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Childhood Friends Reunited on Field as Top Quarterbacks

September 07, 1989|STEVE HENSON | Times Staff Writer

Tim Gutierrez, Jason Isaacs and Johnel Turner began the 1980s as impish 9-year-old pals smacking golf balls onto the roof of Kern Elementary School in Oxnard until dusk and clowning all the way back to their homes on Douglas Avenue.

They are closing out the decade as perhaps the most talented trio of high school quarterbacks ever to play at once in Ventura County.

The boys from the modest suburban block will lead their teams in three separate stadiums at 7:30 p.m. Friday, the kickoff of Ventura County's high school football season. Win or lose, the eyes of fans in Oxnard and Ventura will be upon them--as will the eyes of scouts from colleges across the United States.

All are seniors in their third varsity season. Gutierrez attends Santa Clara High School, where he holds the state record for passing accuracy. Isaacs is the mobile, strong-armed gunner at Buena High who holds a school record for passing yardage. Turner is the explosive multiple threat in Oxnard High's wishbone attack who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

They have gone separate directions--only Gutierrez still lives on Douglas--and developed distinctive styles. But friendships are easily rekindled as they discovered last week while lunching as only three hot-shot high school quarterbacks can lunch.

That impishness? It's now full-blown impudence.

Huddled over platters of steak and all-you-can-eat shrimp, they skewered one another with all-you-can-take barbs and laughed too loudly for most restaurant patrons. Only when the conversation turned to knee injuries or the Scholastic Aptitude Test did the silliness subside.

Quarterbacks have long been synonymous with brashness. Joe Namath's autobiography is titled "I Can't Wait Until Tomorrow, Because I Get Better Looking Every Day." Isaacs and Turner fit the mold to a T-formation. Gutierrez is normally more reserved, but in the company of his old pals, he quickly loosened up.

The three QBs hadn't been together in six years, but as a car carrying Isaacs and Turner pulled into the Santa Clara parking lot to pick up a smartly dressed Gutierrez from his first day of classes, they dispensed with the pleasantries.

Rather. . . .

Turner to Gutierrez: "Nice cords, Tim. Do they squeak?"

Isaacs to Gutierrez: "Look at you, man. I should have worn a tux."

Being rushed from both sides doesn't bother Gutierrez, who shows off his quick release. "You'd have to rent one," he gleefully snaps at Isaacs.

Gutierrez became a quarterback first, tackling the position as an 8-year-old in the Oxnard Chiefs youth program. Turner, a tough, stocky boy, played offensive guard.

Isaacs was off somewhere playing soccer.

Turner shifted to fullback a couple of years later and Gutierrez became entrenched at quarterback.

Isaacs was still off playing soccer. Turner would ask him, "Where you from, Yugoslavia?" Isaacs recalls wryly, "I never liked football. I was a nerd, a lost cause."

He and Gutierrez built a makeshift miniature golf course in Isaacs' back yard. Unless he could take a full swing, Turner declined to form a threesome. "I was off cavorting with the females," he recalls with a laugh.

In the spring, though, the three shared a love for baseball. One year, Isaacs and Gutierrez did the pitching on a team that was 24-1. Another year, Turner and Gutierrez led a Northside Little League all-star team to the state divisional tournament.

Isaacs moved to Alaska from his home on quiet, tree-lined Douglas when he was 11 and moved to Ventura a year later. He and Gutierrez maintained their friendship by telephone and it was during those conversations that a 13-year-old Isaacs was persuaded to try out for the Ventura Packers youth team.

"The first day of practice, I couldn't throw a spiral 10 yards," he recalls.

But Isaacs went on to win the quarterback job and his identity was set as he entered high school.

Gutierrez was also instrumental in Turner lining up behind center.

Early in their 13-year-old season with the Chiefs, Gutierrez injured his right shoulder and the coach surveyed the team for a likely replacement. Turner recalls: "He said, 'Johnel, you have a good arm. Go take some snaps.' "

Will the real Johnel Turner please huddle up?

There is the soft-spoken, straight-forward Turner, the one who carefully measures his accomplishments with neatly told anecdotes, who steadfastly defends the expertise of his coaches.

Then there is the blowing, crowing Joh-nel , the one with the perpetual smirk and the ready reply. "I know, man. I know."

About his ability, everyone knows.

"He's the best pure athlete I've ever had," says Jack Davis, the Oxnard coach who has been in the business for 30 years. "He has the best arm and he's the best runner."

Last season, Davis implemented the wishbone to take advantage of his quarterback's running ability. Turner (6 feet, 190 pounds) rushed for 1,085 yards, 10 touchdowns and a Ventura County-high 8.5-yard average. He only completed 31 passes but they went for 646 yards, a county-leading 20.8-yard average.

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