Because quarterback is the most complex position in football, coaches can't always tell how quickly a good one will develop.
Sometimes it takes three varsity seasons. Sometimes it takes one game.
Esperanza's Brent Wagner can tell you the date it came together for him: Oct. 17, 1997.
That night the Aztecs were facing rival Los Alamitos in the Sunset League opener for both. Esperanza had won the last two meetings between the teams, but this time the fourth-ranked Griffins were supposed to have better talent. And when Los Alamitos took a 14-0 lead, it appeared the Aztecs were in trouble.
But Wagner--who looked average (nine for 25, 116 yards) in a 42-21 loss to Pasadena Muir the week before--began carving up the Griffin defense.
In leading Esperanza to a 31-28 come-from-behind victory, Wagner completed 19 of 29 passes for 350 yards and two touchdowns. And the Aztecs, in essence, won a third consecutive league championship that night.
Wagner, 17, a senior, didn't want all the credit. "I was just hitting the open receivers and they made good runs after the catch," he said. But the effect on Wagner's season was tremendous.
In the five games before league play, Wagner completed 49 of 93 passes for 689 yards, throwing five touchdowns and four interceptions. In his next seven games (two playoff games) Wagner completed 80 of 148 attempts for 1,320 yards. He threw 12 touchdown passes and only one interception.
He was named the Sunset League's most valuable player.
Wagner said the confidence he got from the Los Alamitos game lasted the rest of the season.
"Once you're doing good, you don't worry about making mistakes," Wagner said. "You are back there having fun."
Wagner's big 1997 season answered any remaining questions Coach Gary Meek and his staff might have had. Quarterbacks are often excitable, fiery players. Wagner is so quiet and easygoing, you're tempted to put a mirror under his nose to see if he's breathing.
"He's a very humble person," Meek said. "If I don't ask him to talk, he doesn't talk. But he is a competitor. There is a fire in his eyes. He is in complete charge in the huddle. And he does not get rattled."
Wagner takes mild exception to the "laid back" label. "When I have to, I will get in someone's face," he said. "During games or practice I will step up. I have no temper. But I do have a pulse."
Mike Harrison, a receiver and defensive back at Esperanza this year, said Wagner "can be intense" on the football field. "But he's also pretty calm. If you mess up he will let you know. but doesn't get on your back. He just tells you to work harder."
Wagner said he knows the stakes are higher this season. Another big season could land him a college scholarship. He has received letters from Washington, UNLV, Iowa, Oregon, Oregon State and California. And Esperanza, which last year won a section Division I playoff game for the first time since joining the Sunset League in 1994, has the potential to make a longer postseason run.
Los Alamitos wants another shot at him as well.
That's fine with Wagner.
"I'd say my confidence is better than last year at this point," Wagner said. "Last year was my first as a varsity starter. This summer I didn't have to learn as much."