Posts Tagged ‘Gaels’

 

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On Nov. 18, in an exclusive interview, Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez spoke about his six-year tenure there, how he’s built the program, this year’s postseason and what’s up next for him. Photo: W.G. Ramirez

By W.G. Ramirez

Well, that escalated quickly.

UNLV coach Bobby Hauck told Tina Kunzer-Murphy on Friday that he is resigning his position after coaching the team in Saturday’s season-ending game against UNR, at Sam Boyd Stadium.

And hours after the press release surfaced and Kunzer-Murphy answered additional questions, social media blew up with rumors that Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez was the leading candidate to replace Hauck, with tens of millions of dollars following him from the Fertitta family.

The Fertittas, big backers of Gorman’s athletic program, specifically football, will reportedly pay the$400,000 buyout for Hauck – tweeted first by the Review Journal’s Mark Anderson.

“We were given an opportunity to get it done here at UNLV and we simply did not win enough games,” said Hauck, who has two years left on a contract that was extended after he led the Rebels to a bowl game last season. “It’s my responsibility to push the program forward and I wish we would have produced better results.”

As he heads into Saturday’s Battle for the Fremont Cannon, Hauck will be finishing his fifth year at UNLV and 12th overall as a head coach. He was 15-48 with the Rebels, including 11-27 in the Mountain West Conference. Prior to becoming the 10th head coach in UNLV history, he compiled an 80-17 mark at the FCS-level University of Montana from 2003-09.

The Rebels go into Saturday’s finale with a record of 2-10 overall and 1-6 in league play.

“No one has worked harder in trying to achieve consistent success with our football program than Coach Hauck and we thank him for his dedication and leadership,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “He and his staff have worked tirelessly in trying to achieve the results we all want to see but it unfortunately has not happened.”

According to several sources, the Fertitta family is willing to inject enough money into UNLV’s program if in fact Sanchez wants the job.

The move would make sense, as Lorenzo Fertitta’s son, Nico, is a senior defensive back headed for Notre Dame next season. Sanchez and the Gaels are on the brink of another state title, not to mention capturing the mythical national championship for being ranked No. 1 in several polls. At this point, there might not be much more to achieve at Gorman, as the foundation has been laid for the next era of Gael football.

When I spoke with Sanchez last week, for my 1-on-1 interview I released on Thanksgiving, we spoke about his future and what was next for him. He didn’t shy away from the question, but he also didn’t necessarily give me a direct answer.

Coy smiles and slight head nods tend to speak in volumes.

“‘Take every job like it’s your last and you won’t screw it up’ was the greatest advice I ever received,” Sanchez said. “I’ve always felt if you treat people right, if you do the right thing and if you work hard, you don’t make excuses and you stand for something, there’s always going to be possibility and opportunity out there for ya.”

Well, the possibility is now there, and once the Rebels conclude their season Saturday, and the Gaels wrap up what should be their sixth-straight state championship next week, the opportunity would be waiting. Sanchez, who helped shape Northern California’s California High in a five-year span, would easily have a pipeline to local talent, as the city’s top prep players would obviously be familiar with what he’s done at Gorman. The Gaels have several unsigned seniors – including star running back Russell Booze – and talented underclassmen who undoubtedly would consider following their high school coach if he bolted for the Rebels.

“We’re going a million miles an hour (right now),” Sanchez said. “I’m trying to get my kids recruited right now, we’re trying to finish the football season and really, we just really want to finish this thing strong. I don’t take too much time to worry about what’s going to happen later.

“I always treat people right cause you never know who’s going to show up in your corner down the road.”

By the looks of it, Kunzer-Murphy, the Fertittas and the Rebels are waiting just down the road.

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Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez stands among his players after every game and sings the school song to the fans.

 

By W.G. Ramirez

“Now that we’ve won, we have the pleasure and the honor to practice this beautiful game of football on Thanksgiving morning,” Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez told his Gaels after dispatching Arbor View in last week’s Sunset Regional championship game.

