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Matt Jimison, Ian Book and Jake Browning comprise a motherlode of young QB talent along Hwy. 50   By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor...

Matt Jimison, Ian Book and Jake Browning comprise a motherlode of young QB talent along Hwy. 50

  By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor

  Back in the Gold Rush days, people came to Sierra foothill towns in search of gold to make their fortune. Now, people come to towns such as Folsom and El Dorado Hills seeking its latest commodity — premier high school quarterbacks.

  While there may no longer be much gold left in them thar hills, there is a trio of young quarterbacks that have become the gold standard for signal-callers. They all have impressive statistics and a penchant for winning. Juniors Jake Browning of Folsom and Matt Jimison of Vista del Lago-Folsom, and sophomore Ian Book of Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills have made the Highway 50 corridor a gold mine for college recruiters seeking the next big thing for their high-powered offenses.

  “Around here, football is a big deal,” Browning said. “The area is set up where you can get better with the resources available. There are plenty of outlets to get better like passing academies, and the coaches are great.”

  All three were connected before they earned their spots on varsity, and were familiar with each other’s backgrounds. Browning was in the Junior Trojans program (Oak Ridge’s feeder program), making him known by the Book family having played against Ian’s older brother, Nolan, who is also a junior. Browning and Jimison played together on Folsom’s freshman football team before Jimison moved to Vista del Lago.

  They built relationships and became familiar with each other’s accomplishments. “I think that there is a lot of mutual respect between the three of us,” Jimison said. “Jake and I talk a bit and I am just getting to know Ian more, and he seems like a good guy.”

  Browning has received the most attention from outside of the community due to his record-breaking sophomore season. He burst onto the scene with a 689-yard, 10-TD debut to earn regular mention throughout the state and the nation via outlets such as Cal-Hi Sports and MaxPreps.

  While the monster season opener put Browning on the radar, it was his steady performance week in and week out that kept him in the spotlight, and placed him on every college recruiter’s schedule for the 2013 season.

  “Jake has a consistency that you don’t see in a lot of guys,” Folsom co-head coach and quarterback guru Troy Taylor said. “It reminds me of the consistency and demeanor of guys like Tom Brady.”

  “When he opened up his first game as a sophomore with 10 touchdowns, you never would have known during or after the game if he had thrown 10 touchdowns or 10 interceptions.”

  Browning finished his sophomore campaign with 5,268 yards passing, shattering the state record set the previous season by Tanner Trosin, his predecessor at Folsom. If he maintains his current pace for passing yardage and touchdown passes, he will shatter his own record and set a new scoring mark for California as the Bulldogs are expected to advance deep in the Sac Joaquin Section playoffs. The potential for career records in the state and nation are certainly within range.

  But the junior insists that numbers and records don’t motivate him. Wins do.

  “Right now, all I am thinking about is how we can beat Sheldon,” Browning said in the week before the Bulldogs routed the Huskies 80-27. He threw for 330 yards and 5 TDs before Folsom went to a run-only offense. “I just focus on staying within the offense every game and sticking with what has been successful for the team.”

  Browning has been blessed with very good pass protection, and will never be confused for past Folsom quarterbacks such as Dano Graves and Trosin, who were as dangerous with their legs as they were with their arms. But, opponents have found out that Browning’s skill-set goes beyond being a simple pocket passer.

  “What impresses me about Jake is his ability to extend plays,” Oak Ridge head coach Eric Cavaliere said. “He gets good protection normally, but if it breaks down, he can get away and buy some time to find the open receiver.”

  Browning did just that on a couple of occasions against Oak Ridge, including a huge touchdown pass after a Fran Tarkenton-like scramble on a fourth-down play during the Bulldogs’ 35-0 win.

  “Experience has been the most valuable entity for Jake,” Taylor added. “Once he got out there and saw what the defenses looked like on the field in game situations, and what he needed to do to make his throws, he just got better.”

  “He does it all. He is very accurate, a great decision-maker, and is extremely committed. I think that he is the best quarterback in the country.”

  Jimison did not start until Week 3 in 2012, but still finished his sophomore season with 2,592 yards and 37 TDs. Impressive numbers for any quarterback over an entire season, but the Vista del Lago signal caller had a hard time getting attention for his big numbers in his own town.

  Sharing a home field with Folsom, the Eagles can easily get frustrated by being regarded as second best. But Jimison is building a resume that is getting him noticed by top-tier college programs already.

  Jimison’s prototypical frame, strong arm, game smarts and pocket mobility are opening eyes and building a successful program up the hill from Folsom High School. Despite the success, he is focused on improving on a solid start to his high school career.

  “I really want to get better every day,” Jimison said. “I worked hard to put on weight, get quicker with my blitz reads, knowing the offense inside and out, and being a leader.”

  Jimison is certainly a leader for the Eagles, and became an even larger focal point of the team’s high-powered offense when senior running back Josh Pfeffer tore his ACL and meniscus in the team’s second game this season. The quarterback is typically alone in the backfield as the sole outlet for Vista del Lago’s offensive output.

  In the Eagles’ most recent game, a 40-21 loss to Cosumnes Oaks, Jimison attempted 71 passes while throwing for a career-high 436 yards and three touchdowns. He recorded the team’s only three rushing attempts. He has already surpassed his 2012 yardage total and is near certain to eclipse the 37 TDs he threw as a sophomore.

  With an empty backfield creating an even bigger target on his back, Jimison understands that his scrambling ability will determine the offense’s success and his health.

  “I am always working to get better at extending the play,” Jimison said. “If you can move the pocket and escape, then you can open up the field a lot more to make plays.”

  Book has found himself in a similar position to that encountered by Browning and Jimison a year ago. The sophomore has been inserted into the huddle and asked to lead a group of older players with varsity experience. He has stepped in and stepped up to lead Oak Ridge to a 7-1 record.

  Ian’s brother Nolan, a junior offensive lineman, has provided a veteran voice for him in the huddle, and senior receivers Jacob Sipes and Justin Priest support the young QB with more than just catches. Sipes has been especially key in Book’s development after the senior yielded the quarterback position to his younger teammate after Sipes suffered an injury in the preseason.

  When Sipes went down, Book emerged as a capable starting quarterback by leading the Trojans to a passing camp league title in San Diego.

  “When we won the passing league, the team learned that we could win games with Ian as our quarterback,” Cavaliere said. “It also allowed us to use Jacob’s versatility at receiver, defensive back, and as a kick returner.”

  If Sipes won the starting quarterback job, his additional services would be lost, so Book earning the job boosted the Trojans’ offense, defense and special teams. And the youngster is beginning to find his way as a leader, too.

  “It has been a challenge,” Book said. “I am still working on that aspect of my game, doing my best to lead my team on and off the field.”

  All three underclassmen are leading their respective teams and affecting league and section playoff races. Folsom is favored to get another shot at the NorCal Open Division final while Oak Ridge could have something to say about it if the Bulldogs end up in the Division I playoff bracket. Vista del Lago has high hopes of returning to the Division III section final, where they came up just short against Oakdale in 2012.

  Behind each playoff run and State Bowl dream is a young quarterback working hard to lead his team. “I think that we are all pretty good kids that work hard and want the same thing,” Jimison said. “We are all willing to put in the time and effort to get it.”

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