After Missing Out On A 2020 Season That Carried High Expectations, Cosumnes Oaks Football Is Ready To Play Underdog Behind A New Coach And Fearless Quarterback •
It’s been three years since senior quarterback Steven Duran III worked closely with Martin Billings on the Cosumnes Oaks football field.
As the newly-appointed head coach, Billings takes over the varsity football program at the Elk Grove school following the abrupt resignation of Andrew Bettencourt in late April.
Billings worked closely with Duran when he was a freshman. In fact, that was the last time Duran was under center for his high school squad.
The two-way standout who doubles as a safety and a signal-caller has earned collegiate interest for his play on the defensive side of the ball, but it’s his quarterback play that will define the 2021 season for the Wolfpack.
Although he’s not the tallest passer in the league at 6-foot-1, Duran showcases good pocket awareness and movement. He’s able to worm his way around the backfield to find throwing lanes, and it’s his ‘bombs away,’ gunslinger mentality that his coach says sets him apart.
“I’m excited for Steven because he can make all of the throws,” Billings said. “He’s got a strong arm and can throw deep, but he can also throw short. He’s like a golfer. When he needs to throw deep, he takes his driver out, and when he needs to throw short, he brings out his putter. He understands that philosophy.”
The senior quarterback will operate out of the spread offense this year and if you watch his scrimmage highlights against Will C. Wood from mid-August, you’ll quickly see his aggressive nature from the pocket and his playmaking ability.
Duran credits his receivers for that.
“We have a lot of speed this year,” Duran said. “I know if I am going deep, I just need to get the ball there, and let my guys do their thing.”
His guys are led by a trio of seniors, and it’s a full on family affair.
Three brothers lead the Cosumnes Oaks skill group — wideouts Dejohn Marshall, returning starter Deonte Carter, and running back Damon Carter. All seniors, each will play a key role in this year’s offense.
“All of them are excellent football players — they’re smart, they run great routes and they get open,” Billings said. “Deonte is a great basketball player for us as well, and he plays like that. He can go up and catch the ball like an alley-oop. Dejohn, his brother, isn’t as tall, but he’s quick and he’s also very physical. Damon wasn’t able to play last year, but he’s a tall, physical running back who can run between the tackles, or outside.”
Fellow seniors Severoe McCrae and Omarie White, along with a strong junior in Jared Quenga, have also developed good chemistry with their quarterback, giving Duran the confidence to air it out and give his receivers a chance multiple times a game.
“I know I have the arm and the ability to get it down there,” Duran added. “I have the trust in my guys, and I know they’re going to go up and come down with the ball.”
A strong aerial attack doesn’t mean Billings’ offense will be one-dimensional though.
The first-year coach said the team will employ a few two-back sets, and Duran has the speed and skills as a runner to frustrate defenses as well. In fact, he follows the prolific three-year career of another dual-threat quarterback in Anthony Grigsby Jr., who graduated in the spring.
Much like last year, Wolfpack fans will see a blend of deep passes and quarterback-designed runs.
Duran says for every run the offense has, he has the option to keep the ball. If the coaches call an inside-zone run, Duran will key on the defensive end, and if he bites hard enough on the running back, Duran says he knows he has the speed to break it outside and get a chunk gain.
“Steven’s like a running back,” Billings noted. “He’s a terrific athlete and he’s not afraid to take off and run with it. He’s also a standout defender for us at free safety, and I think that helps him at quarterback because he understands what the secondary is reading when they’re on defense.”
Billings isn’t a new face on campus, but he does bring a fresh perspective.
He’s been at Cosumnes Oaks for six years. His Wolfpack coaching resume includes the freshman football program — starting as an assistant coach four years ago — as well as head freshman basketball coach for five years, and an assistant coach for the track and field program.
He wasn’t the only new addition. Billings enlisted help from various departments on campus, adding experience and some nuance.
His defensive coordinator is Lewis Lassetter, who has been with the football program since its inception, and athletic director George Smith returned to the program to serve as the team’s offensive coordinator.
“Surprisingly, when coach Bettencourt stepped down, it was close to the end of the year, we were in COVID, and we just weren’t sure about bringing on a teacher who could have possibly been on campus, so I reached out to some of the former coaches,” Billings said. “It ended up being nine of us in total, and we decided to go ahead and work with the football program.”
Their experience could pay big dividends for a team that went 2-1 during the COVID-19 shortened season, despite a lack of sustained practices and an uncertain re-start date.
“As a team, it was hard for us at first,” Duran said of last year. “We didn’t have a lot of chemistry, but as we started practicing we started locking in. The same is true for this year. We’ve gotten better the more we’ve gotten together.”
As is usually the case, the Wolfpack will have a tough league slate, facing top teams like Elk Grove, Davis and Jesuit-Carmichael. Jesuit is one of three Cosumnes Oaks football opponents that begins the season in SportStars’ NorCal Top 20 rankings. Non-league opponents Monterey Trail-Elk Grove and Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills are the others. Fans will witness first-hand the team’s competitiveness on Aug. 20 when they face the Trojans in El Dorado Hills to open the season.
“Just because of last year, and COVID, and the weird season, I still look at Oak Ridge as the defending champs and one of the top teams in the area,” Duran said. “But I don’t see a team on our schedule that we can’t beat.”