So while you were preparing for your day filled with football, family and food – who doesn’t do that on Thanksgiving – Sanchez was where he feels most comfortable: Fertitta Field with his Gaels, getting ready for Saturday’s state semifinal against Sunrise Region champ Liberty.

“I got what I think is one of the greatest jobs in the world. I do what I love, I coach high school football, I’ve got an unbelievable staff, I work at the greatest school in the world with the greatest faculty and staff and administration and look where my office is, look where my classroom is – I’ve got the nicest classroom in the city,” Sanchez said, during a 1-on-1 interview last week, prior to his Gaels’ win over Arbor View.

It’s been a long ascension for Sanchez, resurrecting Bishop Gorman’s football program, which to some degree receives its fair share of criticism. A portion of the hate spewed toward the Gaels’ national powerhouse is from rivals, usually after they’ve been stomped into submission. But more of it is simply regurgitated comments from people who don’t know any better, and simply repeat what they hear.

But what many people don’t know is the man who was brought to Las Vegas from California, and who has led the Gaels to five straight state championships behind discipline, work ethic, values and good ol’ fashioned blue-collar football labor.

THE START

Sanchez took over in March of 2009, after building California High School into a dominant state program over a previous five-year span. Heeding the advice of a friend about a vacancy at Gorman, he took a shot and threw his name in the ring.

“I didn’t know how serious I was going to take it, but I saw the possibility,” Sanchez said. “You just saw a lot of real great possibilities. You saw the buy-in from the community, you saw the buy-in from the alumni. Gorman has a tradition like no other. The people that graduated from Gorman love the school and they give back to the school. They’re a part of the school.”

At the time, there was no Cadillac-like stadium. The Gaels were practicing on a small patch of grass behind where Fertitta Stadium now sits. There was no first-class weight room, as there might have been 10 racks to train on. There might have been just more than 100 kids in the entire program. It was a different culture, according to Sanchez, and most importantly – the first thing he pointed out – the Gaels were picked to lose to Palo Verde. After all, the Panthers won the year prior in blowout fashion.

Now, Fertitta Stadium has all the bells and whistles a high school football stadium could ask for, the 41,324-square-foot Fertitta Athletic Training Center includes a four-lane, 60-yard track, a 90-seat classroom and an athletic training room with a hydrotherapy pool and ice bath. There are now more than 170 kids in the program, and oh yeah, the Gaels are ranked No. 1 in the country.

“Gorman had a lot of talented kids so I knew there was gonna be a lot of heavy lifting involved in regards to creating a disciplined culture, getting kids to do the things the right way, buying into a year-round program, sacrificing a lot more time in the summer – just creating a sense of discipline,” Sanchez said.

And by doing his job of instilling the right mindset with his program, the parents and boosters followed suit. Let’s be frank, Bishop Gorman does have some wealthy alumni, and the campus didn’t move from Maryland Parkway because the private entity wasn’t receiving donations and because tuitions weren’t increasing. But they also weren’t just going to throw money around without the right guy in place, to build a nationally ranked program.

“How many people on a Friday night that don’t have any kids at a high school are coming back 40 years after they graduate – that’s pretty special,” Sanchez said. “That doesn’t happen many places in the country. But it happens at Gorman.”

THE RISE

It didn’t take long once Sanchez took over, as the Gaels went a perfect 15-0 on their way to the state title, with a 62-21 victory over Del Sol. The Gaels tallied 798 points in 2009 and led the nation in points scored. Some might say the competition Gorman faced wasn’t near as good as the teams in California, Texas or Florida, but they may be the same people who say their glass is half empty. Those with a glass half full, saw Gorman finish No. 25 in the nation, according to Prep Nation, and Sanchez being named a Max Preps National Coach of the Year finalist.

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Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez has led the Gaels to five straight state championships.

