High School Football

Why Montana State's scholarship offer could be the first of many for MJC's quarterback.

Modesto Jr College quarterback Dan Velasquez does a quarterback keeper. Modesto Jr College vs Diablo Valley in the Gridiron Classic Saturday Nov. 18th 2017.
Modesto Jr College quarterback Dan Velasquez does a quarterback keeper. Modesto Jr College vs Diablo Valley in the Gridiron Classic Saturday Nov. 18th 2017. mbicek@modbee.com

A relentless athlete with an appetite for iron and the playbook, Danny Velasquez isn't leaving anything to chance this off-season.

After being thrown into the fire last fall, Velasquez will begin the spring and summer seasons entrenched as Modesto Junior College's starting QB.

If he's still in town.

On prospects alone, Velasquez, a 6-foot-1 freshman with a rocket arm, has generated serious interest on the recruiting trail. He recently picked up his first offer, a partial scholarship from Montana State, and many on the MJC campus believe it could be a prelude of greater things to come.

"As of right now, I'm feeling like I'm going to stay another year to play, just to see what I can get," said Velasquez, who was a two-time Central California Conference MVP at Turlock High. "Montana State is a half offer, so I want to see if I can get a full offer. It's everyone's dream.

"So, right now, I feel like I'm going to come back and play another year."

Things could change over the next two months.

As bad as he wants Velasquez to stay another year, Modesto Junior College coach Rusty Stivers understands the realities of junior college football. The objective is to move guys to the next level, and the Pirates have been prolific at that under Stivers.

Two years ago, record-setting running back Jay Green (Beyer High) landed a scholarship offer to Southern Utah after an All-American freshman campaign. Velasquez's former Turlock teammate Mustafa Noel-Johnson, a menacing defensive lineman, left for Colorado this winter, another one-and-done.

To boost Velasquez's profile, MJC will host two combines in the next two months, each geared to showcase the quarterback's developing skill set and the program's sophomores.

"I would love a full offer, but I don't blame them. I've only played quarterback for one year," Velasquez said of Montana State's offer. "They want to be safe in their investment, I guess.

"I've always known I can throw the ball. I'm super happy with how I've progressed. I've put in a lot of work to get to where I am now. I'm ready to see where I can go."

Velasquez has taken an unorthodox path to the limelight at MJC. He earned his first CCC MVP award as a running back, and then enrolled at MJC with intentions of becoming a slot receiver in Stivers' high-octane NASCAR offense.

Both times, plans changed.

With no other option, Turlock coach James Peterson put his best athlete under center to start the 2016 season. He told Velasquez, then a senior, to let his instincts and natural ability take over. Velasquez led the Bulldogs to the CCC title and repeated as the conference's MVP.

At MJC, a wave of injuries early in the season forced Stivers to play Velasquez under center, where he once again used his talent to compensate for lack of preparation and mechanics.

The first true freshman to start for MJC since 2003 (Ryan Thorson, Beyer), Velasquez threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also ran for 810 yards and 10 touchdowns, earning an All-Big 8 first-team selection and the Gridiron Classic MVP after engineering a 73-41 win over Diablo Valley College.

Velasquez accounted for more than 380 yards of offense and three touchdowns in the bowl win.

Not bad for a kid who hadn't received one rep during the summer workouts.

"Our philosophy is to give a year of experience to quarterbacks with passing concepts and adjusting to the speed of he game," Stivers said. "Danny taking over (during) Game 2 with zero reps at quarterback in the spring or summer is extraordinary."

Since then, time has been his biggest ally. Velasquez has spent the off-season learning the nuances of the position, a luxury he didn't have in the fall, and he hopes his development will boost his recruitment.

He will attend camps at Northern Arizona and Sacramento State in June, along with the combines hosted by MJC.

"Everybody knows I have an arm and can make any throw on the field," said Velasquez, also a straight-A student. "It's just a matter of me becoming a quarterback and not a running back who can throw.

"It's about mastering the offense, getting through the reads and all of that. I want to prove I can play the position at a high level."