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Fresh off a June commitment to Washington, Jake Haener locks in for a big year with the Mustangs Story by CHACE BRYSON | Photos... Pony Express

Fresh off a June commitment to Washington, Jake Haener locks in for a big year with the Mustangs

Story by CHACE BRYSON | Photos by PHIL WALTON

It’s 1:15 on a late June afternoon and the near-100 degree heat is radiating off of the Mustangs Stadium turf on the Monte Vista High campus in Danville.

As many as 45 members of the 2016 varsity football team have gathered for a short practice prior to heading to the weight room for an afternoon lift. Later in the evening, many will head to Dougherty Valley High for some 7-on-7 competition.

The players have finished stretching and senior quarterback Jake Haener breaks away with the rest of the skill players to get some throws in. The line of pass-catchers is about 15 players deep, and after about one and a half times through the line, Haener slows his pace some. Mustangs all-league linebacker Nate Landman takes the opportunity to spell his quarterback and starts throwing to some guys.

Says one receiver, “What are you throwing for, Nate?”

Landman replies, “I don’t want Jake to kill himself because we have 100 receivers on this team. Plus, nobody else has a gun like this.” And he wings another — truth be told, a decent — spiral at a teammate running a crossing pattern 15 yards downfield.

Haener laughs and returns to action, making precision throws on a variety of routes — silently showing that touch is equally important to having the gun. As the warm-up concludes and the team shifts into some 7-on-7 work, Haener showcases sharp throw after sharp throw as he works with guys toward developing the offensive timing that makes the Mustangs spread offense so dangerous.

This is where Haener has pined to be since he was 9-years old. That’s when he first put on pads for the San Ramon Valley Thunderbirds, and after practices on the lower fields of the Monte Vista campus, would walk up to the stadium to watch the ends of the varsity practices. He was told by the late T-Bird coaches Leo Hartford and Todd French that he was going to be a quarterback, and he latched on and didn’t let go.

“When I was 9 and 10 I’d come to games here and watch Brett Nottingham play,” Haener said of the Mustangs 2010 graduate who threw for 45 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 yards his senior year before going on to play at both Stanford and Columbia. “I always wanted to be that ‘next’ Monte Vista quarterback. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet that I’ve become the next one now.”

Now about to begin his third year as the starting quarterback, with a talented nucleus around him, Haener is more than set up to put up the same kinds of numbers Nottingham did when he was the East Bay’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2009. In fact, he flirted with such stats as a junior. After throwing 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a sophomore in 2014, Haener took a large jump in 2015 as he threw for 3,005 yards and 35 TDs. More impressive, he completed 65 percent of his throws and threw just six interceptions in 321 pass attempts.

“He’s always been a mature kid, but his approach on the field has become much more professional,” Monte Vista coach Craig Bergman said of Haener’s growth over the past two seasons. “The older he’s got, the more he’s studied. The kid loves football. He can’t watch enough film and he can’t throw enough balls. We have to sometimes tone it down a bit for him and make sure he doesn’t out-do himself.”

Haener’s drive is fueled by what some presume to be his one shortcoming — his height. Just six-feet tall, Haener has been hearing he’s too short for the position for as long as he’s played it.

“I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder,” Haener said. “That’s just something that keeps me going.”

Haener kept on going after his junior season. His summer included qualifying for the finals of the national Elite 11 Quarterback Camp. And on Father’s Day, he orally committed to a scholarship offer from the University of Washington. In addition to being the alma mater to both his mom and grandfather, Haener was undoubtedly drawn to the Huskies because of coach Chris Peterson — an offensive-minded coach who gained notoriety when he built Boise State into a powerhouse by recruiting talented players who many believed were (wait for it) too small.

“The coaches that do a great job of recruiting, they look at a football player,” Bergman said. “They don’t look at the numbers. They look at can that kid make plays. Chris Peterson has been doing it for a long time, and at Boise State he made a living off of kids who were told they were too slow, not big enough and not tall enough. … He saw the same things in Jake.

“He doesn’t care how tall Jake is. He knows Jake can throw the football. He knows Jake is a competitor. He knows Jake is a leader. And I think their gain will be everybody else’s loss.”

In the meantime, Bergman and Monte Vista are looking forward to one last season with Haener behind center. There’s plenty of optimism surrounding a team which has a good amount of experience returning. The team will need to replace its top receivers from 2015, Noah Sol and Traehone Banda, who both graduated after combining to catch 28 touchdowns. However, having Erik Krommenhoek, a USC-committed, third-year tight end is a good start.

“It’s been a little bit of transition,” Krommenhoek said. “We’re really starting to come together and I think we’re going to be a pretty good team. There’s a lot of guys coming back and some good guys coming up from JV.”

And if there’s one thing the tight end knows he doesn‘t have to worry about, it’s his quarterback.

“He’s confident. He knows the play. He makes sure everyone knows what they’re doing,” Krommenhoek said of Haener. “If somebody doesn’t know something, he makes sure they know. … We’ve played together a long time and were on the T-Birds together. I know we can trust him.”

Haener is now officially the next quarterback in a long line of noteworthy Mustangs graduates that includes Kyle Wright, Drew McAllister, Nottingham and Jeff Lockie. Wright was the last to lead Monte Vista to a North Coast Section title, a 3A East Bay title before the NCS realigned its postseason and before the school’s enrollment eventually placed it in the same division as De La Salle.

With a new Open Division debuting in the NCS playoffs this season, new postseason opportunities may exists for the Mustangs. Haener will first focus on getting the Mustangs back to the top of the East Bay Athletic League.

“I’ve waited for this,” he said. “I wanted to make a college decision early so I could put all my focus on the team for my final year. I’m ready to tear it up.”

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