Nothing has changed the past four seasons, either, as the Gaels have reeled off state titles each year, slowly climbing in the national polls and creeping their way into living rooms on national TV, including numerous appearances on ESPN. In 2010 the Gaels outscored opponents by a combined score of 692-101. In 2011 the Gaels took on three nationally ranked teams – beating then-No. 10 Chaparral (Ariz.) 42-22, knocking off then-No. 13 Servite (Calif.) 31-28, and suffering its only loss to the nation’s then second-ranked Armwood (Fla.) 20-17. They finished the season ranked fifth nationally by USA Today.

While averaging 55.5 points per game in 2012, they finished the season ranked ninth in the nation by USAT. Last year, in traveling as far as New Jersey and hosting the No. 1 team in the nation, the Gaels seemingly benched their mark thanks to arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation. They finished 17th in the nation, but the foundation was laid for this year’s run to No. 1.

“Looking back six years, it’s just unbelievable to think about the places we’ve traveled, the teams that we’ve played, the games we’ve been in, building this program to a point where it’s nationally recognized. The deal we have with Nike and the relationship we have there, the way the alumni have really stepped up and supported us in so many different ways,” he said. “And as it’s gotten harder, the refreshing thing is that you have faith in kids because things are hard here. Every day we work, it’s a grind, they’re accountable, we’re in their face and the numbers keep growing and growing. It just shows the kids want to be a part of something like that.”

Sanchez said he’s exceeded his expectations from original goals, and isn’t done with what he’s started.

THE GRIND

With success comes adversity. Sanchez, his coaches and the Gaels don’t necessarily face much of that in terms of local competition. I mean, they haven’t lost to a local school since Sanchez got here. For his coaches, their adversity is living up to his expectations and fulfilling the model he brought to Las Vegas by executing it with each coach’s unit. For the players, it’s taking that model, perfecting it and then putting it on the field.

For Sanchez, well, he’s at the top. So his adversity is to make sure the vehicle continues to run smooth.

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Gaels coach Tony Sanchez talks about his love for reading books written by some of the greatest football coaches ever.

Gauging from the bookcase in his office, he’s been mentored by some of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport. Books by Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson and Bear Bryant – to name a few – or quotes and anecdotes he shared with me, the ones that resonated and stuck with him. Sanchez is deeper than some might think, or see when he’s firing up and down the sidelines, screaming at someone. It doesn’t matter the score, Sanchez is a fiery guy. He summarized that to me in a post-game interview after beating Centennial two weeks ago, saying he is a perfectionist.

And if something goes wrong on the field, and you see him going off on a player or assistant coach, he’s probably not half as mad at them as he is himself. He’s the type of guy who takes things personal. And if a cog in the engine of his vehicle breaks down, he’s taking the blame. He may be yelling at the car he’s driving, but he knows it’s up to him to give it a tune up.

“Not everyone has first-hand knowledge of how we do things around here. The kids get out of school … they’re in film session from 2:30 ‘til 3, from 3 ‘til 5 something they’re on the football field, then they go right into the weight room and that’s a process that continues to go,” he said. “I don’t think anything is misconstrued (about us), but I wonder if everyone has the first-hand knowledge of the amount of time that our kids put in, and the time the coaches put in. It’s hard to be successful for this long amount of time, and our kids have done a good job of just buying into the work ethic it takes to be the best.”

Sanchez said the Gaels’ 17 consecutive days off during the summer is the longest break they get. They start hitting weights their first day back in January, after Winter break, and continue for eight months leading into the season. He’s quick to point out that many of the programs in the valley do the same thing, and he’s not taking anything away from the Libertys, Palo Verdes, Arbor Views, so on and so forth.

But make no bones about it, Bishop Gorman does not boast a program chock full of talent that show up, put their pads on and dominate by accident. There’s work involved in sculpting the nation’s No. 1 program.

“When you watch film, you should see and feel energy, you should see execution, you should see crispness,” Sanchez said. “And I think if you watch us on film, we don’t look sloppy. We don’t jump offside, we don’t do a lot of silly things. Do we make mistakes? Yeah. And that’s what we do, we correct those things and we move on.”

