'Air Jorge' leads North Torrance into final
NOV 29, 2012 2:38p ET
North Torrance head coach Todd Croce said he’s going to tell people his quarterback is going by a different name these days.
"I told him I was going to tell people that his last name was ‘Air-nandez’ not Hernandez," Croce joked.
It would certainly be befitting of North Torrance senior quarterback Jorge Hernandez Jr. and one that he’s grown into, literally.
He grew up loving football - especially the position of quarterback - but as he went through his first season in high school as the signal caller for the North Torrance freshmen, he knew his days as a quarterback were numbered.
The numbers were against him. He stood just 5-3. Responsibilities of the quarterback like making reads and seeing over the line became increasingly difficult on the field with high schoolers.
“I was like seven yards back from the center because all of my linemen were bigger than me,” Hernandez said.
He knew he wanted to play quarterback but wasn’t sure where he was going to play as he continued his career with the Saxons.
Maybe defense? Perhaps, cornerback where he would eventually play as a sophomore on varsity. He wasn’t sure. He just knew quarterback likely wasn’t going to be an option.
“(We) definitely didn’t have him slated to take the starting (quarterback) spot by any means,” Croce said.
As fate would have it Hernandez began to stretch out. He grew two inches from his freshman to sophomore year. He grew four and a half inches from his sophomore year to his junior season.
“That was when I kind of hit a good one,” Hernandez said.
He wasn’t done though. Before the start of this season, he grew another couple of inches to 5-11.
“It was a big difference,” Hernandez said. “I’m starting to read more now. I’m starting to make better decisions when I’m throwing the ball.”
Added Croce: “It definitely, also, helped his arm strength, too. He’s always been an athlete and a competitor but it just made all the difference.”
Hernandez’s right arm has led the Saxons (11-2) aerial assault, also known as “The Circus,” into their first CIF finals appearance since 2004 on Saturday, when they’ll host Nordhoff (12-1) at 7 p.m. on FOX Sports West PREP ZONE for the Northwest Division title.
Earlier this season, during Saturday morning film sessions, North Torrance defensive coordinator Matt Mishler would often times play circus theme music while Hernandez was shown on the screen providing some of his greatest hits from the night before.
While Hernandez used his elusiveness to avoid defenders and buy time to allow his receivers to get open downfield, the circus music provided the perfect backdrop. Hence, Hernandez being known as “The Ringleader.”
“Guys would try to sack him and he would just take off and he would just try to run around and try to extend plays as long as he could,” Croce said. “It kind of became a little joke because he wouldn’t throw it away, he’d just try to keep it going.”
His ability to extend plays has led to Hernandez throwing for 3,809 yards, 56 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions on the season. He’s also rushed for 449 yards and eight scores.
“The numbers are ridiculous,” Croce said,”but he definitely has deserved them.”
Hernandez leads the Southern Section in touchdown passes and is second in the state.
In a year of turnarounds and improbable runs throughout the Southern Section, Hernandez is authoring, perhaps, the greatest turnaround of them all.
The Saxons finished a disappointing 2-8 last season. A team that had fairly high expectations coming into the season was bit hard by the injury bug. No injury was larger than running back Ryan McDaniel – who’s now at Washington – going down with a torn ACL in the second game of the season.
Hernandez and company couldn't overcome it. McDaniel was going to be counted on to carry the load. The Saxons looked to the air more, but it just didn’t click. North Torrance struggled through the season, averaging just 19.1 points per game.
Hernandez knew he couldn't endure another season like that so he went to work. He gathered his top two targets, Michael Jurado and Devante Jenkins during the offseason, and tossed the ball around. They worked on routes. They worked on timing, knowing that was a huge ingredient that was missing during their 2-8 season.
The results have been one of the greatest shows on turf the South Bay has seen in quite some time.
“He’s the whole offense,” Jenkins said. “Without Jorge, we would not be where we are right now.
“He’s a baller.”
In one of his best performances of the season, Hernandez torched Leuzinger for a school-record seven touchdowns, breaking the record set by current Arizona quarterback and former Saxon B.J. Denker.
It was a special game for many reasons for Hernandez. Not only is Denker a friend but Leuzinger is his father, Jorge Sr.’s, alma mater.
“It felt good,” Hernandez said. “The whole game did.
“I just wanted to talk crap to my dad.”
When you're having the type of season Hernandez is, you’re going to be able to talk “crap” to a lot of people. There are also going to be a lot of people trying to put your performances into words by anointing you with a nickname.
There have been plenty of those this season, flying in from all directions. And more are sure to come.
It’s not a problem. He’ll grow into it.