Shawn Munoz used to wind up his powerful right arm and chuck it, not worrying that it took an extra second or two to get rid of the ball.
It worked as a freshman, but that slow release wasn't going to work on varsity and that's where the sophomore was headed this season.
"I hadn't played quarterback until I was a freshman, so I'm still figuring out a lot of this," said Munoz, a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder. "That long release was one thing I had to fix."
He's on the way to doing just that, which is why the Eagles are so optimistic that they'll play a role in the Modesto Metro Conference race.
The Eagles (1-3) open conference play tonight versus Beyer (1-3), at 7:30 at Downey High. The winner is expected to battle Downey (3-1) for the MMC championship and one of two guaranteed section playoff berths.
It's one of two games on tap: Buhach Colony, 3-1 and The Bee's top-ranked large school, hosts Serra of San Mateo (2-0) at Atwater High.
Munoz has been the big surprise in the MMC, stepping into the starting role and producing instant results with his arm and his fast feet. He brings with him a big-play element that is rare in the MMC: The ability to go the length of the field.
"People say I'm a batter runner, but I've been working hard at being a better passer," said Munoz, who has passed for 576 yards, run for 468 yards and produced 10 TDs. "I go to see Roger Theder, and he's working me hard to get that quick release."
Shortening his release is crucial if Munoz is to evolve. A long release means holding the ball without reason, giving defenders an opportunity to sack him or knock the ball loose. A long release also limits Munoz's effectiveness going downfield. By shortening his arm motion he doesn't take his arm as far back as he used to, and the motion is more economical as he's throwing the ball it will improve Munoz's accuracy.
"Christian Kahler used to be a QB here, and he suggested I see Theder," said Munoz, who played running back in his four seasons of Pop Warner.
Theder has worked with an impressive stable of QBs, including Colin Kaepernick when the San Francisco 49ers' backup was playing at Pitman.
Munoz appears to be improving each week.
In his varsity debut, a 35-31 loss to No. 2-ranked Pitman, he threw a couple balls off his back feet one was intercepted, and others off the mark as he completed just 6 of 18 for 161 yards and two TDs.
He's completed at least 50 percent of his passes in each of his last three games, despite playing some of the Stanislaus District's top programs. Enochs beat Turlock 42-21, and fell to top-ranked Buhach Colony and sixth-ranked Merced. They took Merced into overtime before losing 42-41.
"The schedule has had a lot to do with the way we're playing," said Munoz, who has run for 113 yards or more in three of his four games. "We've learned a lot about ourselves in the tight games."
They'll take that experience to the MMC, where only the top two teams are expected to advance to the playoffs. With Downey the favorite, it appears Beyer and Enochs will battle for the second berth.
Not so fast, says Munoz. He's not about to concede the conference title to the potent Knights.
"I worked my butt off in the offseason, all of us worked hard," said Munoz, who has completed 22 of his 37 balls for 415 yards in his last three games. "I went to a QB camp, I lifted a lot, I ran a lot."
And that was before he knew his destination.
"Because I played JV last year, I thought they might bring me up to varsity," said Munoz, who beat out returning starter Trey Cooper. "Trey's a big part of the reason I'm playing the way I am.
"He helps me a lot. There's no fighting going on. He's playing receiver and DB. He pushed me hard this summer, making me a better quarterback."
Munoz had an accelerated learning curve, and he was able to pick up many of the nuances in the Veer offense. He's got three decisions to make every snap hand off the ball, pitch it or keep it.
Munoz has five plays of 65 yards or more, including runs of 45, 65 and 68 yards. That explain why Enochs averages 481 yards and 38 points a game.
Those numbers could improve as Munoz continues to evolve as a passer. That means accepting short-term setbacks for the long-term benefits.
"You've got to have confidence that it's going to make you a better player, because they changed the way I throw the ball," said Munoz. "I thought I threw it well, but I've seen how my motion has changed with the quick release. It's much better."
Four Eagles have at least 168 yards this season, including Gabriel Lindsey-Turner (378 yards, six TDs) and Tomas Alvarez (193 yards, four TDs).
That success and Munoz's health depends heavily on the work ethic of 6-3, 300-pound center Niles Graham, who is instrumental with his shotgun snaps. Flanking Graham are Justin Gilbert (6-4, 270) and Andrew Isaa (5-10, 230), and tackles Myles Burse (5-11, 215) and Jacob Moore (6-1, 195).
"Nothing happens if those guys aren't opening the holes," said Munoz, whose club is averaging 6.6 a run and 21 yards per completion. "We've got guys who get downfield, and can break tackles."
Josh Quevedo is capable of doing both. The 5-11 senior averages 32 yards on eight catches highlighted by a 79-yard catch-and-run for a TD against Pitman and he's hauled in three scoring tosses.
"Josh has got that speed, but I know he's tough, too," Munoz said. "He's a receiver I can throw the ball to, and I know Josh will come down with it."