FOLSOM, Calif. —
An innocuous brown cardboard box sits in the corner of Jake Browning
's family garage with various press clippings, awards and keepsakes.
"I haven't looked in there lately," he said. "I'll go through it when I'm older."
He better get a bigger box.
The shaggy-haired, low-key 6-foot-2 1/2, 193-pound Folsom
junior dropped the Gatorade State Player of the Year plaque in the box last week at the same time he broke his own state single-season record for passing yards, which now stands at 5,393 according to the CalHiSport Record book.
Two weeks before that he busted the single-season state touchdown record, now at 74, and with just 381 more passing yards and eight touchdowns he'll match state career marks.
Did we mention Browning is only a junior?
If he and Folsom (14-0) beat De La Salle (Concord)
in Saturday's 7:30 p.m. CIF North Region Bowl Open Division final at Diablo Valley College, he probably won't have to wait until his senior year to break them.
Then again, beating the Spartans, who haven't lost to a Northern California opponent since 1991 — a span of 249 games — and have won 39 straight overall seems rather unfathomable. But then, so are Browning's numbers.
Something will give.
"He's special," former De La Salle head coach and now assistant Bob Ladouceur said after the Spartans handed then-undefeated Folsom a 49-15 defeat in last season's Open Division final at Sacramento State. "I've watched a ton of film on him and he's really special."
And that was last season.
Browning, whose father Ed Browning started at quarterback for Oregon State in the early 90s, is an inch taller, 30 pounds stronger and at least a step faster since that defeat.
Under former Cal quarterback Troy Taylor's innovative spread attack, Browning is also another season more refined. Not that he needed a whole lot more seasoning.
"He was already a great quarterback, but you can see his maturity, especially in the pocket," De La Salle defensive coordinator Terry Eidson said. "He's a little more elusive and harder to bring down."
That's bad news for any foe, Eidson said, because "he just puts the ball on a line. He so accurate. There isn't a pass he appears to have trouble with. It's right in everyone's hands and they don't drop passes. ... He's the real deal."
Three of Folsom's receivers —Will McClure
(82 catches, 1,503 yards, 23 TDs), Josiah Deguara
(99, 1,319, 16) and Troy Knox
(86, 1,112, 14) — have been catching passes from Browning since the fifth grade when he joined the Taylor Passing Academy.
The high-octane system that Taylor and co-coach Kris Richardson, a former College Park-Pleasant Hill and DVC lineman, have built from the ground up has produced a 73-9 record since 2008 and gaudy numbers from other standout quarterbacks David Graves
, Dano Graves
and Tanner Trosin
Dano Graves accounted for 85 touchdowns, was the MaxPreps National Player of the Year
and led Folsom to a state title in 2010.
But Browning, unlike the others, is a pocket passer and a big-time recruit, who has already secured scholarship offers from Boise State, Washington, Colorado and more.
By the summer, pretty much every school in the country will be after him. His ability to stay ultra cool under pressure — a must for the great ones, Taylor said — and a "savant-like," ability to survey the entire field is what sets him apart.
"He'll be a great college quarterback," Taylor said. "But right now all he's focused on is getting better to help Folsom High School."
That, in part, is what makes Browning so special and well-liked and respected among teammates.
He's grounded, personable, deflects attention and has a keen sense of humor, Richardson said. None of his honors or keepsakes has changed him. His teammates wouldn't allow it anyway. They're all childhood friends.
"We all fight and joke and get along like brothers," Browning said. "We're practically family."
And they needle like brothers.
"They've been all asking him for Gatorade the last couple weeks," Richardson said.
His real family of six with whom he lives with, including a step brother who he shares a room, keeps Browning centered and grounded as well, he said. They don't let all the attention he's received go to his head, he said, which helps deflect any pressure he might feel also.
"I sleep very well at night," he said.
His dad never pushed him into football and or the position, but he did coach him. One of the best things dad taught was to "move on," and "man up," when he threw an interception or made a bad play. There was little coddling.
"I'd describe it as tough love," Jake Browning said. "But it was all good, all supportive."
It's helped him immensely cope with playing the position, widely regarded, with so many moving parts, as the toughest to excel in all of sports. It also demands, perhaps, the most work, which Browning and his teammates are happy to do.
"That's a reflection of our coaches," Browning said. "Coach Taylor is out here willing to work and train us every moment away from his family."
The passing schemes and route-running is built on repetition and memorization. Browning thrives on the details. That's largely why he loves playing quarterback.
"You have to be ultra-competitive, have a little piss and vinegar and be smart at the same time," Browning said.
The De La Salle loss last season definitely stung, he said, and left he and his teammates humbled. It's the only loss of his high school career. He was sacked six times — Folsom had allowed only nine its previous 14 games — and pressured into three interceptions. It helped Browning and the Bulldogs focus immediately on getting better in all areas. In Browning's case, that meant getting bigger, stronger, faster and not forcing passes.
Like each play on the field, Browning has gone through progressions, refining each area. He probably would have done it anyway, but De La Salle fueled a more urgent effort.
"We got to see what the best looks like," Browning said. "And we prepared week-by-week to get to this point. And now we're here and ready to play our best. We'll need to."
He wouldn't say that he and his Bulldogs necessarily wanted a rematch with De La Salle, a team they have great respect for. But he did say "as a competitor, you always want to come back and beat the team that beat you."
Though easy going and fun, Browning is definitely a competitor. Much like his idols, he said, his father, Taylor and Richardson — nice gentlemen all. Browning doesn't idolize professional athletes but he definitely tries to model himself after the best, noting "the preparation of (Peyton) Manning, the competitive edge and fire of (Tom) Brady and accuracy of (Drew) Brees."
At the prep level, that's sort of what Browning resembles. He's thrown for 10,641 yards and 137 touchdowns in just 29 games, 28 of which are victories.
But Taylor and Richardson just want him to remain Jake.
"He's the same kid he was when we met him in the fifth grade," Richardson said. "We always knew he was special, but it was always a case of whether he'd get big and strong enough to be a big-time quarterback. He's certainly done that."
Now if he could just upgrade his cardboard box to a storage container.