Blanton Was Born to Play Quarterback : Prep football: Mater Dei star has always had a stronger arm than other players his age.
Since he was old enough to throw a football, Billy Blanton was groomed to become the starting quarterback at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana.
Although he started as a running back, Blanton said he always knew he would end up throwing the ball.
“Since I was about 7, I always had a stronger arm than other kids my age,” Blanton said. “When I got tired of running the ball, I just told my coach I would rather throw it. He gave me a chance, and the rest is history.”
Blanton decided to pursue his athletic career at Mater Dei three years before he started high school in 1987, even though he lives only minutes from Estancia High in Costa Mesa.
Tonight at 7:30, the highly recruited Blanton leads the once-beaten Monarchs into the CIF Southern Section Division I championship game against undefeated and top-ranked Rialto Eisenhower at Anaheim Stadium. A crowd of more than 20,000 is expected.
Regardless of the outcome, Blanton will go down as one of the most prolific passers in Orange Country history. The senior holds the county single-season record with 33 touchdown passes, and needs 38 yards to break the single-season record for total yards passing.
This season, he has completed 62.3% of his passes for 3,228 yards with only nine interceptions. He led the Monarchs to a three-way tie for the Angelus League title, and the team is playing in its first section final since 1965.
The school is so excited about tonight’s game that it sold out its 6,000 allotted tickets the day they went on sale.
One of Blanton’s biggest fans is Coach Bruce Rollinson, a 1967 graduate of the school who is enjoying his finest season since taking over the program three years ago. Mater Dei finished 7-5 in 1989, losing to Redlands in the first round of the playoffs. The team went 7-6 last year and was beaten by Quartz Hill in the semifinals, 37-7.
“The bigger the game, the better Billy plays,” Rollinson said after last week’s 35-21 victory over Loyola. “He was outstanding.”
Blanton started playing quarterback in the seventh grade at St. John the Baptist Catholic school in Costa Mesa, a popular feeder school for Mater Dei, one of the largest parochial schools in the Southland with 2,100 students.
He grew up a fan of Huntington Beach Edison High after watching the team win many football games at Orange Coast College. But when he started playing baseball in area junior leagues, Blanton made a lot of friends with Mater Dei connections. He and his mother, Janice Blanton, decided early on that he would go to high school there.
By the time Rollinson replaced Chuck Gallo as coach in ’89, the young Blanton already was established as the team’s quarterback of the future. He started on the freshmen team, then was promoted to the varsity later that season when the Monarchs were in the playoffs.
His mentor at the time was Danny O’Neil, a controversial transfer from Corona del Mar in Newport Beach. O’Neil, also a standout basketball player, graduated in 1990. He was the University of Oregon’s starting quarterback for several games this season.
“As a freshman, I was in awe of O’Neil,” said Blanton, also a standout shortstop on the baseball team. “Getting a chance to work out with him was a real thrill.”
By his sophomore season, Blanton was playing backup to O’Neil. He played in four games, mostly when the Monarchs held comfortable leads.
Last year, he started every game but had his ups and downs. The Monarchs lost their first two games and in the season opener against Capistrano Valley, he was sacked five times.
Blanton got some help during the third week of the season when running back Derek Sparks transferred from Van Nuys Montclair Prep. Sparks rushed for 281 yards in his debut against Santa Ana, relieving Blanton of having to put the ball up 30 or more times a game.
By the time the playoffs rolled around, Blanton was well schooled at reading defenses. He guided Mater Dei to upsets of Long Beach Poly and top-seeded Eisenhower.
This season, Blanton picked up where he left off, but the graduation of Sparks and the subsequent lack of a top running back resulted in more emphasis on the passing game. Blanton has responded well.
Blanton quietly commands respect on the field. He has thrown to 13 receivers, most frequently to senior David Knuff who has 61 receptions for 1,094 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Blanton is averaging 18.7 yards per completion, an impressive statistic considering his 172 completions.
His best game might have been against Fontana two weeks ago in the quarterfinals. Fontana, a dominant team in the Southland for the last decade, was embarrassed, 46-16. Blanton passed for 282 yards and three touchdowns, rushing for another score. He put the game away in the first half, completing 11 of 14 passes for 232 yards.
The Monarchs were beaten only by Loyola, 28-20, but avenged that setback last week in the semifinals, with Blanton passing for 275 yards.