Gary Ely doesn’t fret too much about Johnny Mendoza executing the Xs and Os to precision.
He’s not worried about Mendoza’s growth as a quarterback.
Right now, there’s only one thing Ely really cares about — the one thing that makes the junior signal caller so valuable and indispensable to the Granger Spartans.
“He’s a great leader — and that’s more important than any stupid concepts I can throw at him,” the head coach said. “At this level, that type of leadership is so much more important than calling plays.
“I tell him that if he keeps working as hard as he does, his teammates will follow him.”
Which is exactly what Mendoza wants to see happen.
When Mendoza arrived at Granger, Ely quickly saw the athletic ability and leadership potential and decided that quarterback, not tailback, was where he belonged — which helped flip the switch on that latter trait.
“They told me I would be the quarterback, so I knew I’d have to step up and become more of a leader. That’s just my responsibility,” he said. “It’s a young team that looks up to me and I have to respond to that.”
Much of Mendoza’s ability to step up is due to his own drive.
“I’m very competitive,” he said. “I told guys to at least work hard. I don’t want to just play — I want to win.”
Mendoza also wants to keep getting better.
“He’s one of our hardest workers,” the coach said. “In our summer workouts, no one outworks him.”
“I’m just working hard, first in practice and then in the games because everyone is watching you,” he said. “If I don’t work hard, I can’t expect the younger players to work hard.”
Along with leading, there is listening, something Mendoza started doing as soon as he hit high school.
“The transition was tough but I looked to the seniors for advice,” he said. “I did not know what to expect but I was willing to learn and they knew what it takes and I knew they were good players. I said to myself it would help in the long run to listen to them.”
That combination of hard work and willingness to learn has also helped Mendoza start growing from a run-first quarterback into more of a dual threat.
“He has a grasp. An understanding,” Ely said. “You see the potential … and he’s grown as he’s matured. He’s so darn competitive.”
“I’ve worked on my arm as well as getting bigger and stronger,” said Mendoza, who will also play an important role on defense at linebacker. “Now, I’m way more comfortable.”
“My expectation is to win,” he said. “That’s the first thing on my mind.”
Spoken like a true leader.