"Go West, young man" was an expression from the 1800s about exploring opportunities in the adventurous territories of the West, and 17-year-old Max Wittek followed the same credo when he moved from Norwalk, Conn., two years ago.
His goal: to become the next top quarterback at tradition-rich Santa Ana Mater Dei.
It has happened, and the 6-foot-4 Wittek enters the 2010 season with a scholarship commitment from USC and the reputation of being on par with the Monarchs' two most recent quarterback standouts, Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart and Gatorade national player of the year Matt Barkley.
"He has the velocity to throw across the field," Coach Bruce Rollinson said. "He has a touch on the check-down routes. He's got a cannon when he has to go deep."
And unlike Leinart and Barkley, Wittek has the speed to burst out of the pocket and become an effective runner.
Wittek teases future USC teammate Barkley about their legs.
"He'll throw a gorgeous ball, then I'll get up and throw the same thing, and I'll say, 'Matty, I can do that, and I can run. I don't see you running anywhere,' " he said.
Wittek's 4.6-second time in the 40-yard dash makes him a weapon with his arm and feet, something he's more than willing to use.
"I feel comfortable running, but I'm always going to look to throw first," he said.
Last season, after winning the starting job, Wittek passed for 2,126 yards and 15 touchdowns. He improved immensely over the course of the season. There was a 417-yard passing performance against Orange Lutheran and 255 yards in a playoff loss to La Puente Bishop Amat.
One of the most important lessons learned about Wittek is his toughness. He was hit repeatedly behind a young offensive line. The fact that he kept getting up without displaying much frustration helped keep the Monarchs moving forward.
"You never want to let the opponent see you hurt," Wittek said. "You want to bounce back up, act like nothing happened. Your teammates feed off that. If their leader is hanging his head and pouting in the corner, it's not going to help. You have to get back up and encourage them."
After months in the weight room and lots of time in the classroom studying defenses, Wittek seems ready to flourish in an offense that has been opened up to take advantage of his experience while being aided by a strong group of receivers.
"He's poised and ready to have a great season," Rollinson said.
At a school that has a Heisman Lane, Wittek has embraced the expectations and pressures that come with playing quarterback at Mater Dei.
"It's definitely an eye-opener," he said. "There's been so many people before you who have done great things. You try to follow in their footsteps and build a legacy even more."