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Eric Sondheimer ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Connette shows composure while learning on the job

September 06, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

If all goes according to plan, 6-foot-3 junior Brandon Connette of Corona Santiago will become the next top quarterback prospect from Southern California. It's just going to take time.

On Friday night, he made his first varsity start against a blitzing, relentless Anaheim Esperanza defense. There were moments to savor, such as a 42-yard pass to Sean Martin and a 32-yard scramble. And there were moments that showed how much more he needs to learn, such as he and his offensive unit not picking up a first down in four second-half possessions.

In the end, 23rd-ranked Esperanza came away with a 12-9 victory over 13th-ranked Santiago, with the winning touchdown coming on a one-yard run by Jared Moore with 6:12 left on opening night at Placentia Valencia's new synthetic turf field.

Connette completed eight of 17 passes for 96 yards. He was tackled seven times for losses and scored his team's only touchdown on a one-yard run to give the Sharks a 7-3 halftime lead. The stats weren't impressive, but Connette never lost his composure and never stopped competing.

Santiago was missing two offensive line starters to injury, including 6-5, 310-pound tackle Jordan Johnson. On the second play of the game, the backup center hiked the ball so far over Connette's head that not even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could have caught it.

There were communication issues between quarterback and receivers, plus few opportunities to connect on middle-range passes thanks to Esperanza's persistent pursuit, led by Sean Avila and Dane Poole.

But it doesn't change where Connette is headed.

He started registering among college recruiters and talent evaluators last June. He received praise for his performance at a camp at Florida. Then, at USC, he led his team to the championship of a seven-on-seven passing tournament in which two influential observers watched nearby.

"With Pete Carroll and Steve Sarkisan breathing down my neck, it was a little nerve-racking," he said. "It was good to see how I could perform under pressure."

Connette has the skills to be a standout, and everything starts with his intelligence.

He was home schooled and taught by his mother until he reached high school, and he hasn't received a grade other than A in two years at Santiago.

"I like his decision-making process," Coach Steve Mitchell said. "He's got a very good grasp of what we're doing. He's a great leader. He's had a strong impact on the entire club. The quarterback position requires so much thinking, and to have that intellectual ability only adds to our ability to add more stuff to the offense."

Then there's the strength of his arm.

"I've had few kids in my career who can throw an 18-yard comeback route on a frozen rope," he said. "His is a frozen rope. That's what separates the good from the great. If you can throw that route, you can play at this level and the next."

But this isn't summer passing tournaments, and Esperanza hit him hard and often. Offensively, Moore rushed for 115 yards and Drew Huusfeldt had 93 yards rushing.

Afterward, Connette was determined to make sure he and his team get better.

"We have to be focused for the entire game and not just a few plays," he said.

He's got five brothers, ages 15, 12, 10, 7 and 5. They look up to him, and what a terrific role model he is. Even in defeat, he left the impression of a 17-year-old who's going to be a quarterback to reckon with.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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