Hudson Beers has had an astonishing varsity rookie season as quarterback of the Justin-Siena football team, and he doesn’t forget that he has four returning senior offensive linemen to thank for much of it.
“I’m very close with our linemen, more with the seniors than the juniors,” said the junior, who has competed 59 percent of his passes for 2,264 yards and 24 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions. “I’m definitely hanging out with the linemen every day. I give most of my credit to them and the coaches and the other players around me. They make it a lot easier. We’re pretty cool, calm and collected about it all. We try to stay humble.”
Beers has been playing quarterback since he was 8 years old. Until this spring, when he plans to go out for track and field to improve his speed, it’s been all football in high school for him.
“I like the brotherhood of it, going out my brothers every week and battling to the last whistle,” he said.
Working with offensive coordinator Tyler Streblow helped him hit the ground throwing this fall.
“Working with Coach Streblow after school the entire offseason, starting in February, learning the game speed, the playbook, stuff like that, has helped a lot,” Beers said. “I was also throwing with all my receivers as much as possible, trying to build that connection before the season started. I played with some of them on JV my freshman year, as well, so we kind of carried over from JV to varsity.”
The Braves will host American Canyon on Friday night in each team’s Vine Valley Athletic League finale, hoping to atone for last year’s 27-14 road loss to the Wolves.
“We’re going to take it as if it’s our hardest game, just like we have every other week,” Beers said of facing a team that’s more Justin-Siena’s size personnel-wise.
While football players typically attend home volleyball matches to cheer, Beers – along with senior lineman Tyler Charifa – supplies the volleyball players with water and other needs as part of Justin-Siena’s sports medicine class.
“It’s fun,” he said. “You get to root on your classmates. It’s a small school and everyone knows everyone so just being there having a lot of school spirit is fun.”
After throwing for about 1,300 yards on the junior varsity team last year, Beers is the focus of the varsity offense this season.
“It seems like it would be a lot of pressure, but I try not to let it get to my head too much,” he said. “I just try to focus on the game, the game plan, stuff like that.”
Four reasons Beers has been relaxed in the pocket have been the Braves’ returning senior linemen – guards Marcus Nunes and Christian Kappler and tackles Nolan Dunkle and Grant Koehler. All are workhorses who also swarm ball carriers on defense.
“We love blocking for him and we feel bad if we let him get sacked,” Koehler said. “But he never blames us or anything. We always pick him up and he always looks on to the next play. We love it.”
Asked if Beers acknowledges them after a touchdown pass, Nunes said “I don’t know. I’m usually 30 yards downfield, following the guy with the ball.”
“I always try to give him a high-five to lift him up or something,” said Dunkle. “But whenever like a big play happens, and we knock someone over or pancake someone on the line, we usually give ourselves high-fives because we’re the linemen. We don’t really get a lot of recognition, ever.”
“It’s all about the grind,” said Kappler said of what he likes most about football. “Without the grind you don’t really have much. If you just come out for the games, it’s not much. It’s all about the practices that lead up towards it. Every day is just like a gift if you really want to play football.”
Added Dunkle, “I definitely agree with Kapp, but I like games the most, to be honest. Practices are just the dirty work, so you can perform well, but the games are what I really look forward to.”
Koehler is the only one of the four veteran linemen who doesn’t play baseball in the spring. He plays golf – well, having been the No. 2 or No. 3 player as a junior. He especially enjoyed playing Vintage in the Braves’ most recent game, on Oct. 18 before last week’s bye. He got to square off with Vintage quarterback Jacob Aaron, the Crushers’ top golfer, whom he calls a friend.
It was also fun to play Napa and try to measure up against the Grizzles’ one-way players on the line.
“It brings a challenge onto the table when those (Napa) guys are on only one side of the ball. They only have to do one thing and we have to memorize multiple things,” Koehler said. “When it’s the fourth quarter and we’re gassed and we’re trying to stay in the game, we pump each other up.”
