As Folsom’s Jake Browning is about to add the all-time state career touchdown pass record to his growing resume of accomplishments, we thought we’d present an inside look at him through the eyes of opposing defensive backs from our partners at SPORTSTARS Magazine.
Note: For the updated state record lists in both major career passing categories going into the second weekend of the 2014 season, CLICK HERE.
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By JIM McCUE | SportStars Magazine
Numbers don’t lie.
The truths told by the numbers put up by Folsom quarterback Jake Browning in his first two years under center might seem like a fish story to someone that has not witnessed the signal-caller pass for more than 11,000 yards after just one game of his senior season.
The eye-popping statistics — back-to-back 5,000-yard seasons, state single-season records for yardage (5,737) and touchdowns (75), connecting on more than 70 percent of 1,184 passes thrown with just 33 of those tosses intercepted, and a career 126.6 passer rating — have translated into a 28-2 record in which the only two losses came against nationally renowned De La Salle-Concord.
The numbers, and the sight of the University of Washington commit standing ready to receive a shotgun snap, can translate into awe or fear for opposing defensive players and coaches.
“I think that sometimes his stats and ability can intimidate a defense and make teams feel like they have to do too much,” said Drew Lackowski, a defensive back for rival Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills. “When you watch him and look at his numbers, you think that there is no way you can stop him.”
Only De La Salle has been able to stop Browning, and very few teams have succeeded in even containing the Bulldogs’ offense. Oak Ridge accounted for five of Browning’s 17 interceptions in 2013 with Lackowski picking him off three times, but the Trojans could not stay within 30 points of Folsom in two meetings.
In three career head-to-head matchups with Oak Ridge, Browning has eclipsed 300 yards passing every game and thrown for 1,015 yards and 14 TDs. Despite extensive preparation and game-planning to keep Browning in check, the Trojans have yet to find the exact scheme to limit the quarterback’s effectiveness.
Oak Ridge head coach Eric Cavaliere and his staff hoped to pressure Browning and force him out of the pocket, but that did not result in defensive stops even when the plan worked.
“His offensive line does a great job of protecting him, but his ability to buy time and keep his eyes downfield is an underestimated strength of his,” the Trojans’ coach said. “Defenses have to get to him because he makes you pay for your mistakes.”
Browning’s immediate predecessors at Folsom — Dano Graves and Tanner Trosin — elevated the Bulldogs’ offense to new heights with their arms and legs, and raised the status and expectations of Folsom football to the highest level. Graves racked up rushing and passing yards in leading the Bulldogs to a Sac-Joaquin Section and state bowl championship in 2010 while Trosin became the state’s first-ever 5,000-yard passer to rush for at least 1,000 yards in the same season.
When Browning had immediate success — he threw for 689 yards and 10 TDs in his varsity debut against Woodcreek-Roseville — doubters immediately attributed the offensive outburst to the Folsom “system” installed by co-head coaches Kris Richardson and Troy Taylor.
Browning quickly backed up his first outing with a huge sophomore season in which he passed for 5,248 yards and 63 TDs, establishing himself as a unique catalyst for the Bulldogs’ prolific offense.
While many opponents and observers expected Folsom to continue its high-powered offense with a dual-threat QB, Browning bucked the trend by unleashing an impressive passing attack and leaving the running to his backfield mates. He will never be confused for the running QBs that preceded him at Folsom or be hailed as the next Johnny Manziel, but Browning has the legs to escape oncoming rushers on the rare occasion that someone sneaks past his sturdy offensive line.
“He is obviously a great passer, but I don’t think that he gets enough credit for his athleticism,” said Del Oro-Loomis coach Casey Taylor, whose Golden Eagles will get their first on-field look at Browning this year in the realigned Sierra Foothill League. “He doesn’t run a lot, but he has the ability to scramble and make big plays when he needs to.”
Folsom’s offensive line returns numerous starters to protect Browning, including Arizona commit Cody Creason, and the big blockers up front understand that they need to provide a safe pocket and a little bit of time for their quarterback to be successful. Browning’s ability to read defenses and survey the field has been an evident asset, even when he was just getting started at the varsity level.
“When I was looking at him on film as a sophomore, I was amazed at how he went through his progressions so quickly and efficiently,” said Shaunard Harts, a former NFL safety and Elk Grove defensive coach. “You just don’t see that from quarterbacks at this level.”
Teammate Jake Morgado has witnessed Browning’s greatness since the pair earned spots on the varsity team in 2012. Browning edged then-senior Taylor Miller-Wing for the starting spot right before the season started while Morgado has seen limited time in the defensive secondary in the last two seasons. Morgado, though, has had a unique perspective on the evolution of Jake Browning and the Bulldogs’ offense from his duties as a defensive back on the scout squad in 2012 and 2013.
“The hardest thing for me as a defensive back has always been his accuracy,” said Morgado, who will be catching balls from Browning as a receiver in his senior season. “Even when I had the receiver completely locked up, he would put it right in the place where the receiver could get it and I couldn’t.”
Browning’s accuracy has been a strength often mentioned by opposing players and coaches. He completed a solid 65 percent of his passes as a sophomore before improving to an amazing 76 percent completion percentage in his junior campaign. At the heart of the accuracy is a quick mind that goes through the progressions to find the right receiver to throw to on a given play.
“He is the most decisive quarterback I’ve ever played against,” said Elk Grove safety Shaunard Harts Jr., a senior considered one of the best defensive backs in the section. “He rarely makes bad choices.
“He is really at a skill level above anything that I have seen or played against.”
Browning’s skill level has translated into video game-like numbers, but his success comes from much more than just pressing a simple Start or Reset button on a controller.
The Folsom quarterback is a student of the game who constantly strives to be better.
“He definitely works the hardest and watches film all the time,” Folsom senior defensive end and offensive lineman Sam Whitney said. “I can’t remember the last lunch where he didn’t go in and watch film with Coach Taylor.”
That pursuit of perfection is what will likely vault Browning to the top of the state’s greatest quarterbacks of all time — at least according to the numbers in the Cal-Hi Sports state record book — and keep opposing defenses on their toes as Folsom’s offense powers on.
“He is a defense’s worst nightmare,” Morgado said. “Prepare and watch his film as much as you want, but Jake and the rest of the team just keep evolving.”
With the team’s continued evolution, the numbers will just keep growing. And that’s no lie.
Jim McCue covers CIF Sac-Joaquin Section schools for SportStars Magazine. Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports