The vertical passing game is a delicate balance.
It is full of risk and reward, and takes multiple pieces working together to run properly. The offensive line must give its quarterback time; the receivers must get open and catch the ball when it comes their way. Most importantly, it takes the right guy at quarterback.
For all these reasons, the smaller classes of the 11-man game are run-heavy leagues.
But the state leader in passing yards and touchdowns this year is a Division I-A player from South Tahoe.
John Cefalu has carved up opposing defenses in leading the Vikings to their best season in more than a decade.
The 6-foot senior has amassed 2,923 yards and 29 touchdowns against just three interceptions and has South Tahoe on a five-game win streak.
Cefalu has two 400-yard games and three 300-yard games. He threw for more than 200 yards in all but one of South Tahoe’s first nine games. His team’s season finale is Friday against Truckee.
“He’s had a good year, you could say that,” South Tahoe coach Kevin Hennessee deadpanned. “With those stats, he would be in the top 5 in California.”
“He’s not just chucking it,” Hennessee said of Cefalu’s 60 percent accuracy mark. “We knew he was smart and had the ability. It was just a matter of bringing it out.”
Part of that process was Cefalu committing himself to the team. Cefalu didn’t join preseason workouts until the first week of fall camp each of his first three years.
But after he was handed the reins midway through last season, Cefalu became the team leader during the offseason and worked heavily with quarterbacks coach Eric Beavers, the former Nevada Wolf Pack record-holder in a number of categories.
“Last year, I wasn’t at the level to win games for us,” said Cefalu, who changes roughly 40 percent of the plays at the line of scrimmage based on what he reads from the defense. “I had never really put my whole heart into football. Coming into high school, we had high expectations of being the class to turn South Tahoe around.
“But freshman year, getting killed all the time, really put a damper on that. But you can’t just change something because you say you want to. We needed those years to be where we are now.”
South Tahoe was 14-64 the previous eight years. It guaranteed it won’t have a losing season with Friday’s victory over Spring Creek. The Vikings won’t snap their eight-year playoff drought — they qualified for the Northern 4A Regional with two league wins in 2004 — but perhaps the groundwork was laid, like Cefalu set out to do three years ago.
“To make the playoffs would be awesome,” Cefalu said before Truckee’s win on Friday eliminated the possibility. “But even if we don’t, we’re the first South Tahoe team in 12 years to have a four-game win streak. I couldn’t enjoy all the yards and touchdowns without the wins.
“Everyone at the school was bashing football at South Tahoe when school started. But now a lot of people are coming out to games. It’s one of the greatest feelings. Maybe this year is the start of the turnaround.”
Said Hennessee: “He’s just a special kid.”
That translates off the field as well.
Cefalu and teammate Kris DiGrande spent 12 days in Nyeri, Kenya last summer distributing water filters and shoes to underprivileged villages and orphanages through the Think Kindness program.
“That was the highlight of the year,” Cefalu said. “Even more than anything I’ve done in football.”