A year ago, first-year freshman Hartnell quarterback Isaiah Ariolla-Randalle was on the sidelines at Sacramento High School. Injury forced the would-be starter to sit out his senior season.
Hartnell spotted his potential and invited him to Salinas, even though he'd thrown for just over 100 yards in his junior year as a backup QB.
As the Panthers seek to extend their 5-0 season at San Jose City College on Oct. 13, Ariolla-Randalle has a chance to exceed Hartnell's all-time season passing records, while earning the admiration of coaches and teammates ― and the feeling is mutual.
Coming into this weekend, he had thrown for 1,840 yards and 15 touchdown passes. The passing records now belong to Justin Gutierrez, who threw for 3,209 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2015.
"For a freshman, he's been a silent leader," Head Coach Matt Collins said. "He has improved each week. He's been coachable, and he is great to have around."
Of course passing requires receiving, and Ariolla-Randalle has established a strong connection with several freshman wideouts, including two whom he played with in high school. He also gives kudos to Panther blocking, and the defense's ability to get the ball back for the Panthers.
The receiving trio Duante Moore (Sacramento) , Davon Owens (Sacramento) and Jeff Weimer (Salinas High) have all caught for at least 400 yards, positioning them to achieve the 900-yard benchmark by season's end.
Ariolla-Randalle and his receivers put in extra time over the summer, as well as before and after fall practices to stay in the groove.
Collins praised Ariolla-Randalle for pushing himself to bring his game to the next level.
"He takes his job as our QB seriously," he said, "and he is progressing with his academic commitments as well."
A kinesiology major who plans to pursue a career in physical therapy, Ariolla-Randalle has yet to receive any heavy recruitment for a possible transition to play at the four-year level. He said he's staying "humble."
"I'm keeping myself prepared for everything that's coming for me as far as offers, looks or anything," he said.