All-Empire Large School Football: Rancho Cotate’s Luque offensive player of the year

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Senior running back Jalon Luque ran for 2,071 yards in 2012, helping Rancho Cotate go 12-1 and reach the NCS championship game. (Scott Manchester / The Press Democrat)

Senior running back Jalon Luque ran for 2,071 yards in 2012, helping Rancho Cotate go 12-1 and reach the NCS championship game. (Scott Manchester / The Press Democrat)

It looked bad for them, but defenders could content themselves knowing they had plenty of company in their embarrassment. Rancho’s Jalon Luque would put his head down and run straight at them, then twist away at the last microsecond, leaving the would-be tacklers empty-handed.

That trademark spin move, along with courage and blazing speed, helped Luque run for more than 2,000 yards this season. It also has propelled him to The Press Democrat’s Large School Offensive Player of the Year award.

“I usually did it when I played basketball, like back in middle school, and I incorporated it when I was playing football,” Luque, whose last name is pronounced LOO-kay, said of the spin move. “I didn’t really think about it.”

It came naturally, like a lot of Luque’s talents. Start with his blazing speed, which helped him finish a lot of big runs. Case in point: his 66-yard sprint against Las Lomas in the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs.

Luque also has excellent vision out of the backfield, and enough shiftiness to make guys miss.

“He’s such an instinctive runner,” Rancho Cotate coach Ed Conroy said. “He’s very fast, but he’s so instinctive. I always tell him, ‘Hey, I’m glad you listen to everything I’ve coached you on.’ It’s my joke. It’s just God-given talent. The things he does, you can’t coach.”

Perhaps most impressive is Luque’s willingness to run the ball into the teeth of the defense. He’s no giant at 5-8, 160 pounds, but a lot of his yards came between the tackles.

Luque’s 2,071 rushing yards set a school record, as did his single-game total of 278 in an NCS semifinal against Northgate. He scored 24 rushing touchdowns, went over 200 yards four times and started for the Cougars at defensive back.

“He just ran so well, sometimes he single-handedly won games,” Conroy said. “He had a great run against Newman (in Rancho’s 21-14 win). There were times he was just grinding out yardage to win the game, and we’re not blocking anybody because they have so many guys up there.”

Riding Luque’s momentum, the Cougars finished 12-1, not losing until they fell to Clayton Valley in the NCS championship game.

The campaign was especially gratifying for Luque because he shared so many big moments with Rancho Cotate quarterback Michael Courchaine, an old friend.

“Me and Mike, we’ve grown up together,” Luque said. “We watched Rancho Cotate football since we were 5 or 6, we played basketball together. So we have great chemistry, and we trust each other with the ball.”

And who wouldn’t trust Luque with the ball?

The senior plans to play next fall at either Santa Rosa JC or Butte College.

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