Jonathan Brenes Jr. hopes to follow someday in the cleats of Jake Browning, Folsom High School’s standout quarterback.
That’s why the 11-year-old made the trek from Vacaville every Sunday from April through July to Christian Brothers High School, where he participated in the Passing Academy, a skills-based school for quarterbacks 9 to 17 founded by Troy Taylor and Bobby Fresques.
“I can’t wait for Sundays,” said Brenes, who plays youth tackle football. “I’m learning all the little details of throwing the ball, the mechanics, all the things I didn’t know before.”
What started seven years ago with an idea and little more than a handful of athletes looking for an edge has grown to 45 players coming from throughout the area and beyond.
Taylor and Fresques, both former college quarterbacks, saw a need for more intense instruction beyond what many prep quarterbacks were getting at one- and two-day camps, some with hefty price tags.
“We don’t advertise it’s all word of mouth,” said Taylor, who played for Cordova High School, Cal and the New York Jets and now is co-head coach at Folsom. “A lot of coaches recommend us. As a high school coach, you have a limited amount of time, so we hope to aid in the process.”
Fresques, a former Sacramento State quarterback, said the academy, which costs $300 per month, is part of the evolution of the sport.
“There already is a lot of specialized instruction in youth sports,” said Fresques, Folsom’s receivers coach. “This is really the best way to go for quarterbacks as far as developing fundamentals, reinforcing techniques and retention.”
While they work with quarterbacks who play in a variety of systems, the hallmark of their teaching is learning how to throw out of a wide, open-toed stance.
“We’ve done a lot of research and we’ve seen that all the better quarterbacks have played with a wide base,” Fresques said.
Added Taylor: “We help them with their accuracy and speed of release while doing it in a confined space. You look at the best quarterbacks, Eli and Peyton Manning, for instance, and they are really good in small areas.”
It’s a style that takes a lot of repetition and reinforcement to master, something Brenes is learning.
“I had no clue about the stance,” he said. “It took a lot of practice.”
But with the high school quarterbacks working out in sessions before the youth players, Brenes had a chance to watch Browning and others, including Casa Roble’s Peyton Wilfley and Del Oro’s Michael Moore, perform a gauntlet of throwing and footwork drills using the stance.
“Jake’s got some experience, so he’s fun to watch,” Brenes said. “He’s been coming here a long time.”
Browning once used to be in Brenes’ cleats, having worked with Taylor as a pre-teen. He’s now one of the area’s, if not the state’s, top quarterback recruits.
The 6-foot-2 junior, who threw for 10 touchdowns in his varsity debut last season and earned The Sacramento Bee’s Offensive Player of the Year honor, already has scholarship offers from Boise State, Utah, Washington and Washington State.
During his younger days in the academy, Browning marveled at the quick moves and passing acumen of former Folsom stars Dano Graves and Tanner Trosin.
“I really looked up to them, thought they were really good players,” Browning said. “I loved how Dano and Tanner competed, their demeanors. I would take some of the stuff they would do and apply to my game.”
Graves and Trosin are still competing. Both are battling to be the starter at Cal Poly.
They are among a growing number of Passing Academy alumni who play or have played at four-year colleges, including former Folsom star David Graves at Hawaii, ex-Folsom standout Cary Grossart at Northern Arizona and former Rocklin star Jimmy Laughrea at Boise State and now UC Davis.
Browning, no doubt, will soon join them and gives Taylor much credit.
“I’ve learned a lot from him and he’s fine-tuned a lot of my stuff,” Browning said. “I’ve known Coach Taylor forever, and he’s a mentor. We have a really good relationship.”
While Taylor and Fresques say sending academy alumni to college is fine many of them come back and work with the current players they aren’t doing it to groom next-level players.
“Our whole goal is to help them to be the best they can be at the high school level,” Fresques said. “If they are fortunate enough to play in college, that’s great, too.”
While what they do is unique in the area, Taylor says he, Fresques and coaches Paul Doherty (Sac High’s coach), Chris Perry and Dave Mirogilio don’t claim to be miracle workers, either.
“It’s no different than taking a piano lesson,” Taylor said. “We are going to give you feedback to take you in the right direction. But there’s really no shortcut around it.
“To improve, you have to constantly work at it and do a lot of the same stuff over and over again. So being a quarterback is not for everybody.”
PASSING ACADEMY ALUMNI
Area quarterbacks who went on to four-year colleges:
* College career complete
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.