RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB: La Salle quarterback Austin Wallis has
passed for 805 yards and nine touchdowns this season for the Lancers.
(Keith Birmingham / Staff Photographer)
By Keith Lair, SGVN
PASADENA - When the 2012 football season began, who the starting La Salle High School quarterback would be was very much up in the air.
Russell Gordon could stick with Austin Wallis, whose 2011 season was tenuous. Or the new coach could install Man Berg, who came to the Lancers from Campbell Hall, where Gordon was the coach last year.
“When I first looked at Austin, I did not know if he could be my quarterback,” Gordon said. “All three of my previous quarterbacks eventually played in college. But Austin taught me again to not judge a book by its cover.
“He’s a smart kid. He understands that he learns from his mistakes.”
Wallis has taken firm control of the Lancers’ offense. La Salle is off to perhaps its greatest start in school history, going 6-0 after winning only one game in the previous two seasons.
“I’ll be honest,” Wallis said of last year. “The game speed was a little fast for me. Now I feel comfortable out there.”
The senior has helped the Lancers amass 297 points. That’s a 49.7 points-per game clip. La Salle, which plays its second Del Rey League game against Mary Star of the Sea on Friday night at San Pedro’s Daniels Field, has scored 50 or more points three times this season.
“Our defense has been putting us in great field position,” he said. “We have a great offensive line. It gives me time and sets up our running backs.
“I just dedicated myself to this season a lot. The scheme of things has simplified. The game has slowed down a bit because I kind of have an idea of what the defense is going to do.”
It’s an amazing turnaround for a program that has not won a league title since 2007 and not finished with a winning record since ’06.
“The thing about Austin is that if you teach him once, or if he makes a mistake once, he doesn’t make it twice,” Gordon said. “You can see that in his turnovers. He has (10) touchdowns and no turnovers.”
Gordon and Wallis said that coach Willie Tuitama, who played quarterback at Arizona, has helped. Wallis does not have to play defense, so he can discuss situations while the Lancers’ defense goes to work.
He said he always dreamed of this type of start, but never realized it could happen.
“I think we’re playing as a team right now,” he said. “Everybody is playing for each other and no one is playing selfishly. It is all rubbing off. We’ve done a lot of team things together and you play a little harder when you’re playing for the guy next to you.”
Wallis’ idea of success changed during the last baseball season. For the first time, the Lancers won a season series against Bishop Amat and the league title.
“I think realizing if we really come together as a team and play together, that everything is possible,” he said. “Going into last year, we never thought we could beat Amat. We came together as a team and said, `Hey we can do this.’ ”
Wallis has completed 48 of 73 passes for 805 yards and nine TDs this year. He has not thrown an interception. He has also rushed for 71 yards and a score.
“I felt if we could just buy into what the coaches were saying, we could achieve it,” he said. “I always wanted to start the season 6-0, but actually achieving it is an awesome thing.”
He is not reading the entire defense, which he says has helped his game.
“He’s reading the field real well,” Gordon said.
“Instead of trying to read the whole field, I’m reading only a few players,” Wallis said. “That makes it simpler. We have really talented receivers. I can throw it out there and they can go out and get it.”
Wallis has completed an amazing 81.8 percent (9 of 11) passes twice this season, in a 47-30 win over Westchester and a 65-7 Del Rey League-opening win over Verbum Dei. He threw for season highs of 170 yards and four TDs against Verbum Dei.
Wallis did not start playing tackle football until he entered high school; he said his parents wouldn’t let him.
“My first hit, it was in my mouth,” he recalled. “I was not used to that. I said, `What was going on?’
“Baseball is my first love, but I just love the bond football has. I enjoy both sports, but right now, I like football better. Whatever season I’m in, I like better.”
He batted .296 last season and was the No. 2 starting pitcher on the baseball team, going 6-4 with a 2.19 ERA.
He was the starting quarterback on the JV team his sophomore year, a team that went 6-0 in league play.
But last year was a different story. He passed for 1,112 yards, but was sacked so many times that he finished with minus-59 yards rushing.
“Last year was especially frustrating because we had good players,” he recalled. “We did not know what was going on. The last couple of years, there was no doubt among us that we would win, but there was doubt among the people outside of us. We knew as a family we could do it.”
Wallis and the Lancers are certainly proving there was no doubt now.