FOLSOM, Calif. -
The line is one thing, certainly. The receivers, the backs, the schemes all play myriad roles in a record-breaking passing assault this football season, too.
The arm, the poise, the skills of Jake Browning
? All vital, yes. And the X-factor, feel-good, food intake role? New ground here.
We might've discovered the key to the remarkable sophomore season that is unfolding for Folsom
quarterback Jake Browning: Bananas.
That's right. Greenish on the outside and wholesome inside, and in carrying with his new-found tradition, a banana a day may well continue to keep defenses at bay.
Before his first varsity start in the heat of August against Woodcreek (Roseville), Kelly Richardson, wife of Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson, noticed an anxious Browning pacing before kickoff. She handed him a banana and offered a reassuring smile and pat on the helmet.
Browning scarfed the fruit snack and then feasted on the Timberwolves. He passed for a Northern California record 689 yards and a national-record tying 10 touchdowns to buckle Woodcreek, 68-28.
Browning continues to devour all comers in stretching defenses designed to stall him.
Folsom takes its 13-0 mark into Saturday night's Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship game against 12-1 Elk Grove at Sacramento State, and a win there could present Browning and the boys with the ultimate challenge: national power De La Salle (Concord) in the first year of the Northern California Regional Bowl Games.
De La Salle hasn't lost to a NorCal foe since 1991.
With his offensive line providing flawless protection, and with a dizzying array of weapons to utilize, Browning has passed for 4,763 yards and 58 touchdowns. Some teams don't compile those numbers in five combined seasons.
"I'm telling you, it's the bananas," said Richardson, the epitome of a team mom. "After every game, we'll look at each other and say it. Banana."
Time to order up a new case of the goods, then.
Browning is fourth on the all-time state single-season passing list, according to Cal-Hi Sports, and he is likely to become just the second teenager in state history to eclipse 5,000 yards passing in a single season. The first was Tanner Trosin of Folsom last season.
The state record of 63 touchdowns by Robert De La Cruz of Cathedral (Los Angeles) in 1999 is also close to falling. Browning has already bettered the sophomore touchdown mark of 57 by Jimmy Clausen of Oaks Christian (Westlake Village) in 2004. It should be noted that De La Cruz is credited with 65 touchdowns in the NFHS record book.
It's almost ludicrous to fathom it, but at this rate, and with scores of talented players in the wings and bananas to be had, Browning could pass for some 15,000 career yards with 150 career scores. It's never been done in California, the most populated state in the land, and has been accomplished three times in national prep history.
Browning remains humbled by the moment but not wowed by it. He says with every ounce of sincerity that the only number he has paid attention to is this: His team's 13-0 record.
"It's the line that deserves the credit," Browning said. "They keep me upright. Without them, none of this happens."
Without Browning, none of it happens, to be sure. The Folsom front consists of Josh Wormley
, Mike D'Ottavio
, Reed Garmsen
, Dalton Bledsoe
and Cody Creason
. Those linemen take it personal if Browning is even touched. Wormley, a big personality in a large body who goes by "The Big Lovely," said, "if he gets sacked, it's on us. He doesn't get sacked much."
Browning has worked closely over the months with co-coach Troy Taylor, including detailed breakdown of film and mechanics. Still, Browning insists he is all teenager, smiles and social life on campus, too, even though he spends most of his lunch hour in the coach's office soaking up more about the game.
"I'm not a robot," Browning said with a laugh. "I do love to get better, though."
Taylor said Browning's upside is remarkable, as is his thirst to improve and his "drive for perfection." Taylor, in fact, has known Browning since the young man was in the fifth grade. Even then, they talked about mechanics and down-field plays. Too young to take on such dialogue in the fifth grade? Normally, yes, Taylor said. But Browning is anything but a normal quarterback.
Taylor is something of an expert on the position. He led Cordova High to the section's first 14-0 showing in 1985 when he became the section's first quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a single season. Taylor went on to set career passing marks that still stand at Cal. He also coached four seasons in Berkeley and pondered a career at that level but elected to raise a family and impact the high school game.
