Brandon Hance is football's equivalent to a basketball gym rat. He seemingly carries around a football 24 hours a day. Friends tagging along never know when he gets the sudden urge to throw the ball, whether it be on the field or in the grocery store.
Steve Alvarado is the ultimate overachiever. Told he was too slow and too weak to start at quarterback, he responded by leading local City Section quarterbacks in passing with 2,191 yards and 19 touchdowns last season.
Who's better? Who deserves to start at quarterback for Taft High this fall?
"They're both great kids," said Taft assistant coach Frank Grossman, who directed the Toreadors on Saturday during the Beverly Hills passing tournament while Coach Troy Starr was in Ohio for a wedding.
All summer, the competition between Hance, a 6-foot junior transfer from Notre Dame, and Alvarado, a 6-foot senior, figures to be intense. They take turns running the offense every other series. They push each other and cheer for each other. But at some point, a decision must be made.
"I think the best player deserves [to start], and I'm going to go out there and try to be the best player," Alvarado said. "It's just a dogfight right now. I don't know what Starr's going to do."
Said Hance: "I'm going to keep working hard until I'm first string."
Hance was the starter for Notre Dame's sophomore team last season. He has no varsity experience. But he possesses a strong arm, quick feet and good judgment from his many years of playing youth football. He's given a strong chance to oust a returning All-City quarterback.
Alvarado is no ordinary senior. He has a 3.95 grade-point average and a fierce determination to succeed. He guided Taft to the City 4-A title game at the Coliseum before losing to San Pedro, 24-9. Even more memorable was his toughness in the semifinals when Taft beat Sylmar, 8-6, in a mud bowl.
So far, the quarterback battle has been a positive experience for both.
"Brandon's competition has helped me become a better quarterback," Alvarado said. "During the season, I started deteriorating because of lack of practice or there wasn't somebody to compete against. This competition has brought me up another level."
Said Hance: "It's a big difference going from Notre Dame to Taft. I went in and didn't really know anyone. I thought he [Alvarado] was going to be, 'Who's this guy?' He's been the opposite. He's been cool."
For two consecutive seasons, the Toreadors have lost to San Pedro in the 4-A final. Starr desperately wants to overcome that final hurdle, and he intends to select a quarterback who can best complete the Toreadors' mission.
Whomever emerges will have the luxury of an outstanding group of receivers, led by Lawrence Wallace, Ronald Andrews and K.C. Bounds.
San Fernando could be passing more this fall with quarterback Larry Brown, a transfer from Cleveland who passed for 1,380 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
Brown and receiver Terrell Stanley hope to become one of the Valley's best passing combinations.
They have already made an impact, leading the Tigers to the championship Saturday with a win over the host Normans.
There is no quarterback controversy at Chatsworth, where 6-4, 195-pound junior Matt Cassel has his coaches convinced he can become a big-time player.
"He's everything you ask in a quarterback," offensive coordinator Ron Martinez said. "He's big, strong and intelligent. The energy he brings to practice is incredible."
Cassel, an All-City third baseman as a sophomore, showed up Saturday with his hair bleached.