Say all you want about David Henigan this season--practically no one else has--and the single most amazing observation you can make is that he is sooooo clean.
Spit polished, brand spanking, devoid of dirt, mud, bruises and bitterness.
This, despite the fact that last season his popularity rating as a quarterback was somewhere subterranean. This, despite the fact that for every four passes he threw last season, he was sacked once.
This, despite losing consciousness; despite finding face-mask indentations on his chin the morning after a game; despite spending time in the Fountain Valley High School halls, hiding his face in his locker; despite playing in front of crowds the size usually reserved for the junior varsity . . .
"Tough year," he said.
--Henigan was a sophomore.
--Henigan was starting for one of Orange County's traditional passing powers.
--The passing power won 2 of 10 games.
--His dad, Mike, is a Fountain Valley assistant coach and the school's athletic director.
David Henigan, say hello to a stacked deck.
And yet, when he walked off a very muddy Veterans Stadium field last Friday night--his uniform kicker clean and the Barons on their way to the Big Five final, having defeated Long Beach Wilson, 31-6--more than 5,000 people cheered.
There has been plenty to cheer about this season. Henigan connected on 57.5% of his passes for 1,356 yards during the regular season to rank third in Orange County pass completion percentage.
The 5,000 fans who saw him play last Friday were about 4,000 more than showed up for Fountain Valley games last season. The Barons went through a rebuilding year, with 14 underclassman starting and stumbling their way through 10 games.
"We knew it was going to be tough," said Coach Mike Milner. "So did Dave. He knew we weren't going to win a lot of games. He knew it was a time to learn."
And a time to be smacked around.
"He took some of the most hellacious hits I have ever seen," Milner said.
In a game against Westminster, Henigan was hit by an opponent's helmet underneath his own helmet. He gained consciousness 10 minutes later. The next morning, he could still feel the hit and see the mark the face mask had left on his face.
"To this day, I don't know who hit me," he said. "Last year was really frustrating. I was getting sacked about five times a game. It was really tough. But there was nothing I can do about it. We were all learning."
Henigan seemed to learn faster than most. He completed 50.6% of his passes for 981 yards. Although he threw 180 passes, he was intercepted only 6 times.
"I thought he had a great year last year," Milner said. "If you look at what he did that year, with what he had to work with, he had a great year."
Unfortunately, a lot of people didn't look at that and instead focused on the fact he was too young and too related to a football coach.
"I heard about those things a lot last year," Henigan said. "I'd hear I was too young to be playing or that the only reason I was playing was because my dad was a coach. I just had to pretend I didn't hear it. You can't really talk back when you only win two games."
Henigan had dreamed of being the Baron quarterback since 1978, when he had shuttled water into the Fountain Valley huddle and watched Matt Stevens lead the Barons to their last Big Five championship.
The 1987 season was supposed to be much better. A year of experience under everyone's belt was supposed to make all the difference in the world.
Then the world came crashing down on Henigan and the the Barons. A month into the season, Fountain Valley was 0-4 and Henigan was getting the uncomfortable feeling that he'd seen this before.
Nine games, make that nine victories, later, David Henigan is a hot property. He is getting the type of protection he could only dream about last season. In the semifinals against Long Beach Wilson, the Bruins got nowhere near laying a finger on him.
"The players around him have improved," Milner said. "That's one reason he's doing so well. I'm not surprised by his performance. I knew he could do the job."
Henigan has mastered Fountain Valley's passing/ball control offense. Though he throws often--212 times during the regular season--the passes are usually short and are offset by an exceptional rushing game. When the Barons get close, they usually turn to the run. Henigan has thrown just 4 touchdown passes in 10 regular season games.
If it sounds easy, it's not. Unlike many high school quarterbacks who are looking to one, maybe two receivers in the pattern, Henigan is looking to four, sometimes five people.
"I have to scan the field and see where I should throw," he said. "I throw wherever the defense allows."
And he has done it enough to impress.
"That kid does an excellent job of getting the ball to the right guy," said Dick Bruich, Fontana coach. Fontana plays Fountain Valley in the Big Five final in Anaheim Stadium at 7:30 tonight. "He makes it all look very easy," Bruich said. "Trust me. It's not."