Rubalcaba getting more comfortable under center for Grand Junction

Palisade High School’s Aaron Wagler runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half of Thursday’s game against Steamboat at Stocker Stadium.

SEAN RUBALCABA STRUGGLED IN HIS first game with Grand Junction, but the freshman quarterback has gotten better and led the Tigers to their first win of 2008 last week, passing for three touchdowns and running for one more in a 30-21 victory over Skyline.

Sean Rubalcaba is two days away from another defining moment in his high school football career.
Saturday, he enters a hostile environment, against a top-10 team, Cherry Creek, as Grand Junction High School’s starting varsity quarterback.

That’s quite a leap from last fall, when Rubalcaba was the starting quarterback for the West Raiders of the
Mesa County Junior Football Association.

“When I came into it, I was looking forward to being the freshman team quarterback,” said Rubalcaba, who turned 15 just before practice began. “But I knew I had to put more time into it and eventually I knew I had a good shot at being the varsity QB.”

Rubalcaba didn’t have to wait long to get his shot.

In the Tigers’ first game of the season against Arvada West, Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens gave
Rubalcaba the ball two minutes into the second quarter. The Tigers had the ball at Arvada West’s 15-yard line. Rubalcaba ran the ball three times for five yards and threw an incomplete pass.

“(The speed) was a lot quicker than what I was used to,” Rubalcaba said. “The first play was a running play, so I wasn’t that nervous. I just wanted to hold onto the ball.”

Rubalcaba continued to rotate with junior Tyler Stanford, but the freshman never looked comfortable with the game speed. Rubalcaba ended up 2 of 6 passing for 9 yards and threw one interception. He also ran for 35 yards in the game.

Rubalcaba did enough, though, to eventually take over as the full-time starter against Pomona. He played better, going 12 of 20 with one touchdown. But Grand Junction was still struggling, losing 41-7 to Pomona, then following that with a 42-7 loss to Highlands Ranch.

With the Tigers sitting at 0-3, changes were made. Owens simplified Rubalcaba’s workload against Fruita Monument.

Owens’ first move was putting a focus on the running game. Junior running back Jayke Brock carried the ball 20 times against Fruita for 144 yards. That helped open up the passing lanes for Rubalcaba, who made big plays down the field to Ashur Verna and Tyler Palmer.

“He is playing really good,” Brock said. “He just needs to keep making throws and let everything flow.”

Owens also tried to make Rubalcaba’s reads easier. Last week against Skyline, the Tigers designed plays and formations so the young quarterback knew his options right away.

With those two changes, Rubalcaba has started to develop from a game manager into a playmaker.

Rubalcaba completed 9 of 11 passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns against Skyline. He rushed for another TD from the 6-yard line, breaking several tackles before reaching the end zone.

“The thing about Sean is he is so much more advanced mentally with the game of football than a lot of kids his age,” Owens said. “Last week was the first week I heard him yelling in the huddle, and obviously he is not that vocal type of guy but I think he is getting more and more comfortable.”

His team is getting more and more comfortable with Rubalcaba, too. Owens said the upperclassmen recognized his raw talent early in two-a-day practices.

“It probably happened during two-a-days when I heard some of our older kids saying, ‘just imagine how good Sean is going to be when he is a senior,’ ” Owens said. “So he was able to show those older guys what he brings to the table very early in the process.”

Rubalcaba is a gifted young player, but to be able to take over the most important position for a football team is never easy. Helping that process is the fact Rubalcaba’s father, Matt, and uncle, Joe, are both on the Grand Junction coaching staff. Both are on the offensive staff and push the young QB on a daily basis.

“They are tough on me,” Sean said. “When we are not at practice, we are always working on something football.”

He plans to play baseball in the spring, but Rubalcaba’s main goal after this football season is to hit the weight room and add strength.

“He is lean, but he has the ability to put on some good quality weight,” Owens said. “He will get strong but he is tough already because I think he has been able to take a pounding a lot of people didn’t think he would be able to.”

With a bright future ahead of Rubalcaba, he is focused on having a strong finish to a season that is getting better for the Tigers.

“We can still only go up from here,” Rubalcaba said. “We went from a game where we couldn’t even get a snap against Arvada West to the Skyline game, where we are scoring 30 points.”


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