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Luevanos Has Learned the Hard Way : * Brea-Olinda: With quarterback coach George Dena as his drill instructor, senior has Wildcats winning again.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saturdays are fun again for Jason Luevanos, quarterback for Brea-Olinda High School. In fact, they are worth getting out of bed for.

This hasn’t always been the case.

Last fall, Luevanos disliked the Saturday mornings. They meant watching the film of the previous night’s game.

There, on the screen, were his mistakes. And there, behind the projector, was Brea quarterback coach George Dena.

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“Even after games we won, I dreaded watching the film,” Luevanos said. “We’d get to a play where I messed up and I would think, ‘Oh God, please not this.’ I knew Coach Dena would be yelling at me.”

Looking back, Luevanos smiled about the days of give and take. Dena gave it and Luevanos took it.

Every practice, something would catch Dena’s eye and Luevanos would catch it. His footwork wasn’t right or he didn’t didn’t drop deep enough. There was no pleasing this man.

Of course, Luevanos has a different perspective these days.

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“Coach Dena made me into a quarterback,” Luevanos said.

Ah, now Brea’s opponents know whom to blame.

Last year, the Wildcats won the Orange League, their first title since 1981, and reached the second round of the Southern Section Division VI playoffs. This year, they are 2-0 and ranked seventh in Orange County.

Much of that success is due to Luevanos, and much of his success is due to Dena.

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“They are really a funny pair,” Coach Jon Looney said. “I don’t think Jason has ever quite figured George out. And I don’t think George has ever encountered anyone like Jason.”

Luevanos, a senior, has played quarterback since the fifth grade. It has always been his position.

He guided the freshman team to a 7-2-1 record in 1988. The following year, he led the junior varsity to the league championship.

This produced a certain swagger. Some called it confidence, some called it cockiness. Dena called it unacceptable.

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“Yeah, I had a bit of an attitude,” Luevanos said. “Then I met Coach Dena and I didn’t have an attitude anymore.”

Dena has coached high school football for 33 years, at Servite, Anaheim and Foothill before coming to Brea in 1989. He has spent most of his career working with quarterbacks.

Everywhere Dena has gone, success has followed. In the past 20 years, 17 of his quarterbacks have been named all-league.

They get there by following his tutoring to the letter, with no ifs, ands or buts.

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“There was a little personality conflict between Jason and me at first,” Dena said. “He could lose his temper real easy. He learned quick that was the worst thing to do.”

Luevanos and Dena were thrown together last season. The Wildcats had a veteran team returning, but lacked experience at quarterback.

Although Luevanos had had success on the lower levels, he was not a shoo-in at the position.

First, his size made it difficult for him to pass. Luevanos is listed at 5-feet-11, but appears closer to 5-9.

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Second, his arm strength didn’t exactly make people ooh and ah.

And third, his technique was lousy.

“Jason looked terrible during summer league,” Looney said. “We really didn’t know what we were going to do for a quarterback.”

Then Dena went to work.

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The two were inseparable during the summer, practicing almost every day. Of course, this wasn’t always fun and games for Luevanos.

“There were times when I wondered whether it was all worth it,” Luevanos said.

Said Dena: “I have to admit, I was pretty rough on Jason. I felt he had talent and I was trying to get it out of him.”

Luevanos would throw the ball. Dena would tell him the arm motion wasn’t right.

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Luevanos would drop to pass. Dena would tell him his feet weren’t planted right.

Luevanos would run a play. Dena would say something like, “No, no, no!”

“I think he felt nothing he did pleased me,” Dena said. “There were a few times when he was almost in tears. I put a lot of pressure on him.”

Luevanos, angry about the treatment at first, began to see the method to Dena’s madness.

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“I certainly learned a lot,” he said.

Enough, anyway, to run the Brea offense.

The Wildcats compiled a 3-2 nonleague record, which they capped with a 33-17 victory over El Dorado. Luevanos threw three touchdowns in that game and still took some heat from Dena the next day during films.

“I can see how Jason might have dreaded the weekly films,” Dena said. “We would go over every play and I would point out where he made mistakes.”

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Luevanos rarely made them twice.

He finished the season with a school-record 1,774 yards passing. He also set records for completions in a season (131) and in a game (20).

More importantly to him, the Wildcats ended Valencia’s stranglehold on the Orange League. The Tigers had won or shared seven consecutive league titles, but lost to Brea, 23-21, last season.

Luevanos was named the league’s back of the year.

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He continued his impressive play during the playoffs, rallying the Wildcats to a 24-17 victory over Corona del Mar. Luevanos threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Gilbert Arriola with 17 seconds left to win the game.

“That was the game that Jason really matured,” Dena said. “He was having back spasms and things weren’t going well on the field. He just looked like he wanted to come out and call it a season. But he stuck it out. He worked through the pain and brought us back. He became a leader that night.”

Said Luevanos: “Everything I did last season, I owe to Coach Dena. He taught me.”

The teaching has continued this year. Luevanos is taking more responsibility on the field and has worked with Dena on reading defenses.

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Luevanos has also worked to improve his accuracy. Last season, 15 of his passes were intercepted, a number he intends to decrease this year.

Through two games, he has completed 23 of 30 passes for 289 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

“There’s a lot more pressure on this season, but I’m better prepared to handle it,” Luevanos said. “Coach Dena sees to that. He still yells at me, but he’s a smart guy.”


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