It’s not unusual for quarterbacks to be good at golf.
In fact, 10 former or current NFL quarterbacks are in the field of this weekend’s American Century Championship celebrity tournament at Edgewood Lake Tahoe.
But not many could say they were the region’s No. 1 golfer in high school during the same sophomore year that they quarterbacked their varsity football team to one of the best seasons in program history.
That’s what Vintage High School’s Jacob Aaron did this past school year, helping both the gridders and golfers finish undefeated in their first-ever Vine Valley Athletic League campaigns.
For his success in two seemingly opposite sports, Aaron has been selected as the Napa Valley Register’s 2018-19 Napa County Male Athlete of the Year.
“I’m not the best athlete on the field,” Aaron admitted last Sunday. “But I am the most competitive on the field and I want to win the most on the field. That comes from genes, especially my parents. I’ve always had that competitive drive in me.
“Sometimes I overdid it with the competitiveness when I was younger, and now that I’ve learned that you don’t always have to be competitive in every single thing you do. But when I’m on the field, there’s no doubt that I compete as much as possible.”
The son of former Napa High football-baseball standout Jason Aaron and former gymnast-hurdler Katie Aaron hasn’t let his success go to his head.
“I’m still just a normal kid who takes out the trash and does his homework and everything,” he said. “You can’t think of yourself as different just because of sports. You have to treat yourself the same as any other kid and do what kids do.”
Aaron had played only freshman football the year before, while then-junior Michael Webber and then-senior Isaiah Garcia traded snaps for the varsity squad. Last fall, Aaron’s ability to handle varsity speed allowed Webber to be used in other ways in the Crushers’ explosive offense.
Vintage came back from an 0-2 start with 10 straight victories – including their first two playoff wins since 1986 – before injuries to Aaron and five other starters led to a 14-3 semifinal loss at San Ramon Valley on Dec. 1.
Aaron had had a different kind of heartbreak during his freshman golf season, getting disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard at the final Monticello Empire League Tournament. He still joined the team at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I Tournament and qualified for the Masters Tournament, placing 18th. But the disqualification had cost him All-MEL honors.
“Of course, I was a little frustrated,” Aaron recalled. “I kind of kind of compare it to the football section semifinal loss, how we were so close; we were there. When those things happen, you just got to kind of accept it and move on. I definitely learned from that situation, to really go over the scores after every tournament or match.”
He came back this golf season and not only was named VVAL Player of the Year, but took top individual honors at the North Coast Section Division I Tournament with a 1-under-par 70 at Monarch Bay Golf Club in San Leandro.
“We went in there thinking that we would probably make it (to the NorCal tournament) as a team, but that didn’t happen because it was pretty windy that day,” Aaron recalled. “I knew it would be a rough day for our team because we don’t really have those conditions in Napa, so I knew I had to grind out a score.
“That was probably the most intense round that I’ve had, just grinding and thinking about every single shot. You had to calculate a lot with the wind, hitting it a little lower but treating it like a normal shot.”
He went on to shoot an 80 at the NorCal Tournament at El Macero Golf Course near Davis, placing 55th.
“I had a rough day, but wasn’t too worried about it because I had already accomplished a lot,” he said.
Aaron told the Register early in the football season that he looks at golf and football similarly, imagining trees, traps and other hazards on a golf course are like defenders on a football field.
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He also said golf is more stressful than football.
“I’m more relaxed in football,” he said. “In golf, there’s a lot of thinking behind it. It seems such a simple sport, but it’s a big mental game. You kind of want to make it as boring as possible – hit it right down the middle, hit it on the green, and two-putt – whereas in football, you want big-time plays and not just (do it the same way every play).”
Aaron completed 51.9 percent of his passes for 689 yards and nine touchdowns with six interceptions last season, but noted “if you hit five out of 10 greens in golf, that’s a terrible day.”
He also rushed for 371 yards and another three scores in 69 carries and, as a safety, snagged the Crushers’ first interception of the season during their first win.
As with any multi-sport athlete, summers are busy for Aaron. He’s been playing junior golf, and recently shot a lifetime-best 69.
“I played with a kid from Japan,” he said. “It was a pretty cool experience.”
High school golf isn’t as competitive as the junior circuit, but Aaron enjoys the camaraderie of it.
“You’re still grinding and trying to do the best you can, but there’s a whole different mentality to it,” he said. “I just honestly love high school golf because you’re just out there with your buddies, hitting different shots when you’re practicing, and then you go to the matches and it’s just all business and playing the best you can. Because we were so good this year, I was competing with my team more than against other opponents in our league.”
Along with being fiercely competitive, what sets Aaron apart from many of his peers is that he enjoys practices as much as games.
“I love preparation. I love practicing,” he said. “A lot of people don’t, but I love thinking about different plays and learning new plays. You don’t win a game on the game day, you win a game on the Wednesday leading up to the game. So I really focus on practices and in the games, I just have fun and compete.
“I just love being out there and connecting with my teammates and going through a hard workout together. Everybody’s crying and sweating, but I love that stuff. And I love watching football on TV. I mainly watch my position and look at a lot of different plays, and sometimes I copy those plays or bring them into practices.”
The Crushers will begin practicing in full pads in a few weeks for their Aug. 23 season opener against Wood at Memorial Stadium.
“I just got back from a UC Davis camp and learning a lot of what comes with being a quarterback, the leadership and all the preparation,” Aaron said. “It’ll be an interesting year and I’m excited to lead the team.”
Despite helping notch the Crushers’ first playoff victories in 32 years under head coach Dylan Leach, Aaron said his most lasting memory of last season was having to sit out injured and watch his team lose the semifinal from the sideline.
“Coach Leach and I have a lot of the same mentalities and we both think we should have won that game,” he said. “We have much higher goals that a lot of our fans do.”
That might come from idolizing two of the most legendary athletes ever – New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, winner of six Super Bowls, and golfer Tiger Woods, winner of 15 majors.
“I love Tom Brady, which is funny because I used to hate him because he would always beat my teams,” Aaron said. “Now I just really respect and admire what he does and what he’s done with the game and the position. I like Tiger Woods because he’s so calm out there, like the ‘Mamba mentality’ of basketball (being the best version of yourself, according to Kobe Bryant). He’s amazing.”
Aaron carries his competitiveness into the classroom, as evidenced by his 4.0 GPA last semester, and already plans to major in communications in college.
“I’m pretty good at communicating with different people and I’ve always kind of been outgoing,” he said. “That kind of goes with the sports I play.”