Notice the word “WE.” Again, Sanchez takes everything personal, and is a guy who knows it starts at the top. It’s his responsibility to make sure the Gaels are firing on all pistons and remained a well-oiled machine.

Which is probably why they were practicing this morning, while many of you were trying to figure out the difference between sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie.

THE FAMILY MAN

Away from the field, away from the game of football, Sanchez is a loving husband and doting father who is like any of us away from their job. He tries not to bring his job home, and is appreciative and thankful for his wife, who shelved her career with a major pharmaceutical company so he could fulfill his dream of building Gorman into a national power. His kids are his life. You can see it when he speaks of them.

You can see a twinkle in his eyes when he speaks about Bishop Gorman football, but you can see the apples in his eyes when he speaks about his children.

“I love spending time with my kids,” he said. “I’ve got a wonderful daughter, Alyssa, and watching her grow into this incredible young woman… I just love when I’m walking through the door and she’s just sitting in her room reading a novel, it’s like ‘wow, thank God my kids are smarter than me.’

“My son Jason, just being around him and watching him grow and develop different interests and different hobbies and loves, things like that, it’s just so fun being around him. Just praying with my kids before they go to bed at night, that means a lot. And my wife is wonderful. She’s sacrificed a lot. She gave up a career … she stays home with the kids now and it’s been a great thing.”

Sanchez said he isn’t worried about the criticism and rumors that swirl around the Gaels’ athletic program, and can’t be concerned what he, his family, his coaches or his family hears, because he’s too busy thinking positive every time he wakes up.

“I don’t think about it at all,” he said. “There are so many people that think we’re doing a great job. There are so many people who show up in the stands and who are cheering our kids on. We’ve got parents out there feeding our kids (after practice). I’ve got kids busting their tail to try to create opportunity later in life, just to keep this program going, to compete at a high level. I’ve got no time and energy for anything that’s not positive. We’re about moving forward, we’re about focusing on the things we can control. And what can we control: our attitude and our effort every single day.

“A lot of things in life you don’t control, but when you wake up in the morning, what’s your attitude for the day? Is it good or bad? What kind of effort are you gonna give? Those are the things I control. There’s a lot of things out there, we can bring that up, but I don’t know, I don’t worry about it. I don’t read that stuff.”

THE JOB, THE SPORT

In the end, Sanchez said he’s taken each coaching position with the same mentality based off a quote he was given by friend and coach Tony Samuel, and lived by that mantra ever since.

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After singing to the fans, and a post-game speech from Sanchez, the Gaels end each game is ended with a prayer.

“‘Take every job like it’s your last and you won’t screw it up’ was the greatest advice I ever received,” Sanchez said. “I’ve always felt if you treat people right, if you do the right thing and if you work hard, you don’t make excuses and you stand for something, there’s always going to be possibility and opportunity out there for ya.”

And from what I can tell, he’s not blowing smoke. I gave Sanchez a chance to fire back at his critics. Offered up a forum to discuss the public’s accusations. But not a negative word to say. He credits his coaches and his players, saying they’re the reason the Gaels are successful. He loves his job, he loves his staff and he loves the game of football. He loves Bishop Gorman High School.

“I am not here because I am some great guru, I’m here because I’m smart enough to hire smart people, to surround myself with positive people, to listen and to learn and continue growing. Those things are a must if you’re going to sustain success,” Sanchez said. “If every young man had an opportunity to play football, to be on a team and to be accountable, to create a work ethic in a year-round process, to understand what it’s like to be great in certain moments … the amount of care and love you develop for your teammates, the physicality of it all … the grind and the sweat and the hurt of football, that will serve you well the rest of your days in every single thing you do. I wish everybody in the country, at 3 o’clock after school, walked on to a football field and went to practice for two hours a day, what a great country we would have. And we still do – it would just be even tougher.”

Perhaps, maybe, as tough as the No. 1 ranked Bishop Gorman Gaels, and the man driving the vehicle – coach Tony Sanchez.

