By Aram Tolegian, SGVN
Junior quarterback Koa Haynes has been a key contributor this season for Bishop Amat (2-0-1), which visits Charter Oak for a huge nonleague game Friday night. (Keith Birmingham)
The reasons are several for the Bishop Amat High School football team’s success this season.
One game it’s the defense. The next game it’s the offense. Some games, it’s both. And the Lancers’ star power has been out in force thanks to players like running back Dionza Blue, receiver Darren Andrews and defensive stalwart Sal Velasquez.
But perhaps the biggest and most consistent force has been junior quarterback Koa Haynes. Whether it’s been coming up with the big pass at key times or a clutch run to get a first down and keep drives going, Haynes has done it. And for that reason, Amat (2-0-1) is the top-ranked team in the area heading into Friday’s game at No. 2 Charter Oak (2-0).
“I’m not surprised because I worked pretty hard in the offseason and I knew it would all pay off,” Haynes said of his hot start. “I would come to school on off days with my dad and work on routes with receivers. The game has definitely slowed down for me this year compared to last year.”
Last year, Haynes was pressed into action in interesting and precarious situations. He started the season opener against Garfield and played the entire first half when starter Rio Ruiz was suspended. Later in the season, Haynes found himself under center against Loyola when Ruiz was injured during the game. The following week, he had to start on the road against Notre Dame with a playoff spot on the line.
For the most part, Haynes struggled. But one offseason full of preparation later, he’s arguably the top quarterback in the area.
It started with a smashing performance in Amat’s Week 0 rout of Servite. Haynes threw for 157 yards and three touchdowns, and added another on the ground. The light had officially gone on.
“I had been doing so well during summer and hell week, and our whole team was, but we really didn’t have a real test because we only had one scrimmage,” Haynes said. “Our first test was going to be against Servite and we showed that we were well prepared.
“I had lots to prove to everyone, but I don’t really think of it as pressure. I thought of it as motivation. I had a pretty good feeling that I was going to do well.”
Haynes’ strong performance carried over into Amat’s 48-48 tie with Chino Hills. He threw for 282 yards and two scores in the shootout, including the game-tying touchdown with just seconds left.
Against La Mirada, Haynes again proved to be the difference with his heady play and ability to beat teams with both his arm and legs.
But now comes a different test in the vaunted Charter Oak defense, which is loaded with speed and hoping to put the clamps on Amat’s offense.
“They’re fast, very athletic and well-coached,” Haynes said of Charter Oak. “I think this will be the fastest team we’ve played this year. I think it will be a different kind of challenge in terms of speed-wise.”
For Haynes, a Covina resident, the game has special meaning. He was in the same Covina Vikings Junior All-American program as Charter Oak starters Donavin Washington and Aaren Vaughns. He even considered going to Charter Oak, but decided on Amat after attending Lancers games while in junior high school.
“We’re two teams that are very similar,” Haynes said. “We’ve got lots of friends who go to Charter Oak and know a lot of people who go there. It’s a crosstown rivalry. Simple as that. But once you get on the field, everything’s business.”
The good news for Amat fans is that Haynes is only a junior, and there’s no telling what heights he could take Amat to this season and/or next. But if what he’s shown so far is any indicator, the Lancers are in for one special ride.
“A lot of it is going to be related to him and how he develops and continues to get better,” Amat coach Steve Hagerty said. “But knowing him, I would suspect there’s a lot of certainty because he does work hard. All those leadership things are there.
“It’s really hard to project, but at the same time we have every reason to believe it will happen because his mental makeup is far ahead of what most juniors are in high school.”