By BOB PADECKY
PRESS DEMOCRAT SPORTS COLUMNIST
The image of Joe Montana just happened Friday night, popped into my head without prompting. Cardinal Newman football coach Paul Cronin was talking about his quarterback, Keaton Dunsford, who had 262 passing yards and four touchdown tosses by halftime against Sonoma Valley. Dunsford is a perfectionist, and Cronin said Dunsford is getting better at accepting the fact he is human.
“When he threw that pick (interception) in the second quarter, that didn’t bother me at all,” Cronin said. “I knew it was going to be a learning experience for Keaton.”
Meaning, there is life after an interception. In Dunsford’s case, there would be 13 more pass attempts before Cronin pulled him from the 44-7 rout early in the third quarter. Dunsford would complete eight for 113 yards and a touchdown.
That’s when the image of the legendary 49ers quarterback popped into my head.
Joe Montana, the best quarterback who ever lived, threw 139 interceptions. Montana threw 139 passes he wished he could have back. That’s a lot of mistakes, and that’s the big difference Cronin sees in his young quarterback — Dunsford turned 16 just this Aug. 28.
“It was fun to watch him bounce back after that interception,” Cronin said. “He is getting more and more comfortable playing the position. He is understanding that it’s OK to make mistakes because you learn from them. And Keaton is very driven to learn. He is a thinking man’s quarterback. He is very passionate about the game. He wants to learn everything.”
Of course, in the ideal world that every 16-year old occupies, everything can’t come fast enough. It all has to happen yesterday; tomorrow is too late. But to be patient, to take progress sometimes in small increments as opposed to big bunches, it’s a skill as important to master as throwing the football. And make no mistake Dunsford wants to throw that football.
“It’s all I ever played,” said Dunsford of the position. “I began when I was 7 in Pop Warner. And it’s always been a dream of mine to play for Newman. The coaching staff, the way they do things, I’ve always wanted to come here.”
When the Calistoga resident left the game midway in the third quarter, he finished with 19-for-28 passing for 303 yards and the four touchdowns. Completing his first seven passes of the game, Dunsford said it was his best game of the year. And as any good quarterback should do — knowing what’s really important — Dunsford pointed the finger first not at himself but at the offensive linemen who protected him.
“It was almost perfect,” Dunsford said of his line’s blocking. “I really owe a lot to them. And my receivers ran great routes.”
In that, Dunsford already has learned the value of keeping the really important people happy. Acknowledging the offensive line is the first sentence in a quarterback’s handbook. And it was not a mindless compliment he paid either. Dunsford was rarely touched. He was treated like a family heirloom by his line and with protection like that, even a mediocre quarterback would do well. But a quarterback like Dunsford, who is much better than that, would thrive, dominate, rip the game open at the seams, if allowed to make his reads without being chased.
“He’s going to play at the next level,” Cronin said. “He’s going to grow more. He’s going to get stronger. He’ll have more speed on his ball.”
Dunsford is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds and, even though he will be an incoming senior next year, he’s still going to be 16 when the Cardinals open camp next fall.
“He is the 13th quarterback I have coached,” said Cronin, a Piner quarterback back in the day. “And I do it differently now than when I was a young coach. When I first started coaching I was like ‘This is the way it’s got to be done!’
“I had just finished playing the position in college and so that’s what I thought, that there was one way. But as I have gotten older, I adapt my coaching to the quarterback. With Keaton it’s giving him the freedom to make mistakes, allowing him to see how he can learn from them, to let him build his confidence.”
Dunsford is more than willing to test himself, learn the boundaries, learn the craft. So when I asked him if he wanted to play college ball, Dunsford didn’t pause before answering.
“I want to play college football,” Dunsford said. “I don’t how I’m going to make that happen but I’m going to make that happen.”
How? Well, as Joe Montana might tell him, an interception just delays temporarily that touchdown I am about to throw.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.