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Can Bishop Gorman tight end Alize Jones seize the moment, against USA Today’s top-ranked St. John Bosco? Photo: Barry Wong

 

By W.G. Ramirez

Just watching something like the final home game of New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter after an illustrious career, one might wonder what that must feel like.

I did. 

For a moment. Not even the whole thing. Just a moment. 

After a nice buildup to the game, I was somewhat happy for Baltimore Orioles starter Kevin Gausman, who spent a summer in Las Vegas with a competitive collegiate club, Team Vegas. When Jeter stroked a double in the first inning, and later scored to tie the game, for Gausman, it was a moment.

Oddly, after 2,745 career games, his final one in the Boogie Down even made No. 2 a bit jittery – er, Jetery (thank you Mitch Fulfer for that one) – on the one stage you would have expected him to own Thursday night. After all, it was his moment. And man oh man did he seize it.

Tonight, when Bishop Gorman steps on its own field, to face what USA Today claims to be the No. 1 team in the nation – St. John Bosco – both the Gaels and Braves will have their moment. They’ll play amid the lights, beneath Gorman’s mountainous skyline, in front of a nationally televised audience that was switched from ESPNU, to ESPN, the network’s flagship station…

Yeah, moment.

In the same manner Twitter blew up last night with Jeter tweets, the Gaels and Bosco have had their fair share of attention throughout social media, with So. Cal pundits and communicative support systems tweeting about the Braves, and Gorman dominating local headlines this week, in every form of media.

Gorman opened the season as USAT’s No. 1 team. But after close calls during a rugged non-conference schedule, it dropped before climbing back to No. 2. And on Max Preps, the Gaels have been in and around No. 5 on different polls posted there, and this week came in just behind Bosco, as the two were ranked 3rd and 4th. 

Based on USAT’s current poll, this conceivably is for a mythical national championship.

Fact is, as the Review Journal’s David Schoen pointed out this week, Bosco is an eerie carbon copy of Bishop Gorman, in that you have a private high school resurrected to the national spotlight after its program dipped below mediocrity.

Just as Gorman took its lumps to reach the point it has this season, Bosco has followed suit. Earlier this week on local radio, Gaels coach Tony Sanchez put it in perspective how far this program has come.

“The hardest thing about this year is we’ve been everybody’s biggest game,” he told the guys on Gridlock – Mitch Moss, Ed Graney and Seat Williams.  

Usually, the Gaels are getting pumped for their biggest game – which, in essence this is – but this year they’ve become the hunted. Can you imagine, a team ranked higher than the Gaels with this game circled? Last year at this time, Gorman couldn’t wait for then No. 1 Booker T. Washington High to arrive from Miami. Washington won 28-12, the Gaels regrouped and ran roughshod through the state to win their fifth-straight title and now we’re here.

Here, as in Gorman opened the season against five-straight highly regarded foes on a national level; it is 5-0. The Gaels have been involved in a couple of battles – having to come-from-behind, and play some defense when it mattered – but they’ve proven their worth. As opposed to what Public Enemy told us in 1988: “Don’t Believe The Hype!” You better believe the Gaels are all about their hype. 

Bosco is 3-0 after opening its campaign with just as many blowouts, outscoring St. Louis (Honolulu), Norwalk (CA) and Central Catholic (Portland) by a combined final of 153-31. That’s an average final of 51-10. These Braves are looking forward to the postseason much more than the ones in Atlanta. And the Braves are looking at this as a territorial conquest. Knowing that as powerful as Gorman has been, in their eyes when it comes to Nevada and California the Golden State far outweighs the Silver one. There’s a sense of pride here.

A lot at stake, just as there was last night in the Bronx. The Yankees, obviously, felt compelled to win for Jeter and the Orioles are still in search of a homefield edge in the postseason. And just like last night I think we’re in store for a battle in this mega-high school game.

I ran each team’s numbers through a spreadsheet program that I use during the NFL and college football seasons to see predicted outcomes for particular games. With Bosco and Gorman, I have eight games to work with, and after using filters and applying a specified formula based on performance, I did come up with four final scores.

