CONCORD, Calif. - Zach Kline
isn't thinking so much any more. He's just playing football. Zipping the ball around. Having fun. And best of all, winning.
The San Ramon Valley (Danville, Calif.)
senior and Cal-bound quarterback is thoroughly enjoying his 2011 season after a rather mixed junior campaign, his first as a fulltime starter.
Shortly after accepting a full-ride from Cal coach Jeff Tedford in the team's season opener, the strong-armed 6-foot-2, 210-pounder struggled. He thought too much, said San Ramon Valley coach Mark Kessler. He tried to force passes with his big arm.
He finished with pedestrian numbers – 1,978 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Wolves, like his play, finished so-so at 7-6.
"I think he wanted to prove to Cal and prove to others that he earned that scholarship," Kessler said. "It might have hurt his production."
He finished strong, leading San Ramon Valley to a pair of playoff wins. But Kline admitted Wednesday: "I really had no idea what I was doing. I was guessing a lot of the time. … I just thought way too much. I needed to just do my best, have fun, roll with the punches and not stress so much."
A relaxed and confident Kline has been nearly flawless leading the fourth-ranked Wolves to a 6-1 mark. He's completed 114 of 166 (69 percent) for 1,857 yards and 21 touchdowns and four interceptions. His quarterback rating is 135. Last year it was 81.
He's more than living up to his large billing as the nation's No. 6 pro-style quarterback, according to MaxPreps/CBS recruiting expert Tom Lemming.
It was just as Kessler predicted.
"Down the stretch, he put together three really great games in a row," he said before the season. "I think that will set the tone for this season."
Kline said it's a combination of many areas to help with his numbers.
"I just know the game better and am more mature on the field," he said. "That and we have the best offensive line in the (East Bay Athletic League)."
He rattled off the linemen and their numbers like lotto numbers – sophomore center Dom Arotzarena
(6-0, 210), guards Alex Kim
(6-2, 240) and Shane Murphy
(6-1, 230), tackles Matt Fisher
(6-4, 255) and Jake Simonich
(6-6, 270) and tight ends Sean Miller
(6-3, 215) and Ryan Dunn
He noted that Arotgarena is one of the best 10th-graders in the state, that Fisher trained him and moved to tackle to help the team. He called Kim, who sports a 4.2 grade-point-average, "brilliant, a genius," and Murphy "just a great guard."
The massive Simonich "is just a beast."
He noted all his skill guys, like leading rusher Jordan Weiss
(514 yards, four TDs) and receivers Matt Turner
(35 catches, 522 yards), Patrick Worstell
(22-414-6), Michael Tagliaferri
(15-193-3) and Miller (19-388-6).
"Honest, I think we have the best offense in the state," he said. "But everything we accomplish offensively is because of our line."
Tonight at 7, Kline and the Wolves face the ultimate challenge at top-ranked De La Salle-Concord (6-1), which hasn't lost to a Northern California since 1991, a year before Kline was born.
De La Salle enters No. 11 in the state according to the MaxPreps Freeman rankings presented the by Army National Guard. San Ramon Valley is No. 40.
De La Salle defensive coordinator Terry Eidson agrees that Kline's supporting cast is greatly improved, especially on the line.
"He's got many more targets and compliments to work with," Eidson said. "He's always been good, but last year he was largely running for his life.
"As far as a quarterback, he's got everything a coach would love: he's strong, can throw on the run, got good feet and just a great arm. We have a lot to deal with."
The Spartans are awfully banged up, especially at running back. Their top three running backs have been out but they return Tiapepe Vitale
, who has a team-best 444 yards and five touchdowns.
The team's top back from last year Josephe Te'o
, who hasn't played this season, should be back next week and the program's top overall talent, Dasmond Tautalatas
will likely be ready for the playoffs.
"We'll be very, very good in about four weeks, but that won't help us now," Eidson said.
Nobody is sympathizing with the Spartans, too much. Not they way they've dominated the region for about three decades.
Plus they have Division I commits Bart Houston
(Wisconsin) at quarterback and Michael Barton
(Cal) at safety to go along with definitely DI kids Michael Hutchings
at linebacker and Anthony Williams
, a wide receiver and defensive back who many considered De La Salle's best all-around player.
Kline certainly doesn't appear in awe of the Spartans. He's just grateful for the challenge.
"This is an opportunity to be local legends," he said. "Every kid playing youth leagues around here knows about De La Salle and that you have to play about perfect to play with them. I promise you it's going to be agame, a tough game and we're prepared to duke it out with them to the very last second."