The passes that convinced his teammates that Taylor Martinez might be the next great quarterback at Corona Centennial High didn’t lead the Huskies to victory or even account for a first down.
They came while Martinez wore street clothes and casually flung the ball to his future teammates at a practice last year before attaining his transfer eligibility.
“Just him throwing the ball on the sideline caught my eye,” receiver Ricky Marvray said. “He just flicked his wrist and it went so far.”
Martinez’s coach, Matt Logan, was similarly astounded by his new quarterback’s speed once he took the field.
“It looks like he’s barely running and he’s outrunning guys who are fast,” Logan said. “It’s just amazing.”
Martinez is a senior, but is in only his second varsity season at quarterback.
Martinez led Centennial to a victory over Santa Ana Mater Dei and an undefeated run to the Southern Section Inland Division championship -- two feats that his highly touted predecessor, Matt Scott, couldn’t pull off as a senior before heading to Arizona.
Tonight comes an even bigger challenge: Centennial (14-0) will play Concord De La Salle (12-1) in a CIF Division I state football championship bowl game at the Home Depot Center. It’s a rematch of a game the Spartans won, 37-31, last December in Carson after fending off a Huskies rally from a 31-7 deficit.
Martinez has a sense of the historical significance that a victory over De La Salle would generate. Spartans Coach Bob Ladouceur has compiled a Harlem Globetrotter-esque career record of 343-21-3, and his team’s 2006 loss to Canyon Country Canyon at the Home Depot Center was its only postseason defeat in the last 17 years.
“It’s going to be an honor to go up against De La Salle,” Martinez said. “Hopefully we can beat them and become state and national champions.”
With the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Martinez operating out of a no-huddle, spread offense that has averaged 40 points per game this season, he is a danger to everyone -- his receivers included. Marvray said his quarterback throws the ball so hard he nearly dislocated several of his fingers catching his passes.
Norco Coach Todd Gerhart said Martinez reminds him of former USC and Chicago Bears quarterback Vince Evans, whose passes would leave a cross mark on receivers’ chests at the point of impact.
“He’s probably too strong for most high school kids,” Gerhart said of Martinez. “The velocity of his ball is at a different level.”
Martinez also has a robust voice that he utilizes on audibles in about half of Centennial’s offensive plays. He looks to the sideline to receive the call from receivers coach Jeremy Gaines, who has conferred with four other coaches wearing headsets. Martinez also has input.
“He does make some decisions out there,” Logan said. “Sometimes it is changing the play or changing the direction of the play.”
Martinez’s high school career has been one long audible. He spent his freshman and sophomore seasons at Norco, where he played free safety before a hamstring injury forced him to miss his sophomore year.
“Norco is a running offense and there’s no point for me to be a quarterback there because all I’ll be doing is handing off the ball and throwing just a couple of times a game,” Martinez said.
Martinez transferred to San Bernardino Cajon during the middle of his sophomore year after a family friend offered his father a job there as an assistant coach. As a junior, Martinez played quarterback for the Cowboys, accounting for about 1,500 yards combined passing and rushing.
But he departed after the end of the first semester, enrolling at Centennial. Martinez said the move was triggered by a family situation that involved complications during his mother’s pregnancy.
He filed for a hardship waiver to play football for the Huskies that was denied, forcing his family to move into the Centennial district so he could attain eligibility.
Perhaps the most telling thing about the moves is that there is no animosity among the coaches Martinez left behind.
“I would have liked to have kept him,” Gerhart said.
Said Cajon Coach Kim Battin: “It’s hard to argue with the season he’s had at Centennial.”
Martinez has had such a prolific year, completing 58.7% of his passes for 2,751 yards and 28 touchdowns with seven interceptions, that he was the runaway winner of the Big VIII League’s most valuable player award.
“It was hands down,” Gerhart said. “No one even nominated anyone against him.”
Martinez has committed to Nebraska, but he will face stiff competition to play his chosen position in college, where he might be used at safety depending on how he fares against other quarterback candidates.
But anyone who doubts Martinez can pull it off should consider his arm strength, his speed -- and his nickname. Martinez signs off text messages with the phrase “Taylor Magic,” a reference that could also refer to his charmed career at quarterback.