By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer
Tanner Diebold couldn’t ask for a better situation to start building his legend at Bonita High School. The sophomore quarterback, nicknamed “Sunshine” by his teammates because of his blonde hair, will make the first start of what he hopes will be a banner varsity career against archrival San Dimas in Thursday’s renewal of the Smudge Pot Game at Citrus College. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
“It’s going to be fun,” Diebold said. “I’ve thought about it, but I’m going to play like it’s any other game. I think I’m going to be a little nervous, but I’m going to try and block everything else out and just play. “Yeah, it’s going to be the first varsity game I’ve played. I’m going to try my best and do the best I can.”
Diebold led Bonita’s freshmen team to a 10-0 record last season. While he was doing that, the Bearcats varsity was busy marching all the way to the CIF-SS Southeast Division final under the guidance of senior quarterbacks Greg Spathias and Garrett Pendleton.
With those two now graduated, Diebold has inherited the position after narrowly winning a heated battle with senior Aaron Burgett, but Diebold’s initial foray into life under the lights as Bonita’s starting signal caller could be short-lived if he’s not yet up to the challenge.
“If one guy’s not doing well, we won’t hesitate to put the other guy in there,” Bonita coach Eric Podley said. “We expect him to do the job, and if he can’t, there’s another quarterback behind him.”
Quarterback wasn’t the only position at which the Bearcats were hit hard by graduation, but there’s enough returning talent at other spots to put together another good season. None of it, however, will come to fruition if Bonita can’t get at least adequate play out of its quarterbacks and that’s been the elephant in the room the entire offseason.
Diebold is well aware of this, and admits that the amount of weapons at his disposal should be an asset and make his job easier.
“We have a really good line, receivers and backs,” Diebold said. “It’s going to take some pressure off me, knowing that.”
Although Bonita’s coaching staff may be trying to shield Diebold from the hype of the Smudge Pot Game, it may be a losing battle, since last year’s environment is still etched in his mind. And that was only as a spectator.
“I didn’t really know how big it was until last year,” Diebold said. “I thought it was crazy – how loud it was, and there were so many people. That was before the season even started last year, so I didn’t even think about that I could be even playing in the game this year. I just thought there was a ton of people and it was super loud.”
Given Diebold’s age and lack of experience, it’s safe to expect that San Dimas’ defense will try to pressure the youngster and force him into mistakes.
Podley said that won’t dictate his play calling, though, and make Bonita conservative.
“We are what we are and we do what we do,” Podley said. “We expect our quarterbacks to go with that flow. He’s trained all spring, summer and fall camp with that.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher for Diebold. If he guides the Bearcats to a win over the Saints, he’ll be a hero on campus, and the rest of the season may be a downhill proposition for him.
For those reasons, Diebold isn’t expecting much in the way of rest the night before the game.
“I’m a really heavy sleeper,” Diebold said, “but that’s once I get to sleep.
“I don’t think I’m going to be able to fall asleep like normal.”