LA VERNE – Peeking over his linemen at the defensive formations, Damien High school quarterback Danny Pertusati licked his fingers, took the snap, dropped back and delivered a perfect strike on cue.
Then he did it again and again.
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Another time he was forced out of the pocket and hit a receiver on the run.
Then he did it again and again.
It was just a practice on Monday in preparation for the Spartans’ season opener on Friday at Riverside Poly, but the senior being asked to replace Mark Mendrum, who threw for 2,080 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2006, was showing all the signs of a confident quarterback.
“I’ve been thinking about this since my freshman season,” Pertusati said. “I learned a lot from watching Mark play, and part of that was how he prepared.
“I did a lot of off-season training, lots of footwork and agility stuff, the same things that Mark did. Hopefully, I can be just as good as he was or a little better.”
Pertusati showed his promise as a freshman and sophomore on the lower levels, but completed only 7 of 14 passes as a junior.
Spartans coach Scott Morrison doesn’t equate that with inexperience, even though his senior is yet to make his first start behind center.
“First of all, he’s a smart kid and understands the position,” Morrison said. “It’s not like he hasn’t played under the lights before.”
As a safety, Pertusati had three interceptions last year and feels playing on the defensive side will help him take over at quarterback.
“There’s something to that,” Morrison said. “When you play a defensive position, you’re able to watch the quarterback from a different perspective. And knowing Danny, he’ll probably use some of that knowledge to his advantage.”
Pertusati knows there undoubtedly will be comparisons to his predecessor. The Spartans are returning after a 9-3 finish, a Sierra League title (5-0) and a second-round appearance in the CIF-SS Inland Division playoffs.
The 6-footer also has a pair of talented receivers at his disposal in Taylor Herrera and Eric Bento but, as Morrison noted, comparisons to Mendrum just aren’t fair.
“Mark was a great athlete and Danny is a great athlete and that’s what we like in our quarterbacks,” Morrison said. “Danny is very capable of running our offense, but whether he has the kind of season Mark had is irrelevant, because we know Danny’s a great leader and he commands the huddle.”
Morrison also likes Pertusati’s toughness, which comes from being a hard-hitting free safety.
“You know you’ve got a great competitor when you have a kid willing to play hurt,” Morrison said. “You can’t play injured, but a tough kid will play hurt, not complain, and that’s Danny.
“We know how fast his feet are. We know how talented of an athlete he is and we know he can throw the football with authority and make plays on the fly. But when you can do that and be a leader and play with a toughness, those are the characteristics you want in your quarterback.”
But how much of a load will Pertusati be asked to carry?
Last year’s leading rusher, Chris Marine, has graduated, and senior Marcus Williams, who was expected to balance out the offense, broke his leg and is out for at least two months.
“We’ll be fine, but losing Marcus is a big deal,” Morrison said. “He was a senior and brought a lot of leadership qualities. He has made it a point to stick around and lead his teammates in different ways, but there’s no doubt he’s going to be missed.
“But that doesn’t mean that everything falls on Danny. Your program shouldn’t revolve around one guy. When someone goes down, everyone needs to pick up the slack and make up the difference. You have to rally around each other, and that’s what we’ve done.”
If the absence of Williams means Pertusati will be leaned on more than he originally thought, that’s fine with him.
“If I need to get outside or tuck and run, then that’s what I have to do,” Pertusati said. “But honestly, we’ve got guys in the backfield that will get the job done. (Sophomore Phillip) Saenz has done a great job and we’ve got a great offensive line to help us all out.
“I think people are going to be very surprised how well we do offensively. I know it looks like we’ve lost a lot, but we’ve got a lot of great guys ready to step in.”