BATTLE FOR THE VICTORY BELL:

Moises Chavez knew he would be a backup going into the 2008 season, but he spent the summer preparing for more than just pacing the sideline.

When the call to action came earlier than anyone expected, Chavez was ready to take over the quarterbacking duties for the Glendale High football team and now stands as one of the brightest points of light in the Nitros’ emergence from the darkness of a string of losing seasons.

“He would call me up during the summer before we even had practice and we would go and run routes,” Glendale wide receiver Charles Crosby says of Chavez, a junior. “I told him, ‘If you keep throwing like this, you’re gonna end up starting.’”

It wasn’t that simple back in August when senior Victor Barba was entrenched in the starting job. Barba’s experience playing varsity quarterback the previous season trumped Chavez’s one season as a sophomore quarterback on the junior varsity squad, in his first-ever year of high school football.

But Barba’s misfortune, in the form of a torn knee ligament days before the season opener, proved to be Chavez’s window of opportunity.

“Victor was always first and Moises was second, but when it came down to the nitty gritty, [Chavez] stepped up at the last minute,” second-year Glendale Coach Rafik Thorossian says. “He’s done an incredible job and I can’t ask for anything more. For a guy that we weren’t thinking of as a starter, he’s just amazed everybody and he’s gotten better every day.”

Having compiled a season line of 1,562 passing yards with 13 touchdown passes, Chavez has come into his own as the Nitros’ offensive leader on the field. More importantly, he’s helped Glendale to a 5-4 record – one more win than the program has enjoyed in the past four seasons combined — and a chance at qualifying for the CIF Southern Section Southeast Division playoffs with a win over archrival Hoover in the final game of the regular season on Friday night.

“[Becoming the starter] was kind of unexpected, I really thought Victor was going to play,” Chavez says. “I was kind of prepared, though, because we had lots of practice and did lots of drills before [the season]. I was practicing like a starter, so I knew what to do from the beginning.”

Chavez’s preparedness and his ability to effectively manage games was on display over the Nitros’ 3-0 start, their first since 1993, and his poise belied the difficulties of what he admits was not an easy transition from inexperienced backup to starter, and from a lower level of football to varsity.

“Everything’s faster [in varsity],” Chavez says. “Down at the JV level, it’s not really full speed, but in varsity, everyone’s hitting hard and trying their hardest and I kind of had to adjust to it. It took me a while.”

As the season stretched into Pacific League play, Chavez continued to improve his yardage totals week by week, but then the touchdowns stopped coming, and so did the wins.

A three-interception game against Muir hurt the Nitros’ shot at an upset of the league champion Mustangs in the league opener and two more losses to Arcadia and Crescenta Valley in the ensuing weeks put Glendale’s once promising playoff hopes in immediate jeopardy.

“I got more comfortable, but as we played more games, I started breaking down a little bit,” says Chavez of the three-game skid in which Glendale scored just 22 points after amassing 128 over three nonleague contests, albeit against lesser defenses. “But I kind of got back on my feet and I’m trying my hardest to get back to where I was in those first few games.”

A two-game win streak in late-October and early-November took the Nitros’ season off of life support and included a career-high bounce back for Chavez.

In a must-win game against Burbank on Oct. 24, Chavez exploded for 331 passing yards and completed five touchdown passes to lead the team to a 37-14 victory.

“It’s been hard for [Chavez] sometimes because he can’t always get [the ball] there, but he keeps practicing and he’s made progress,” says Nitros receiver Jordan Bradshaw, who hauled in four touchdown grabs from Chavez against Burbank. “He usually hits the window pretty good. …He usually gets the ball where it needs to be.”

It’s rare for Chavez to key in on one target, though. Over the course of the season, he has distributed the ball evenly between several receivers, evidenced by three Nitros with over 300 yards receiving on the year.

With one game left, Arturo Garcia (390 receiving yards) and Crosby (387) are both candidates to surpass the 400-yard mark, while Bradshaw has 320 and Dillon Fuller has 260 yards receiving. Even running back Sarmen Bakhshi has had a good share of looks, surpassing the 200-yard receiving mark.

“He’s really spread the ball around, he doesn’t have one favorite receiver,” Thorossian says. “Every weapon we have I think he’s used equally and at the right time.”

Adds Crosby: “We all have chemistry with him. He just throws it around and keeps everybody happy.”

When the season began, aspirations for improvement were apparent, but it was unknown just what kind of a turnaround Glendale could pull off. With one game left and a glimpse of the postseason yet visible, the end of the story still remains unwritten, but plenty is already clear.

Guaranteed no worse than a .500 season, the losing seasons are in the past and there is optimism for further revival next season.

And, just as the Nitros’ present success, that future has plenty to do with a one-time backup who has flourished at the forefront.


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