If junior quarterback Tim Gutierrez didn’t fully understand the Santa Clara High offense when he passed for 1,656 yards last season--second-best among Ventura County players----imagine what he can accomplish now that he does.
Coach Steve Dann is convinced that Gutierrez can pass for even more yardage following a year’s experience as the Saints’ starting quarterback.
“He’s performing like a senior and he already looks like he’s going to improve on his statistics,” Dann said.
If Santa Clara’s first four games are an indication, Gutierrez is headed for another standout season. He has completed 45 of 72 passes for 780 yards and 6 touchdowns with only 1 interception.
Gutierrez’s efficiency has made Santa Clara (4-0) the favorite to win its second Frontier League title in 4 years. Last season, the Saints finished second to league champion and perennial rival Agoura, which won its second consecutive title. Agoura is 3-0-1, but 1 of the victories came by forfeit over Royal, which beat the Chargers, 17-13, on the field, then had to give up the win because it used an ineligible player.
As a sophomore, Gutierrez (6 feet, 1 inch, 180 pounds) took over at quarterback for injured starter Mike Teron in the second game of the season. His inexperience was rarely evident as he completed 54.2% of his passes, 14 of which went for touchdowns.
Gutierrez finished second in passing behind Will McInerney of Santa Paula despite getting off to a late start.
“I was young last year and I didn’t really understand the offense that well,” Gutierrez said.
Said Dann: “Tim is a real polished quarterback who sees the field well. He’s very talented with a real good arm and quick release.”
Gutierrez is one of 6 All-Frontier League selections who are returning for Santa Clara. Other key players include senior Matt Young, Gutierrez’s favorite receiver, and senior running back Kwinn Knight.
Young (6-2, 175) was third in the county in receiving last season with 649 yards in 37 catches for a 17.5-yard average. Knight was an second-team all-league selection as both a running back and defensive back.
Young is off to another fast start. He leads the county in receiving with 473 yards in 30 catches and 6 touchdowns. He had a county-record 15 receptions for 235 yards against St. Bonaventure last week.
Gutierrez completed 18 of 24 passes and tossed 3 touchdowns to Young in Santa Clara’s 42-14 victory.
Young is just one of several receivers Gutierrez can choose from. Kasha Clemons, an all-league punter who also plays receiver, has 12 catches for 141 yards and tight end John Weich has 7 receptions for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“Gutierrez has taken a real leadership role with his receivers,” Dann said. “They congratulate each other after every catch and take a lot of pride and responsibility for the offense.”
Gutierrez, a quick-release quarterback who likes to linger in the pocket, is perfectly suited to Dann’s offense.
“We run a complex passing offense that’s difficult to defend because we put a lot of people out in the patterns,” Dann said.
Santa Clara’s first 4 opponents would attest to the difficulty of defending the Saints. Santa Clara has outscored its opponents, 135-35.
“Last year, we got better as the year went on,” Dann said. “We’ve started out this season playing really well.”
Experienced guards JR Perez and Joey Cabrera both seniors and possible Division I prospects, provide Gutierrez with protection.
“They just seal up the line,” assistant coach Dan Lyon said. “Tim has got such a quick release that all he needs is a few seconds and we have the line to give him that.”
Lyon’s confidence in Santa Clara’s offensive line is supported by the statistics. Gutierrez was sacked only twice in the first 3 games.
Santa Clara’s line has also opened up holes for its running game. Knight leads the Saints, who have rushed for 612 yards, with 347 yards and 3 touchdowns in 66 carries. He also bolsters the Santa Clara defense as an all-league safety.
“He’s a real strong runner who has a great ability to never take a big hit,” Dann said. “Kwinn is not real fast, but he’s elusive and has good body control.”
On defense, the Saints were hurt by the loss of senior linebacker Matt Pearson, who sustained a hairline fracture to a kneecap earlier this season. Pearson, an All-League selection last season, is out indefinitely.
As usual, Santa Clara’s biggest threat is Agoura, which has defeated the Saints 2 of the past 3 years. The Chargers defeated Santa Clara, 24-7, last year to win the title with a 4-0 league record. The Saints finished second at 3-1 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Agoura Coach Frank Greminger considers Santa Clara the team to beat this season.
“They have a really good football team and a good running game,” Greminger said. “Their quarterback is very accurate and has good timing on the ball. But I think Matt Young is just as dangerous.”
Santa Clara faces another threat from newcomer Santa Ynez, which moved from the Tri-Valley League to the Frontier League. The Pirates have 8 returning starters from last year’s 8-4 team and have already defeated powerhouse Carpinteria. Santa Clara plays Santa Ynez in its season finale Nov. 12.