When he’s playing Madden video, one of his favorite hobbies, Modesto Christian senior quarterback Hayden Sauser likes to air the ball out.
“You have to be a heavy thrower in Madden,” Sauser said. “I am a pretty skilled Madden player. If you are on the goal line, I will think about running it.”
There is a strong possibility Sauser throws more in a first quarter of a Madden game than in an entire night on the field for the co-Trans Valley League Champion Crusaders (9-1), who host Argonaut in the first round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs on Friday.
Modesto Christian is a run-heavy team, which averages over 230 rushing yards a game, creating fewer opportunities for Sauser.
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Some quarterbacks might not like the idea or buy into that style of offense but Sauser is happy right where he is.
“You really have to just take focus on maximizing the opportunities when you throw the ball,” Sauser said. “Whenever I get my opportunity, I have to take advantage of it.”
In 17 career starts, only twice has he reached either 20 attempts or 200 yards in a single game.
Sauser said the toughest part of throwing so little is not mentally checking out because there are times when he’s going to have to make a play.
“You can’t check out (mentally) because you need to see how the defenses are adjusting as you run the ball and how they are going to adjust when you throw the ball,” Sauser said.
Sauser has thrown for only 1,317 yards this year but has completed 65 percent of his throws with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
“We are better when we don’t line up in a throwing formation and try to three-step drop him,” Crusaders coach Mike Parsons said. “If we play action him and protect him, he is lights out.”
One of those opportunities where he was ready was against Hilmar in a pivotal TVL matchup in October.
Leading 17-14 in the second quarter, the Crusaders had been running the ball successfully and Sauser had only three passing attempts.
But, with 3:29 left, Sauser got the call, and made the most of it, completing a 22-yard touchdown pass to senior running back Isaac Schinmann.
A perfect throw over the middle.
He finished 9 of 12 for 153 yards and a touchdown.
“Football is a sport where quarterbacks have to be perfect in an imperfect game,” Sauser said. “Its difficult but if you take the time to prepare, you can achieve it.”
After two years on junior varsity, Sauser was called last year and made his first career start against Gustine on Sept. 15, 2017. Sauser started every game until he broke his right collarbone in the final regular-season game of the year.
Just like that, the season was over for Sauser and he had to watch from the sidelines as the Crusaders made it all the way to the Div. VI title game where they lost to Hilmar.
“It was really difficult because the only thing you want to do as a football player is go out there and play with your guys,” Sauser said. “I learned a lot through it. You had to be the biggest cheerleaders for your guys.”
In March, Sauser, still recovering from his injury, started working with the Panelli Passing Academy, which is led by former Orestimba High and Modesto Junior College standout Greg Panelli.
“Greg has been a big part in getting my pre-snap read and my mechanics down,” Sauser said. “Mechanics are another side of things that you need as a quarterback and he has been amazing.”
Some of the quarterbacks that Sauser trains with include: Turlock senior Jonah Kosakiewicz, Central Catholic junior Dalton Durossette, and Orestimba senior Jacob Bettencourt.
Sauser called it “amazing” to be able to train with other quarterbacks in the area.
Panelli called Sauser “pretty raw” but said he was more mechanically sound with his footwork and staying within himself.
In the eight months he has worked with 6-foot-2 quarterback, he has seen a lot of growth.
“He has to be one of the smoothest quarterbacks that I work with,” Panelli said. “Hayden is really calm, cool, and collected. He always has this fun, outgoing attitude. He gets along with everybody. When he carries that out to football field, they know that they are getting a leader.”
When he’s not working with Panelli and the other quarterbacks on Saturdays and Sundays at MJC, Sauser will work with his MC receivers on routes and just getting more reps in.
“Last weekend, he was trying to rally guys to throw on Sunday,” Parsons said. “He is a gym rat on the football field.”
Sauser wants to continue playing football after he graduates. Though not having as much film as other quarterbacks and no offers right now, Sauser said he “is going to make the most of his opportunities” and just continue to go out on the football field and be a playmaker.
Panelli believes interest will pick up soon for Sauser.
“Once a coach gets to know Hayden and how hard-working he is,” Panelli said, “it’s going to be hard for a lot of coaches to say no.”