"Jake's incredible," Taylor said. "He's unfazed, very composed, has great anticipation. He avoids sacks, fits the ball in tight windows and has an extremely quick release. There's not a better player at any position in the section, and for us, if our quarterback doesn't play well, it's tough.
Everything goes through him. He holds the team in the palm of his hands."
While Trosin was leading Folsom back to the section D-II finals last season, Browning was leading a 9-0 freshman team. He alternated series with Matt Jimison, who left after the season for nearby Vista del Lago High in the newer part of Folsom to forge his own legacy.
Vista Del Lago (12-1) is in the Section D-III title game on Friday against Oakdale, with Jimison tossing 36 touchdown passes.
"It's crazy to think that I'd wind up the starter because there were five guys going for the job," Browning said.
What could become crazy is the flood of recruiting interest expected to come Browning's way. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, Browning has a frame that should add height and inches. And everyone understands the college recruiting theme that size and transcripts transcend all.
Browning sports good grades to go with his skills - and results.
Taylor said Pacific-12 Conference teams have already expressed early interest.
Folsom has been a quarterback factory in recent years with previous school record setters. Cary Grossart starts at Northern Arizona. He was replaced by David Graves, who is on scholarship at Hawaii. He was followed by brother Dano Graves, the MaxPreps National Player of the Year in 2010 when Folsom won the CIF State Division II championship.
Last season, Trosin accepted a ride to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
In that span, eight Folsom receivers have earned scholarships. The latest is senior Phillip Carter
, who has 35 catches for 643 yards and 11 touchdowns and also helps anchor a strong defense that includes linemen Chaz Arnold
and Quincy Capel
and linebacker leader Derek Stiles
Carter has given a verbal commitment to San Jose State.
Also for Folsom this season, there is leading receiver Troy Knox
, a junior (90 catches, 1,107 yards 13 scores) and senior Lucas Owan
(64, 1,195 and 10).
Browning doesn't lead Folsom in rushing like Dano Graves and Trosin, and he's just fine with that, as are his coaches. The Bulldogs have unleashed backs in Bailey Laolagi
(694 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns) and Harry Lipnosky
So, is it the system that helps Folsom quarterbacks flourish, or is it the player? It's both.
"We have a great system, an amazing style, and people sometimes think it's just a system," coach Richardson said. "To really make this offense work, you've got to have an amazing player at quarterback. He has to understand the protection, be smart, accurate. You can't just plug in any guy. You can't have an average line or your quarterback's going to really get hurt.
"Jake's a special one. He's done an amazing job. If he was a mediocre quarterback, we'd be exposed by now."
Team mom Richardson prepares and supervises the team meal each week. Pasta, meats, juices. And at least one banana for the quarterback.
"Let me tell you," Richardson said in good spirits, "if there was one banana left, and those linemen tried to fight me for it, including 'The Big Lovely,' I'd win. I'd beat them all. We have to feed our quarterback."The Folsom QB Factory:Folsom football passers by the numbers:
4 - Scholarship passers in a row for the Bulldogs
10 - Touchdown passes by Jake Browning in his varsity debut this season, tying a national record
75.2 - Completion percentage by Dano Graves in 2009, a national record.
82 - Total touchdowns in 2010 by Dano Graves, a state record
699 - Yards passing for Jake Browning in his debut this season, third-most in national history.
2010 - Year Dano Graves earned MaxPreps National Player of the Year honors
4,763 - Yards passing for Jake Browning this fall, fourth-most in state history.
5,185 - Yards passing for Tanner Trosin in 2011, a state record and eighth-most in national history.
6,364 - Total offensive yards by Tanner Trosin, a state record and third-most in national history.Joe Davidson has covered high school sports for The Sacramento
Bee since 1988. Follow him on Twitter: @SacBee_JoeD and on podcast:
ESPN1320.net and on sacbee.com
For more on Folsom football and how the Bulldogs have emerged as a powerhouse program, here is The Sacramento Bee story
Watch more videos of Folsom football