Morro Bay High senior quarterback Sam Crizer looks back at last year’s season-ending collarbone injury and tries to turn a negative into a positive.
“The one thing it’s done for me is that it’s motivated me more and made me realize that I can’t take football for granted,” Crizer said.
Including the game in which Crizer was injured, a 35-7 loss to Templeton, the Pirates won just two of their final six games, finishing 5-5 overall, 2-5 in the Los Padres League, and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
“Losing our emotional leader was tough on the team,” Morro Bay coach John Andree said. “But the big thing was just to get him back to what he was doing.”
Through the first three games last year — all wins — the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Crizer was averaging 151.3 rushing yards per game, placing among the state’s leaders in that category among quarterbacks before succumbing to injury.
But with a refined passing ability that could help keep defenses honest, the Pirates are hoping their overall production will improve, as well. As soon as Crizer was healthy enough, he began working toward a return for his senior season. This time, he’ll be better prepared, he said.
“This summer I’ve been out there every day working on my passing,” said Crizer, who also stood out as a safety and punter over the past two years. “I stay after practice and throw to my receivers to try to build a relationship with them.
“I don’t want to go through another year of no throwing every game.”
Andree knows firsthand what a dual threat at quarterback can do to opposing defenses. Former Pirates standout Logan Budd, now playing at Cal Poly, brought a multifaceted game of his own to Morro Bay in 2007, leading the program to its first outright league title since 1971 while posting team highs in passing, rushing and touchdowns.
“We had that with Logan Budd,” Andree said. “That’s kind of our philosophy, is trying to put a real good athlete back there to put some pressure on defenses.”
Morro Bay’s offensive line, led by juniors Jon Miller and Carl Coates, has provided the Pirates room to run despite being outmanned in the box. The 6-3, 295-pound Miller was an all-LPL and all-San Luis Obispo County second-team honoree last season.
“Since my sophomore year, they’ve been stacking nine guys in the box,” Crizer said. “We’ve been able to run at them anyway with our line doing a great job. But I’d rather not have to do that.
“If we have six or seven guys (in the box), it’ll make it that much easier to run, and if they start stacking more, now we’ll know we can throw.”
A trio of newcomers, seniors Jaccob Carlson and Keith Evans, as well as junior Juan Acuna, have emerged as starting receiver candidates.
Defensively, the Pirates return a veteran cast of linebackers, including seniors Dom Woods and Darek Mendoza. Woods was an all-LPL first-team selection in 2009, while Mendoza — who is also getting looks at strong safety — was an honorable mention selection after finishing second on the team with 73 tackles.
Still, despite the experience, Morro Bay has taken on something of an early role as a darkhorse in the LPL, ranked beneath both Templeton and Nipomo in CalPreps.com’s statewide preseason ratings.
“Our philosophy is that we’re going to do what we can do and be the best team we can be,” Andree said. “We’re not going to worry about what other teams are doing or what people are saying about us.”
Either way, Andree expects the new-look LPL to be more competitive than it has ever been, particularly in the re-aligned Northwest Division.
“Our league is well respected,” Andree said. “We’re going to get four automatic berths (in the divisional playoffs). I wouldn’t even be surprised if we see a fifth team sneak in (as an at-large).”