Added the 235-pound Nunes, one of the biggest Braves, “We all look back to the moments we’ve had at the end of practice – all the times we wanted to quit during running (drills) but just keep pushing through it because we’re all in it together and we’re all doing the same thing. So we just can’t stop and break down just because it’s a game.”
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“We all enjoy it so much, so we don’t want to give up on the game and let people down,” added Koehler.
Nunes agreed that playing twice as much as the guy across the line from you can lead to mental mistakes, but he doesn’t like to use fatigue as an excuse.
“I think we were capable of beating any of those teams,” he said of Napa and Vintage. “You could tell when we were in the games and playing right with them that they were surprised.
“We try to take every game the same, no matter the school size, no matter where they’re from. They’re all still 17-year-old boys just like us. They may be bigger than us, but it’s OK. We always are going to fight no matter no matter who they are. They’re just like us, trying to play football and have fun.”
Nunes looks forward to facing American Canyon senior Vance Eschenburg, who – like Beers – accounts for much of his team’s offense.
“Vance is a great young man, a great quarterback, leading that team this whole season, and we’re not going to take it any differently than we would take a Napa or Vintage game,” Nunes said. “AC is a very good team. You can’t just prepare for one person. You have to prepare for the whole team. They have a good line, a good receiver corps, and when you add on a great quarterback, we’re just going to have to practice around it and just try to stop it as much as we can.”
Being the smallest school in the VVAL is something in which these Braves take pride.
“I think it’s great,” Dunkle said, “because all the pressure’s on the bigger school. No one expects us to win so when we win, it’s great.”
Just as former Braves did in the Marin County Athletic League.
“We have all the experience of being a smaller school,” Kappler said. “So it’s always fun to go out and surprise guys.”
For the second year in a row, the Braves had to wait nine weeks for their bye week.
“It’s not ideal, but I think for us it’s always good for us to like have a good bye week going into our last game and the playoffs, right after those tough Napa and Vintage games,” Kappler said.
Dunkle and Nunes have legacies to uphold, the former having five older brothers who also played sports.
“You can tell he’s the youngest of six brothers with his high expectation for toughness and being physical and working hard,” head coach Brandon LaRocco said.
Kappler also lines up at defensive end.
“He’s 165 pounds and he’s not going to win every time, but he’ll battle everybody,” LaRocco said. He will key and he’ll get knocked down and he’ll get up, line right back up and do the exact same thing over again. You can’t ask for more than that. He’s tough as nails.”
Nunes is “really cerebral,” the coach said.
“That kid has a really good understanding of football,” said LaRocco, who is also the defensive coordinator. “He’s like having a second coach out there. He sees things and he understands what I’m trying to achieve on the defense and he gets us in the right spot. He makes all the checks, all the calls, takes all the signals in, adjusts our blitzes – all that stuff outside of our coverage checks, which come from our safeties. I really respect that in Marcus. He’s got a really high football IQ.”
Koehler is also smaller for a pass rusher, around 180 pounds.
“One of the most impressive things that I saw this year was when we played Napa, especially in the first half, we were able to get pressure by rushing three, maybe four, and it was Grant and Kappler because their motors don’t stop. They just they just keep going, so when (Napa quarterback Isaiah) Newton would try to scramble out and make a play, they were chasing him all the time. That happened for all four quarters. They just never stopped doing that. Grant is as good of a pass rusher as we’ve had here in a long time.”
“They’re phenomenal kids,” LaRocco said. “They work their tails off, whether it is in the weight room, on the practice field and conditioning, whatever it is. Their motors are phenomenal.
“They’re pretty locked on. They know the schemes on offense and defense very well, so even when they make mistakes they make them 1,000 mph and at the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for. Guys are going to mess up; it’s gonna happen. Schemes are gonna break down sometimes, but I never question the effort of those guys. They play with max effort, four quarters, both ways and on special teams, and not one of those guys is over 200 pounds except for Marcus.”