Bryan Martin bet his future on playing quarterback at Granada Hills High, and, on this particular June morning, his future was in his face.
After Martin misfired on a point-after attempt last weekend in the L. A. Games' 7-on-7 football passing competition, Granada Hills co-Coach Tom Harp angrily ripped the cap from his own head and slammed it to the turf. Harp earlier had jumped on Martin for forcing a pass that was nearly intercepted.
"If the guy's not open, just throw the damn thing away," Harp said with a grimace.
Yet Harp, by no means, has the market cornered on harping. Highlander co-Coach Darryl Stroh lit into Martin for throwing a wobbler that a receiver was unable to corral. Stroh took the opportunity to needle Martin on the fine points of passing.
"Just throw a spiral," Stroh barked. "The receiver goes up to catch the point of the ball, and there isn't any point. "
A guy pulls up stakes and moves 2,000 miles for this? You bet. In fact, this is exactly what he came for.
"I try to listen to what they're saying and weed out the yelling," Martin said with a smile. "That's coaching."
And this is a crash course in Highlander football, the high-flying aerial brand that attracted Martin to the school in the first place.
Martin, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound junior from Decatur, Ill., moved to California in February. His father, Skip, moved to Southern California last August to find his son a place to play. After asking around, the elder Martin heard of Granada Hills' reputation as a pass-oriented program.
After a school was located, Bryan moved west and the pair relocated to Granada Hills, where Bryan played baseball for Stroh last spring and initiated his Highlander fling.
Martin isn't the first player seeking to become an import of import at Granada Hills, which runs one of the area's most sophisticated passing schemes. Jeremy Leach, who as a senior led the Highlanders to the 1987 City Section 4-A Division football title by passing for 2,666 yards and 35 touchdowns, transferred to Granada Hills after completing his sophomore year at L. A. Baptist.
In 1984, Brent Spurlin transferred from Hart High to Granada Hills and led Valley-area City Section quarterbacks in passing yardage.
Leach, though, was a starting quarterback at L. A. Baptist, even as a sophomore. As a sophomore last fall at MacArthur High, Martin was a second-string defensive back and the starting punter. For most of his early Pop Warner career, Martin was a running back. He didn't become a quarterback until junior high.
"As much as I hated it, I moved to quarterback," he said. "And it wasn't much fun."
But it was good preparation.
To say the least, trying to absorb the Highlander playbook--and no playbook actually exists--with no real experience at quarterback has been no easy proposition. Despite the lack of experience, however, Martin is in a dead heat with incumbent quarterback Chris Gadomski, a 5-foot-11 senior.
Last season, Gadomski passed for 1,158 yards and four touchdowns, completing 49% of his passes and throwing 11 interceptions. Those statistics aren't much to speak of, but Gadomski says being the returning starter speaks for itself.
"I've got more experience on the field," Gadomski said. "I've been through the big games before. I think I'll improve as a senior because I'm used to everybody and they're used to me."
"Chris' year of experience probably gives him a slight edge," said Harp, who handles the offense. "He's been under pressure before. But Bryan has a lot of physical talent. He has the quarterback body, the quick release.
"They sort of balance each other out."
Indeed. In a loss to Franklin in L. A. Games competition last Saturday, Gadomski started the first half and completed eight of 14 passes for 145 yards. Martin completed nine of 15 for 110 yards in the second half. When the game went into overtime, Gadomski returned, but Franklin outgained Granada Hills in a California tiebreaker.
"I just felt like Chris would be more comfortable in that situation," Harp said. "It was the experience factor."
And although Gadomski looked sharpest Saturday, Harp says that no favorite has emerged.
"He looked better today, but another time it's the other way around," Harp said. "I probably won't decide on a starter until the week of the first game."
Even players agree that the race probably will go down to the wire.
"They're both good, I like 'em both," said senior receiver William Moringlane, who caught 10 passes for 145 yards Saturday. "As far as I'm concerned, Chris is a very good quarterback who is better than people said he was last year. And Bryan, he's just young right now, he just needs time."
Martin says that he is fast becoming comfortable with the system and feels he will win the job in due you-know-what.
"I have to look at it like it's my time," he said. "I pretty much know all the offense, it's just taking time to become more fluid with it."
When he first tested the waters, it didn't come easily.