Based on the season, Bosco would win this game, 31-28. After all, the Braves have annihilated their opponents, so after factoring in what Gorman’s defense has given up yards and point wise, it’s not surprising they should score 31. If we were to base this on Bosco’s three games this season, and only Gorman’s last three, the Braves win handedly, 37-23. Considering how the teams perform at home and on the road, I see Bosco winning, 30-23. 

Add those three finals, and you have a composite prediction of Bosco 32, Gorman 25. 

But as ESPN’s Lee Corso would say on Saturday’s Gameday: “Not so fast, my friend!” 

Maybe Bosco is the actual target in this game. Maybe Gorman still has visions of last year’s loss to Washington, at Fertitta Field, and wants to avenge that loss Friday night, knowing what’s at stake on a national level. We’ve seen some impressive things by plenty of local athletes in 2014, so why shouldn’t the Gaels live in their moment, with a pair of standout seniors playing the final home game of their high school careers shining bright to lead the way.

On defense, one of those signature Nicco Fertitta hits to stir up the mood, and possibly cause a turnover. And on offense, how do you not turn to all-American tight end Alize Jones? Jones puts up outstanding numbers, and even when I’ve seen the Gaels play terribly, Jones’ play never waivers. He’s been the go-to guy whenever Sanchez needs something.

So while I see Bosco giving Gorman everything it can handle, and potentially leading 31-28 late, I think it would be fitting to see Fertitta making his play with about three or four minutes left in the game, the Gaels taking over on offense and Jones taking over the game. Filter in some crafty running by Russell Booze and smart decision making by quarterback Tate Martell, and it sets up nicely for a game-winning TD by Jones.

And just like it was Jeter’s in the bottom of the 9th, when he stroked the walk-off single for the Yankees in a 5-4 win, it’s the Gaels’ turn to play for the moment. It’s Gorman’s moment to seize. 

I’ll side with the enchanted football tale: Bishop Gorman 35, St. John’s Bosco 31.

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Bishop Gorman’s Chase Jeter Chase Jeter poses for a photo during adidas Nations at Next Level Sports Complex. The 7-footer announced he will play at Duke in college.
Photo courtesy adidas.

W.G. Ramirez

Bishop Gorman’s senior-to-be Chase Jeter announced Monday night he’s headed across the country to play for one of UNLV’s most hated rivals.

After posting a double-double (14 points and 16 rebounds) and being named Most Valuable Player in the adidas Nations third place game on ESPNU, the 7-footer told a nationwide audience he was becoming a Duke Blue Devil.

The Runnin’ Rebels defeated Duke 103-73 to win the National Championship, and the Blue Devils returned the favor one year later in the Final Four, 79-77, derailing UNLV’s undefeated run and quest for back-to-back titles. Jeter’s father, Chris, played for the Rebels during the championship season.

“I took a lot of time to evaluate my decision and I took visits to all the schools on my list, and I felt I was really comfortable with my decision,” Jeter said during the televised announcement. “I just love the feel of the environment, Cameron Indoor is a great place, a great basketball environment and I just felt like it was a great place for me.”

Jeter visited Durham earlier this year, in March, during one of Duke’s annual ACC meetings with rival-North Carolina, which is reportedly listed high on Jeter’s high-school teammate Stephen Zimmerman’s list.

Jeter, an all-state selection last year, averaged more than 14 points and 10 rebounds as a junior for the Gaels playing alongside Zimmerman, also considered one of the nation’s top recruits in next year’s class.

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Chase Jeter averaged more than 14 points and 10 rebounds as a junior for Gorman last season. Photo: W.G. Ramirez

Jeter chose the Blue Devils over UNLV, UCLA and Arizona.

As one of the most sought after recruits in class of 2015, Jeter is ranked among the top 15 in different polls, including No. 8 by Rivals, No. 9 by Scout, No. 10 by 247Sports and No. 13 by ESPN.

Of Duke, Jeter told cbssports.com college basketball writer Jeff Borzello: “I have a great relationship with all the coaches. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski). Coach (Jeff) Capel. They have great guys, great history. Overall, just a great program.”

