It’s 4:15 p.m. on a Monday and Fountain Valley High quarterback Josh Stupin exits the Barons’ speed and agility training to answer questions from a reporter.
The junior transfer from JSerra takes a moment to analyze each question. His eyes squint off into the distance as he develops his response, which is clear, quick and decisive, much like the way he operates under center.
After wrapping up the interview, Stupin sprints back toward one of the end zones, where his teammates, all hunched over, with their hands on their knees or hips, are waiting for him so they can continue.
But instead of taking his place back on the middle of the goal line, Stupin stops around the 20-yard-line. He starts darting back and forth, like a defensive slide drill in basketball, making up for the reps he missed.
That is the kind of leadership that the Fountain Valley football team has come to expect from its new quarterback, and something linebackers coach Scott Panique always applauded. Stupin is one of the big reasons why the Barons are off to a 4-0 start to the season, their best since 2009.
Two days after four of Stupin’s five completions went for touchdowns, keeping the Barons undefeated with a 50-0 win at Long Beach Rancho Dominguez on Sept. 7, Fountain Valley lost Panique. He died on Sunday.
Stupin and the Barons are mourning the loss of the 38-year-old. They are also dedicating the season to Panique, who played football at Mater Dei and Michigan.
“He was near and dear to me and a good, good man,” Fountain Valley third-year coach Jimmy Nolan said of Panique, who was in his third year with Fountain Valley.
With the help of Panique, Nolan has turned the Barons into a winning program. They went 7-5 and won a CIF Southern Section playoff game last season, a year after going 1-9.
Fountain Valley, ranked No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Division 8 poll this season, hopes the success continues. With Stupin as the signal-caller, things look positive.
Stupin ranks 20th in the state in passing yards through his first four games with 1,096, and is tied for fourth in Orange County with 12 passing touchdowns. In his first varsity start, he had a 420-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 40-28 nonleague win over Troy on Aug. 16.
“He’s very mature for being a younger player,” said Fountain Valley senior wide receiver Brandon Krause, who has been Stupin’s most lethal target, hauling in 28 passes for 464 yards and five touchdowns. “I didn’t think he was going to be the leader that he is when he came in, but he keeps us accountable and he works his butt off. He has a great work ethic on and off the field.”
Stupin’s next favorite target, dynamic do-it-all senior Kishaun Sykes, said the early success of the Barons’ offense is because of the trust Stupin has built with his playmakers and offensive line.
“He’s a big motivator and has really stepped up and been a quarterback who makes things happen for us,” said Sykes, who has 10 receptions for 317 yards and four touchdowns. “I know I can run my route and rely on Josh to put it on target. I don’t have to worry about where the ball will be and if I run my route it’s going to be there. It just clicks for us.”
But the relationship between Stupin, Krause and Sykes didn’t click right away.
It took early mornings, long days and late nights of work during the summer for the three to get on the same page. The trio would meet outside of practice, pick passing plays out of the playbook, and run those routes until the timing was precise.
“We threw almost every day in the offseason together and just grinded,” Stupin said. “I have trust in these guys and they have trust in me, and it was more about working together. The more days we’ve had to get to know each other, the better we’ve gotten.”
And the more snaps, completions, first downs, touchdowns and days that Stupin has racked up as the quarterback, the better he’s gotten. He has completed 64 of 103 passes, while only throwing two interceptions this season.
“I’m proud of Josh because no one works harder and no one prepares more than him. He goes year-round and we’re talking too much sometimes,” Nolan said. “We’ve seen some growing pains and I’m very impressed that he’s been able to get over his mistakes mentally.”
Stupin’s ability to bounce back from mistakes and not get too high or too low during the course of a game is a direct result of how he prepares.
It’s not farfetched to see Stupin walking the halls between classes with his head buried in his phone watching film, or in the bus on the way to the game, breaking down that same film. He also scribbles notes of his mistakes to make sure he doesn’t make the same one twice.
“I watch a lot of film and I focus on the mental part of the game, which is what I want to improve on,” Stupin said. “I watch my film every day and for however long I feel like I need to.”
There’s more to Stupin than the analytical preparation and poised leadership he projects to outsiders.
Under his unassuming 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame is a quiet confidence that has been developed through years of being underestimated by opponents at every level of his football life.
Stupin quickly rattled off names of undersized quarterbacks, again showing his trademark preparation, who have dominated their position at the high school, college and professional levels. Two of his favorites are Doug Flutie, a former NFL veteran, and Drew Brees, from the New Orleans Saints.
“People do question my ability because I’m a smaller quarterback,” he said. “But a lot of undersized quarterbacks have been successful. I can look up to those guys as inspiration because they are shorter quarterbacks who dominate and I think I fit that mold.”
Stupin’s confidence, his gaudy numbers, the trust he’s developed with his playmakers and his leadership ability have led the Barons to a perfect record, but Friday’s long road trip to play Adelanto (4-0), ranked No. 2 in Division 13, followed by the rigorous Sunset League slate will test that early-season dominance.
Born: July 5, 2001
Hometown: Huntington Beach, CA
Height: 5 feet 10
Weight: 170 pounds
Coach: Jimmy Nolan
Favorite food: Steak
Favorite movie: “The Blind Side”
Favorite athletic moment: Starting his first varsity game against Troy and throwing for 420 yards and four touchdowns in a 40-28 win on Aug. 16.