By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer
Five years ago, the Covina High School football team was riding a high-flying offense led by a special quarterback and a stellar cast of skill players. The 2005 Colts, behind two-time Tribune Player of the Year Mike McDonough, went on a two-year run that earned them two Valle Vista League titles and two semifinals appearances. Something eerily similar is taking place right now on the corner of Hollenbeck and Puente, and at the center of it is junior quarterback Billy Livingston. (To continue, click thread).
Covina is 6-1, with Livingston putting up huge numbers just like McDonough did. The Colts are averaging 32 points per game. The 2005 team at this point was averaging 46 through seven games against a weaker schedule.
“That’s tough to say right now,” Covina offensive coordinator Joe Brown said when asked if this team might have similar success. “We’re still in the middle of the season. That ’05 and ’06 group was special. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Nobody will have to wait long. That’s because Covina will play its two toughest league games in the next three weeks.
The first comes Thursday against Baldwin Park, which already has toppled league champ San Dimas and might put a stranglehold on first place if it can do the same to Covina.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Covina District Field.
Much like the McDonough teams, Covina’s success starts with an offense that few teams can slow. Livingston is the distributor making it all happen, as evidenced by his 1,790 yards passing and 16 touchdowns.
It’s the same spread Brown ran when McDonough used his arm and legs to burn opposing defenses. With Livingston, though, the damage is mainly done with his arm.
“He has the arm and the ability, but it’s his decision-making skills that make him good,” Brown said of Livingston. “It was a bit different with McDonough. He was more instinct. He would see the open guy and get the ball to him. Billy will look at his pre-snap reads and have a pretty good idea what to do with it.”
Nobody’s mastered the art of pre-snap reads better than Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, so it’s no surprise that Livingston was in Louisiana in July learning from Manning at his quarterback camp. And not just Manning played a role in his development, but Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, too.
“I needed to perfect the little things,” Livingston said. “My dad wanted me to go (to Louisiana) because it was a great opportunity. It was too hot for me, but I got to see a lot different talent from around the country.
“McElroy was helping me on my release and actually really taught me quite a bit.”
Livingston became Covina’s starter in Week 4 last season after he came off the bench with Covina trailing 21-0 in the second quarter. It was obvious right away that he was something special. Livingston guided Covina to a 27-21 lead before the Colts ended up losing 34-27.
With an offseason of physical improvements in the weight room and mental improvements at various camps, Livingston has stamped himself one of the top throwers in a Valley loaded with talented arms.
Livingston fired two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to help Covina hand West Covina its only loss of the season in the opening game for both schools. Two weeks ago against Wilson, Livingston sat out the first quarter with a sprained foot. But once head coach Darryl Thomas put him in the game, Covina came alive and turned a 3-0 deficit into a 24-3 lead at halftime.
“He’s a product of hard work,” Thomas said. “He loves football. He loves the film work. He loves to study it and research. His favorite movies would probably be football movies.”
It’s obvious the numbers are going to be there for Livingston, but what will put him in McDonough’s class and his team on the same level as the ’05 and ’06 teams, are tangible results. And that starts with a league title, which probably won’t happen if Livingston can’t get his team past Baldwin Park on Thursday.
“They’re a really good team with some really good athletes,” Livingston said of the Braves. “We’re taking it one game at a time, and this week it’s Baldwin Park. That’s all we’re focusing on.”