There’s rarely a time when there isn’t a boatload of talented quarterbacks throughout the Valley, and 2014 is no exception. Alemany’s Blake Green (now injured), El Camino Real’s Adam Blythe, Taft’s Chris Duncan, Arleta’s Johnathan Porter and Chaminade’s Edward Sias are among those having excellent seasons.
But there’s one quarterback people aren’t talking about — and they should be.
Clarence Williams, Jr. is toiling in relative obscurity at Sylmar High. The Spartans aren’t high on the Southland gridiron radar in part because Los Angeles City Section teams are underexposed and undervalued next to their Southern Section brethren, many of them private schools that, ahem, “attract” high profile high school athletes. Sylmar has also been overshadowed the past two years by San Fernando’s resurgence, which it has turned into a pair of City Division II titles.
That could change this season. And Williams, a junior, would have a lot to do with that.
He currently leads all City Division II quarterbacks in passing yardage (1,471), and has thrown for 20 touchdowns against three interceptions. He’s helped the Spartans to a 6-2 overall record. In addition, Sylmar (4-0) and Canoga Park (5-0) are the only unbeaten teams in Valley Mission League play.
Numbers only quantify so much. But Williams also passes (no pun intended) the so-called “eye test.” He has a lively arm that can throw with touch or zip; quick feet; and is a quick decision-maker who, more often than not, makes the the right decision.
“CJ is a leader. You can tell,” Sylmar Coach John Brazil said. “As he goes, we go. This is his second full year as a starter, and you can tell the offense is gelling. … He has a very strong arm, and is very accurate. This year we decided to go with four wideouts and want to make you defend our athletes. He reads the coverages and finds the open guy.
“We knew early this year we had an inexperienced line with five new starters, and it would take a minute to get going. But we are now building momentum. And he’s the guy that makes it go.”
Others, like San Fernando Coach Robert Garcia, back that assessment.
“He’s gotten a lot better at reading defenses,” said Garcia, after Williams shredded the Tigers for 306 passing yards and five touchdowns in Sylmar’s 49-15 victory. “He’s becoming a leader. He wasn’t quite last year because he was a younger guy. Its seems the team has bought into him. … He’s not going to get hit, got a real good release and knows who he is going to throw to.”
At 6-feet and 170-pounds, Williams doesn’t have “measurements” loved by college coaches, i.e. 6-3 or taller in height and 225-plus pounds in weight. And at 16, he doesn’t figure to get much bigger in length or girth.
Still, you’d think his on-the-field talent and aptitude for being a quarterback should have the dreaded “others” paying some attention.
That’s not Williams’ interest right now. He is focused on the Spartans winning a City football title, something they last did in 1994. And, with the Spartans having won six of their last seven games since the season opening 43-0 loss to Crespi, Williams believes the team is building the necessary momentum required for a deep playoff run.
“We are definitely on track,” said Williams, taking a break from the Spartan’s preparation for their game against visiting Reseda on Friday, Oct. 31. “It took a few games to get it together, and Coach [Brazil] said it would take about four games. And now, we are starting to peak. We still have a little growing to do. But as far as our team and our unity, it’s 100 percent.”
That’s important, Williams said. Some inattention to detail and purpose derailed what could have been a championship season last year for Sylmar. The Spartans had finished second in the Valley Mission — losing only to San Fernando — and were hosting Chatsworth in a Division II semifinal game. The players were looking ahead to a rematch with San Fernando, but instead were pummeled by Chatsworth, 47-20, in a game that wasn’t that close.
If the loss taught Williams anything, it was the value of playing the game in front of you. Williams said it was a lesson he will not forget.
“It was motivation for this year,” he said. “Our whole offseason, the coaches have been talking about how Chatsworth is still out there, getting stronger…every time we’re slacking off they bring up Chatsworth, to get us to keep going.
“Last year losing, it was a bad feeling — a really bad feeling. They ran the ball all game. I think one guy had 300 yards by himself. We couldn’t do anything about it; they were bigger and stronger than us.”
Williams was also motivated to improve himself. At the end of last season, the coaches wanted to change the offense from run-oriented to pass-oriented. They wanted Williams to be in better shape to withstand hits, or run the ball if necessary. They wanted more speed and toughness from him.
Williams spent the necessary hours in the weight room to strengthen his body, and extra running to increase his speed. It’s paid off, according to Brazil.
“He’s mentally strong and has the mentality that he is a runner,” the Sylmar coach said. “So he fears nothing in the pocket. And he’s a quarterback that sits in the pocket. He’ll look downfield and trust his line, and is physical enough to take the hits.”
Williams isn’t doing it all by himself at Sylmar. Running backs Marcus Gandy and Shonte Smith also keep defenses honest, and the receiving corps, led by Anthony Muse, is loaded with good-hands people who can run.
But in Williams, the Spartans have the catalyst-with-brains every team needs to be successful. If he does lead the Spartans to a City championship, people outside of Sylmar would have to notice.
They should be doing so anyway.