On Tuesday’s PrepXtra Live, I picked Gladstone to take the reigns from four-time Montview League champ Azusa, who is still Aram’s top choice in the Montview. Who’s yours?
STORY: Kevin Amezquita might be the best quarterback in the Valley nobody’s heard of. The Gladstone High School senior is making plays with his arm and legs, but the Gladiators often get lost in the shuffle with the Bishop Amats, Charter Oaks and West Covinas of the area. Not anymore.
Gladstone, thanks to Amezquita, has zoomed to a 3-0 start and will be looking for more when it visits La Puente on Friday in a battle of two teams with designs on knocking Azusa from its perch atop the Montview League. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
“People are finally recognizing that we’re a legitimate team this year,” Amezquita said. “We’re all going 100 percent every day and just leaving it all on the field.”
The Gladiators certainly left it all on the field last Friday when they outlasted El Monte 68-66 in a three-overtime thriller. Amezquita scored on a bootleg during a two-point conversion to give his team its final margin of victory. Prior to that, he had to lead Gladstone back from being 14 points down with just over four minutes to play in regulation.
The win over El Monte has sent Gladstone into a frenzy. The Gladiators are being recognized as winners by their peers on campus and are confident that what lies ahead over the next seven weeks of league play could send them into the CIF-SS Northwest Division playoffs with a league championship under their belts.
“Our fan base is coming back a little bit,” Amezquita said. “It feels really good when people see you and say `Oh, you had a great game the other day.’ It feels like football season unlike the past when we were 3-7 or 5-6.
“Everyone is just getting on board now.”
The recent past hasn’t been kind to Gladstone, and Azusa’s rise appeared to correspond with Gladstone’s fall. The Gladiators were 3-7 last year and 5-6 the year before. The 2010 season is when Amezquita made his debut as a sophomore and promptly broke his collarbone in the first game of the season against Covina. He came back at the end of the year to face Azusa and Monrovia, both blowout losses.
Amezquita started all of last season and threw for 1,331 yards. He had more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (six) and certainly didn’t register on anybody’s radar as one of the top quarterbacks in the Valley. But the light obviously went on between now and then.
Amezquita has thrown for 481 yards and six touchdowns to just three interceptions this season. He’s also added another element to his game by running the ball. Amezquita is averaging 116 yards per game rushing and already has run for five scores.
With a weapon like that, it’s no wonder Gladstone is looking like a league favorite.
“I think it’s not just me, but my team and how we’ve matured as a team,” Amezquita said of his form reversal. “I feel like I’m a better passer, but I can make plays with my feet. I tried to increase my speed and size in summer, so I could extend my runs. I’ve broken a lot of tackles this year.”
As good as he is, football isn’t Amezquita’s first love. It’s baseball, in which Amezquita is an all-league shortstop/pitcher. Baseball is what Amezquita will pursue after high school, but he knows football is where the fame is found, at least for now.
In order to keep it going, the Gladiators will have to beat La Puente on Friday. It’s the same La Puente senior class that beat Gladstone’s senior class with a goal-line stand for the league title when they were freshmen.
“We know that if we play how we know how to play, we’ll come out on top,” Amezquita said. “The 3-0 is in the past now and everybody’s got a clean slate.
“We’re going to try and take our momentum into league and show everybody it’s not a fluke.”