Quarterback Juan Moreno had one distinctive flaw that probably kept him from starting for Ventura College last season--he didn't like to practice.
Moreno not only disliked practicing, he didn't like going to practice. And when he did show up, he was often late or his play was uninspired.
So, not surprisingly, Moreno spent the first five games reclining on the sidelines while Coach Phil Passno alternated Steve Mytinger and Steve Colitti at quarterback.
"Juan's commitment to football, whether he really wanted to play or not, was in question," Passno said. "He just wasn't with it for a while."
The sight of an uninspired Moreno tossing the ball behind the bench was familiar. But when Mytinger and Colitti had finally played themselves out of the job and Passno had no one else to turn to . . .
Moreno started the last three games, and responded by completing 55% of his passes and throwing for 1,001 yards and six touchdowns. He passed for a single-game school record 393 yards in a 56-30 loss to Bakersfield in the season finale.
"I got tired of sitting on the bench," Moreno said. "I wanted to play and help our team improve its record. I played well, but not good enough to get us a victory."
Ventura, despite scoring 72 points in the three games Moreno was quarterback, lost all three to finish the season 0-9.
Even though Moreno has proven he's capable, it's uncertain whether the sophomore will be Passno's choice to start this season.
"He's not the fastest quarterback and his discipline is a little bit lacking, but when it comes to putting it all together, he's well above," Passno said. "The other thing is that he sees the field as well as any quarterback we've had. He can find the open man."
Moreno (6-2, 210 pounds), an All-Channel League quarterback who led Oxnard High to a 10-1 record 1986, is equally confident of his ability.
"I didn't take football as seriously last year as I do now," he said. "I'm a lot more confident now than I've ever been."
Moreno's confidence may not be enough, however, to secure the starting job from the competition--mainly former Ventura High quarterback Jason Matheny, the co-offensive player of the year in the Channel League last season.
Five quarterbacks, including four freshmen, are competing for the position. The four freshmen include Matheny, Todd Paffhausen of Butte, Mont., Bryan Reed of Van Nuys High, and Larry Evans of Kern Valley High.
Matheny led Ventura to a share of the Channel League title and passed for 1,559 yards, third in Ventura County. He completed 104 of 203 passes and threw for 14 touchdowns while being intercepted only six times.
Passno describes Matheny as an intelligent quarterback who has good athletic ability and works hard. "Jason has good speed and quickness, but his weakness right now is not having a real strong arm," Passno said.
Harvey Kochel, who coached Matheny in high school, describes the 5-11, 170-pound quarterback a quick learner.
"He never gives up and he remains positive no matter what the situation," Kochel said. "Jason's a fabulous kid to coach. If he was a great athlete on top of that, he would be a world beater."
The Pirates might need a worldbeater at quarterback if they are going to turn the program around after suffering their first winless season under Passno.
Paffhausen (6-1, 182) is one of Passno's top prospects, even though he's probably the least experienced passer of the five.
"He was in a system where he didn't throw very much, but he has a great arm and he is our best athlete among the quarterbacks," Passno said.
Evans (6-2, 170) and Reed, the smallest of the quarterbacks at 5-9, 150 pounds, have both seen limited practice time because of injury and illness. Passno said that the competition is primarily between Moreno, Matheny and Paffhausen.
"What Juan did last year put him in very good position," Passno said. "He just has to continue to perform at that level, but I think he's getting real strong competition from at least two other guys."
Passno wants to avoid the situation he faced last season where he shared the starting quarterback duties among three players--Mytinger, Colitti and Moreno. Mytinger started the first five games but failed to lead Ventura to a victory. He was second on the team in passing with 741 yards and 59 completions in 121 attempts.
When Mytinger couldn't get Ventura a win, Passno looked to Colitti, who saw limited playing time in five games. Colitti, a sophomore, completed only 17 of 37 passes for 168 yards. Moreno started the seventh game against Santa Monica and never relinquished the job.
Mytinger returned to Northern California after his freshman season, leaving Moreno as Ventura's only returning quarterback. Moreno hopes that his experience and a more mature attitude will help him retain the position.
"At the beginning of the season, I was told that the job was mine unless I got hurt or I had a season like last year," Moreno said.
No matter who Passno decides upon, the passing game will remain the crux of the offense. The Pirates passed for 1,909 yards last season, nearly 1,000 more than they gained on the ground.
The hiring of offensive coordinator Dick James, a former defensive line coach at Stanford, sends a clear signal that Passno plans to highlight the passing game. James is expected to integrate elements of Stanford's short passing game into the Ventura offense.
But which quarterback finds himself long on playing time remains to be seen.