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Saddleback's Vedder Filled With Confidence

Football: Sophomore quarterback has high expectations, but his coach doesn't want them openly expressed before the season.


MISSION VIEJO — Saddleback Coach Bill Cunerty has few reservations about turning sophomore quarterback Justin Vedder loose on the football field.

Cunerty's concern with Vedder is what he might say when a reporter is present.

Vedder is a very confident player with lofty expectations for himself and the Saddleback team, but he has been asked by the coach not to share such feelings this season, especially in terms of wins and losses.

Just to make sure, Cunerty volunteered to sit in on a recent interview with Vedder.

"That's the one difference between me and Coach [Cunerty]," Vedder said. "He's like a father to me. . . . But the one difference is I don't mind saying this is what we're going to go out and do. I like it when everybody is taking their shots at me."

Cunerty is quick to acknowledge Vedder's talent not only as a quarterback but also as a leader and a hard worker. Vedder is one of the captains this season. The other is linebacker Joe Cesta, who rooms with Vedder at Vedder's parents' house in Laguna Hills.

"I'm not sure I've ever had someone work as hard to be prepared to play," Cunerty said. "He organized throwing when we were off this summer. He just has a great grasp of what we're doing and an amazing ability to see the field."

While Cunerty and Vedder are getting along fine now, things have not always been so tranquil between them.

Vedder got off to a rocky start last season and spent time on the bench.

"I got on him pretty good a couple of times last season," said Cunerty, who said it took awhile to get across to Vedder that the coach had high expectations.

Saddleback struggled early last season while going 2-3. Cunerty then decided to take a chance and employ something he calls the "squirrel derby."

He emptied the backfield and switched to a five-receiver formation. The change served two purposes.

It allowed Cunerty to take advantage of Vedder's outstanding ability to read the defense and quickly find an open receiver. It also helped cover up Saddleback's anemic running attack.

Saddleback upset El Camino, which was ranked first in the nation at the time, 21-16, and went on to five more victories, including topping Mt. San Antonio, 21-20, in the season-ending Orange County Bowl.

"It was a leap of faith," Cunerty said, "but [Vedder] really ate it up." Vedder threw for 2,226 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions.

One reason for Vedder's slow start last season was that it had been a while since he had competed in a game.

As a sophomore, Vedder led Laguna Hills High to a Southern Section championship. He started two more years for the Hawks, then accepted a scholarship to Boston University.

Vedder was a redshirt his first year while learning the system.

He expected to have a chance to start the next season but said it never happened. Kevin Foley transferred from Maryland and was given the starting job in the second spring practice. Vedder said he was upset about never getting a chance to compete for the starting spot.

Vedder elected to go to Saddleback, where Cunerty had just taken over as head coach.

By returning home, Vedder also began to train with Benny Podda. They had teamed in high school.

Vedder also worked with conditioning coach Marv Marinovich when he was in high school.

Podda, an acupuncturist, leads Vedder, who is 6 feet 1, in a series of strenuous physical workouts that has improved his speed and increased his weight from 170 to 193 pounds.

"I know he's gotten a lot stronger," Cesta said. "[Podda's] got him throwing logs and running up hills and some crazy stuff like that."

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