By Steve Ramirez, Staff Writer
Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. Arroyo High School football coach Jim Singiser did last year, and now his decision is paying dividends. The Knights, who were just 3-8 last year, have broken out from the gate quick, winning their first two games, and are ranked No. 3 in this week’s CIF-Southern Section Mid-Valley Division poll. The big reason for the resurgence is the Knights’ vertical game, led by sophomore quarterback Steven Rivera, who started as a freshman, and senior receiver Chris Rodriguez.
Both have played a key part in the Knights’ 2-0 start and a passing offense that’s seen Arroyo average just over 200 yards per game.
“Both of these kids are everything you can ask from a player,” Singiser said.
“Every coach would want guys like these two. They are really good kids, both on and off the field, good students and they love playing the game.”
They also play it very well. Rivera has completed 22 of 41 passes for 434 yards and six TDs to lead the Knights to a 27-24 victory over Temple City in week one and a 27-9 win over Northview last week. Rodriguez, a All-Mid-Valley Division defensive back last season, has seven receptions for 229 yards and four TDs. He’s also run for a TD.
But the main factor in the Knights’ success can be traced back to last season when Singiser bucked the norm and gave the keys to his offense to then-freshman Rivera.
“Our choices were, we could have gone to someone with more experience, but who would never develop,” Singiser said. “We could go that route to get us through the season, or roll the dice and let someone younger get his feet wet.
“So far, it’s paid off. (Rivera) hasn’t thrown any interceptions (this season) and makes good decisions. I’m not sure he would have matured like that if we didn’t take this chance.”
Rivera, who threw for just 537 yards and five TDs last year, is certain he wouldn’t be this far along if Singiser hadn’t shown that type of confidence in him.
“It’s helped a lot,” Rivera said. “Eleven games under your belt for a sophomore, that’s pretty good.
“I got called up and just had to do what I could do. It made me want to study the playbook harder, watch more film, get my mechanics down and get better, especially for this season.”
It’s also allowed Rodriguez to develop a certain chemistry with Rivera that’s always crucial for quarterbacks and a good vertical passing game. The senior already showed it early this year when the team rallied to beat regional rival Temple City. Rodriguez, with the game on the line, turned a short pass into a 92-yard catch- and-run for the game-winning TD on the final play.
“I just saw (Rivera) get flushed in the pocket,” said Rodriguez, who had 252 all- purpose yards in that game and scored four TDs.
“He directed me across the field, I caught the ball, ball’s in the air and I just wanted it. It ended up being a big play in the game.”
But it’s those type of plays that Rodriguez has shown he can make offensively and defensively. He showed it on the defensive side last season, earned All-CIF as a defensive back.
“He ended up being All-CIF at defensive back because he is a very good athlete,” Singiser said.
“His best position is at receiver, but when we brought up Steven, and he wasn’t going to get the ball much as (Rivera) got up to speed, it was like (Rodriguez) said, `OK, I’ll just do what I can on the other side of the ball.’
“He’s just that dedicated.”
Both are, and that’s been critical for both, who are expecting big things this season. But the duo and the rest of the Knights, who face Claremont this week and undefeated Walnut next week, also know that the Mission Valley League championship will not be decided after two weeks.
“We just have to continue to get better, and come out and play harder, like we always do,” Rivera said. “Hopefully everyone can stay healthy.
“We’ll just come out and play as one, and hopefully continue to win.”
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