It’s Not The Headline-Grabbing Program From Folsom, But Vista Del Lago Football Is Thriving With A Backup Quarterback As League Showdown Looms •
When 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes went down with a dislocated kneecap on Oct. 17, the sporting world took notice. But few fans heard about Vista del Lago High quarterback Ayden Edwards’ injury during a similar play just a few weeks prior, although it also should have grabbed attention.
Alright, alright, comparing the NFL to the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Capital Athletic League is a bit of a stretch. Yet, for Vista del Lago, floating under the radar has been a several-year standard for Folsom’s so-called ‘other football team.’
Overshadowed by Folsom High’s tremendous section and CIF State Bowl successes, the Eagles have lived in obscurity. They’re used to it, despite playoff campaigns in five of the last six years under coach Mike Struebing. And hey seem to be hitting their stride for a deep postseason run.
Vista del Lago (8-1, 5-0 CAL) has a chance to step into its own spotlight this Friday. That’s when it faces SportStars’ NorCal No. 15 Capital Christian-Sacramento (7-2, 5-0) with the CAL title on the line. It’s a 7:15 p.m. kickoff at Capital Christian.
“(Folsom has) enjoyed a tremendous amount of success that I think everyone in the area would love to be a part of,” Struebing said. “But I can’t say I spend a lot of time comparing our two programs. If you spend time comparing what they’re doing to what you’re doing, you lose sight of what your kids are, and what you need to be working on.”
For Struebing, that focus has been on preparing his backup quarterback.
Prior to his season-ending injury, Edwards threw for 873 yards and 10 touchdowns during his team’s 3-1 start. He beat Cordova-Rancho Cordova and Ponderosa-Shingle Springs before dropping a close game to Placer-Auburn. A week later he sustained a broken collarbone in the Eagles’ game against El Camino-Sacramento.
In relief, senior Nik Goodwin hasn’t skipped a beat. He’s thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns, including four in an Oct. 25 win over Sacramento High.
“He’s got a heck of an arm,” Struebing said of his senior signal caller. “He can get it downfield and he’s tremendously athletic.”
Playing behind an improved offensive line compared to 2018, Vista del Lago is averaging over 400 yards and nearly 50 points per game since Goodwin took over. He’s surgically dissected defenses with a 67 percent completion rate.
“That goes to his preparation, and always preparing to be the guy, even when Ayden was the guy,” Struebing added. “I think he’s done a great job.
“He asks tremendous questions, and he won’t stop asking questions until he fully understands what you want. Some guys will nod as say, ‘yeah, yeah, I understand,’ and they don’t always. So to his credit, he’s worked tremendously hard to become the type of quarterback that he is.”
With a few years under his belt, Goodwin has the experience and maturity of an upperclassman. He also has a good understanding of what the offense is trying to attack from his time as a strong safety last year.
“I think that’s been extremely helpful. Especially coming from a safety spot, which is the quarterback of the defense,” Goodwin explained. “You know where everybody is, you know the responsibilities of the linebackers, the corners, my job, and there’s a lot of things a defense tries to do that you may not think of if you primarily play quarterback.”
Goodwin says that understanding has contributed to his ability to recognize defenses quickly, and attack the weak spots. The Eagles’ 8-1 record includes wins over Del Campo-Fair Oaks, Sacramento — and for the first time in four years —Christian Brothers-Sacramento.
Vista Del Lago trailed the Falcons 14-6 at halftime of that game, and nothing seemed to be going right for the team. But after the break, the defense stepped up and forced three turnovers and the offense scored a pair of touchdowns in the final three minutes to win 34-28.
“I’m really proud of the grit that the guys showed in that one,” Struebing said.
Struebing is a coach who’s willing to adjust to his players’ strengths, as has been the case with Goodwin. His offensive system has adapted over the years. Two seasons ago, running back Dominick Norris led the Sac-Joaquin Section in rushing with 2,227 yards rushing. The seventh-year coach thinks the same could be true of this year’s tailback Ethan Menezes.
“This year, I guess if we allowed him, Ethan would be pretty darn close to that,” he stated. “But there’s no need to put that amount of carries on his legs when we’ve got a second guy who’s tremendously skilled and strong, and we love running him.”
The physical presence of senior Jaxson Hansen in the backfield has helped the offense set the tone of games. Compared to Menezes, he’s also a nice change of pace.
“(Jaxson) really runs downhill, and he’s not a guy I’d want to tackle. I can tell you that much,” Struebing joked. “He’s got close to 300 yards on the year and he’s second on the team in touchdowns.”
Hansen’s journey on the gridiron has become an incredible story of resiliency. As a junior, he broke his leg in the team’s scrimmage against Oak Ridge and did not take the field. A few months later, he re-broke that leg in a car accident. He’s since spent countless hours rehabbing and he’s been able to rejoin his teammates.
“He has really worked hard to rebuild his body so he can play and contribute,” Struebing pointed out. “It’s been really fun to watch him do that and to be a part of it.”
On defense, the team leans on senior defensive back Ryan Tung, who leads the team with 70 total tackles, and he has three interceptions.
Erik Johnson, a qualifier for the state wrestling tournament as a sophomore and a three-sport athlete, is another key player for the Eagles this year. The corner and receiver is shifty and tough to tackle, and he’s averaging 24 yards per catch this season with four scores.
Wideout Zach Corbitt, who added 30 pounds of muscle this offseason, has also been stellar through eight games this season with 31 receptions, nearly 400 yards receiving and six touchdowns.
“Zach’s got a big frame, which makes it easier to go up and snag the football, and he’s got great hands,” Struebing said. “He does a great job for us.”
Corbitt, Johnson and the other receivers are making reads just like the quarterback. When Goodwin drops back to pass, his pass-catchers are reading the coverage and that determines their routes.
“Being on the same page with those receivers, and being able to work with them during these weeks with Ayden out has been really helpful,” Goodwin explained.
Goodwin admits it’s been a tough situation to step into, especially when he lacks varsity experience under center. But he says it’s getting easier each week as he gets more comfortable. He also really enjoys the challenges this new position has presented to him.
His preparation has made a difference. But the Eagles have been a bit lucky, too.
“You never know in high school football, what kind of injuries you’ll sustain,” Struebing said. “So you always have to have a guy ready to go. But certainly having two quarterbacks as skilled as they are is as nice as you can have it.”