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Central Valley varsity football team to rely on dual-threat quarterback
Senior Kendel Johnson will start at quarterback for the Hawks. Johnson, a 2012 Beyer transfer, logged playing time at QB and defensive back last year. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Kendel Johnson steps in as the new quarterback for the Hawks.

Johnson, a 6-foot-tall 180-pound senior, replaces four-year contributor Abraham Navarro.

Trevor Mew, Navarro's predecessor, was Central Valley's first-ever QB. He started his senior, junior and sophomore years.

"We're lucky to have a nice lineage of quarterbacks here," Central Valley head coach Jason McCloskey said.

Johnson sat out the first six games of the 2012 season after transferring from Modesto's Beyer High School.

Kendel's sister Jode was a three-time winner of the Ceres High School Female Athlete of the Year Award. She earned 10 varsity letters, including four in basketball and three in both softball and volleyball.

Johnson was a ball boy for the Bulldogs' football team during his childhood.

"I don't know why he came to Central Valley but we're fortunate to have him," McCloskey said. "We feel like we're not taking a step down. He has all the tangibles you want in a quarterback. He's a natural leader. He's very competitive. He's very intelligent and a hard worker. He's got size. He's physical. He likes to hit. He can chuck the ball 70-plus yards. He just comes from a good, solid family."

Kendel will provide a dual-threat at quarterback.

He completed 2 of 7 passes for 13 yards, rushed for 77 yards on 18 carries and caught two passes for 13 yards while playing in four games during his junior year with the Hawks. He tallied 17 tackles, two pass deflections, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble at defensive back.

"He didn't play much last year," McCloskey said. "He's an unknown factor. He's going to surprise a lot of people. With his arm and ability to run the option game, we feel confident in what we'll be able to do on offense. If he stays healthy, he'll have a great season. He'll be in the running for a lot of accolades for quarterbacks."

Kendel opened eyes at the Oakland Nike Football SPARQ Combine in May at Laney College.

Approximately 1,000 athletes from 15 different states participated.

Johnson posted the 25th-best overall score (91.23).

He had a 34.4-inch vertical jump, 4.79 40-yard dash time, 4.33 20-yard shuttle and 38-foot power ball throw.

Kendel was named one of Central Valley's team leaders after leading the Hawks to a top-four finish at the Modesto Junior College 7-on-7 passing tournament.

"He solidified the position as the summer went on," McCloskey said. "He took such good control of our offense and team against Downey. He showed the leadership qualities to be a captain."

Johnson will have plenty of support as Central Valley seeks to accomplish several firsts in 2013.

Ja'Quan Gardner, the Western Athletic Conference's and arguably the Stanislaus District's top running back, returns for his third and final season with the Hawks.

Gardner rushed for 1,562 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2012. He caught 14 passes for 272 yards and two TDs.

Angelo Bermudez, a junior running back/receiver, racked up 1,162 all-purpose yards to go along with five touchdowns last year.

Ben Anitelea (Sr., FB), Milton Uti (Sr., WR), Marcus Clark (Sr., WR) and Christian Romo (Sr., TE) will be counted upon as well.

Uti hauled in a team-leading five touchdown passes as a junior. He totaled 179 yards on 14 receptions.

Clark grabbed three passes for 20 yards and one score.

Anitelea added 24 receiving yards.

Romo, a 6-foot-4 245-pound tight end, could play a big role in Central Valley's offense.

"We don't have a definitive system," McCloskey said. "We'll be able to run everything from option to power football. We'll be able to go five-wide if necessary. We're going to spread teams out and get the ball to our playmakers. We plan on being a lot more dynamic and efficient."

Central Valley fielded its first-ever varsity football team in 2006.

The Hawks have never qualified for the playoffs, captured a league title or posted a winning season.

Central Valley, 5-5 a year ago, won four of its first five games and appeared to be headed toward its first playoff appearance in 2012. The Hawks closed out the year with a 1-4 finish and fell one victory shy of making history.

"I think this is the year," McCloskey said. "I like what I see. I think we're going to accomplish all of our goals. We don't want to let each other, our fans and our school down. We got to play sound, fundamental football. We can't win on just talent alone."