Krzyzewski was on hand last weekend to see Jeter compete in the adidas Super 64 event at Cashman Center, and attended the championship game, where Jeter’s Dream Vision lost to Indiana Elite.

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Bishop Gorman QB Randall Cunningham Jr.
Photo Credit: Barry Wong

By W.G. Ramirez

When you grow up in Las Vegas, you’re bred under one rule when it comes to high school loyalty: if you don’t attend Bishop Gorman High School, you despise the Gaels.

I didn’t attend Bishop Gorman High School.

That being said, I like Randall Cunningham Jr.

If the name sounds familiar, he is indeed the son of the former UNLV great and NFL all-pro with the same name and is indeed someone who is emerging on his own accord. Junior, a senior this season, is the starting quarterback for the Gaels and opened the 2013 campaign taking his lumps in a 28-21 loss to Phoenix’s Mountain Pointe High School.

The game was televised in front of a national audience on Fox Sports 1, introducing America to one of the finest athletes in the nation – both on the gridiron and in track and field. And though the nationally ranked Gaels lost, Cunningham Jr. didn’t disappoint the home crowd and kept his team in the game by settling in and taking control of the offense midway through the second quarter.

The 6-foot-5, 180-pounder rushed for 103 yards and completed 5 of 12 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown.

“Once the first quarter and the second quarter started moving along, I felt like I definitely picked it up and was able to do my best to lead the team,” he said. “The first start is definitely going to be a little bit nervous. I went in there and my first two passes could have been much better. I feel like I was still getting a little bit of the nerves out.”

And while he bears an uncanny, on-field resemblance to his father on the gridiron, he was also named last year’s Gatorade Nevada Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year after culminating his junior season by clearing a state-record 7 feet, 3 1/4 inches to win the Division I state high jump title. It was his best jump of the season, and ranked No. 1 in the nation according to athletic.net.

“He’s way better than I was when I was a kid,” Cunningham Sr. said during a private interview before his son’s season-opening game. “He’s faster than I was, he’s bigger than I was, he’s smarter, he has more knowledge of the game than most people could even realize because I taught him so much and he’s been around the NFL.

“He’s well advanced, and a lot of people would not know that about him.”

Listening to the elder Cunningham speak, it’s evident the pride he’s had in watching his son mature. And while it’d be easy to ride the coattails of being the son of one of the most successful quarterbacks to play the game professionally, the former Philadelphia Eagle and Minnesota Viking said his son takes it in stride, receives advice graciously and shines in his own light.

“He’s compared to me, but he takes the pressure and is like ‘that’s my dad and I’m honored to have a dad who was successful that people can compare to me.'” Cunningham Sr. said. “He looks at me and he respects what I say to him. Even in the times when he might not want to hear what I have to say, when it’s kind of going against the grain, he still receives.”

Cunningham Jr. has numerous college offers, and he’s not shy about the fact he’s looking for a four-year deal that will allow him to play football in the fall, high jump in the spring and eventually get him to where his father was a human highlight reel – the NFL.

Included in the dozen or so colleges who are coveting Cunningham are Baylor, LSU, Arizona State, UCLA and Kansas State.

“I think about the Draft, I think about the 2016 Olympics – both are something I’ve dreamed about,” Cunningham Jr. said. “I would like to do both as long as I can and whichever one can take me farther, I’ll make the decision.”

Ultimately, both Cunningham men say Faith will steer junior in the right direction.

“He’s just really trying to enjoy himself, putting God number one,” said Cunningham Sr., an ordained minister the past 9 1/2 years and pastor at his church, Remnant Ministries. “God has blessed him from above.”

Said Junior: “I like to start my day out and end my day out with being able to talk to God and pray. Faith is definitely the number one thing in my life.”

Yeah, by Vegas rules, I’m not supposed to like Bishop Gorman.

But as a sports journalist, a father and a man of Faith, I like, respect and appreciate Randall Cunningham Jr.