The Central Coast got a glimpse of Sawyer May’s arm — which had gone largely untapped — in the final game of Arroyo Grande’s 2015 season.
Trailing Thousands Oaks by 19 points at the end of the third quarter, May led three scoring drives to give the Eagles a chance to advance to the finals of the CIF-Southern Section.
The comeback attempt came up short, but May proved something with his 24-of-37, 266-yard performance: He can be more than a game manager.
His final line, which included two rushing touchdowns and no interceptions, was an exception, not the rule last season. It was his second-highest yardage total of the year, and May had only attempted 20 or more passes twice in the previous 12 games — 20 in the opening game against Lompoc and 21 against San Luis Obispo.
Arroyo Grande had to pass the ball against Thousand Oaks after going down 21-0, but usually May didn’t have to throw it all over the field for Arroyo Grande to be successful. The team had a dominant defense and running backs Bradley Mickey and Alex Checci for that.
This season, with a brand new defense and a crop of new running backs, Arroyo Grande might not have a choice but to put the ball in May’s hands more often to pull off the same results.
Can’t Miss May
May has displayed unparalleled accuracy since taking over the starting job as a sophomore in 2014. In two years, he has a 63-percent completion rate on 474 attempts with just four interceptions.
And it’s not as if May is throwing a bunch of dink-and-dunk passes. Over that same period of time, he is averaging more than 14 yards per completion and has thrown for more than 4,200 yards and 40 touchdowns.
“I love playing with Sawyer,” Arroyo Grande senior wide receiver Matt Sill said. “It’s unbelievably nice to run a route and know, ‘OK, the ball is going to be here right here, right now,’ and then there it is.”
“I have always known that Sawyer was going to be a special high school quarterback, and he has been all of that and a little bit more,” Arroyo Grande head coach Tom Goossen said.
Despite a new defense and a running-back-by-committee ground attack this season, May will see some familiar numbers when he drops back to pass.
Sill, a 6-foot junior who got plenty of playing time last season, is expected to be a big part of the offense and defense, filling the role of running back, slot receiver and defensive back. Last season Sill, who also won the long jump and 300 meter hurdles at the PAC 8 Championships, racked up 754 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns.
Sure-handed senior Noah Thinger (16 receptions, 134 yards in 2015) is back along with wide out Trevor Alton and tight end Elliot Talley, two players who saw minimal throws last year but could become important targets this season.
“It’s nice to have people come back, and you know how they run routes and what they are really good at,” May said of Sill and Thinger.
May said it would “make it more fun” to throw the ball more. But he added it doesn’t matter what the team does, as long as they win.
“If I don’t need to throw a pass, then that’s great. If we run for 400 yards and we win the game, then who cares,” May said. “I’ll throw it 100 times or I will throw it 0.”
More of the same
The numbers over his first two seasons have been strikingly similar in Arroyo Grande’s run-first offense — 2,134 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2014 and 2,125 and 20 touchdowns in 2015. The biggest change last season was May’s increased role in the red zone. He finished the season with five rushing touchdowns.
May, who usually scrambles with the intention of throwing, has been working in the offseason on increasing his speed and gaining size with a protein-heavy meal plan. The result: May has filled out his 5-foot-11 frame with a few more pounds of muscle and said he weighs about 195 pounds. The added muscle will help him handle more punishment if the running work load increases and might even help him get a few more looks from Division 1 scouts.
He said he has already drawn interest from Ivy League schools and worked out for Fresno State and UC Davis.
Body mass isn’t the only change.
“The past two years, I was always the younger guy. Now I’m the oldest guy out here pretty much, so it’s kinda weird,” said May, who is known by teammates as a quiet guy who leads by example.
This season, more than ever, the team will look to No. 12. The first test will be on the road Aug. 26 against Lompoc.
Whether Arroyo Grande continues to be a run-first team or whether May will be asked to throw the ball 30 times a game remains to be seen. But one thing is certain as the Eagles begin their defense of the PAC 5 title, Goossen has got his man.
“The special qualities that (May) brings are the same ones that all the great ones do, their work ethic, their attention to detail, how they approach every day, how they get a little bit better, not allowing a negative to affect them for the future,” Goossen said. “All those things he does a fantastic job with, and we are very fortunate to have Sawyer as our quarterback for the third year.”