs and the Vikings rely heavily on their tailbacks. Esperanza's Mike Miscione led Orange County with 1,665 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns, and Santa Monica's Mark Jackson ran for 915 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Vikings' offense is more one-dimensional--Santa Monica has passed for only 610 yards this season--than the Aztec offense, which includes the passing of Mike Moneymaker, the county's second-rated quarterback. Moneymaker has thrown for 1,562 yards and 14 touchdowns.