University of Washington quarterback Jake Browning and USC linebacker Cameron Smith have more in common than being All-American candidates and coming from high schools in the Sacramento area who were on teams that won CIF state championships.
“We played against each other for the first time when I think we were 8,” said Browning during this year’s Pac-12 Conference Media Days in late July in Hollywood.
“I got a chance to hang out a little with Jake the last two days,” said Smith, who also appeared at the same event. “I’m excited for him for this season. Our high school teams had a local rivalry that maybe got built up more than it needed to be.”
Browning, of course, was the record-breaking quarterback of all record-breaking quarterbacks during his three years at Folsom (2012-2014). As a senior, he tied the national record with an astounding 91 touchdown passes and had a state record of 5,780 yards. The Bulldogs also went 16-0, won the CIF Division I state title and set a national scoring record with more than 900 points.
Folsom did not go to the CIF Open Division in 2014, however, due to suffering two losses in 2012 and 2013 to De La Salle of Concord in the CIF NorCal Open Division playoff. In 2014, there was no such game so the two teams didn’t play, necessitating the Spartans (also unbeaten) just being selected for the Open Division while Folsom had to win a NorCal Div. 1 regional game against Grant of Sacramento before hammering Oceanside 68-7 in the state final.
Smith was a sophomore starting linebacker on a Granite Bay team in 2012 that won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title despite starting 1-3 while playing a difficult preseason schedule. The Grizzlies didn’t play Folsom because the Bulldogs won the Div. 2 section title with an unbeaten record that year, then moved up to the Open Division to take a crack at De La Salle. While Folsom lost in that game 49-15, Granite Bay went to the NorCal Div. 1 bowl game where it defeated St. Ignatius of San Francisco and then edged Long Beach Poly 21-20 for the state crown.
“My sophomore year at USC was the same as in high school,” Smith said. “We started 1-3 and then won a championship.”
It also was the same last season in college in the sense that Browning’s team went to the Open Division, in this case the NCAA College Football Playoff where it lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Alabama, while Smith’s team went to the Rose Bowl and posted a come-from-behind 52-49 win over Penn State.
Both players became leaders of their respective college units — Browning for the Huskies’ offense and Smith for the Trojans’ defense — before the end of their sophomore seasons, accomplishments that are doubly difficult in high-profile programs like Washington and USC. To say that both are All-American candidates might be an understatement. They’re on watch lists for all of the major college football awards.
Both players also said they enjoyed spending some time at home before starting the long grind of daily practicing to prepare for the two teams’ season openers. The Huskies begin Sept. 1 at Rutgers while the Trojans start Sept. 2 at home against Western Michigan before a huge matchup on Sept. 9 against Stanford.
“When I go back, to my friends there, I’m not football Jake,” Browning said. “In Folsom, I’m just Jake, the kid they grew up with.”
In preseason national rankings, USC has been as high as No. 2 behind Alabama while the Huskies have generally been between No. 8 and No. 10. They were easily 1-2 in the Pac-12 preseason media poll.
The two teams don’t play in the regular season this year since Washington is in the Pac-12 North and USC is in the Pac-12 South, but they met last season when the Trojans handed the Huskies their first loss. A dream matchup, of course, would be to have both preseason favorites go unbeaten and then play each other for the Pac-12 Championship on Dec. 1 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
And how about an even dreamier finish for that matchup? Washington needs to score with seconds left to pull out the win and gets down inside the 5-yard line. Browning is at the controls and rolls out to pass. Smith is reading it the whole way and here he comes.
If you’re from Folsom, you know how it ends. But if you’re from Granite Bay, your ending goes a bit differently.