As Valley Center freshmen, Tyler Bernard and James Johnson connected for 15 touchdown passes on the JV squad. During their sophomore and junior seasons on varsity, the hype surrounding them grew with every snap.
Now, the spotlight is shining brighter than ever. They're seniors. They've got one last shot to leave their mark on the San Diego Section.
Next year Johnson, a receiver, could head to Arizona, USC, UCLA, Oregon or any other top Division I program that's recently shown him interest.
For Bernard, a quarterback, 2008 could be a football swansong. A shortstop, third baseman and pitcher drawing heavy interest from Oregon and Arizona State, Bernard might be done with the gridiron by mid-December.
Of course, Bernard could get blown away by a football scholarship in the interim. If he heads to Army, he said he'd try to play both sports.
"It's kind of all in the air right now," Bernard said. "It's going to simply come down to where I fit in best. But, yeah, this could be my last year playing football."
At any rate, Bernard and Johnson hope to follow last season's success in the coming campaign.
The Jaguars had growing pains in 2006, going 4-7. But they won the Division IV section championship last year, and they return most of their skill players this season.
The only question marks lay in the trenches. Coach Rob Gilster said his offensive line is big but inexperienced. Only Josh Bergman -- 6-feet, 3-inches, 270 pounds -- returns from last year's varsity squad. He'll attract Division I interest this season, but he can't block an entire defensive line on his own.
"We need to get those guys to gel a little," said Gilster, who went over game film with the new linemen once a week last semester to accelerate their football education. "All the skill positions we feel good about, but the lines are kind of a rough spot."
Gilster doesn't worry as much about his defense. The Jaguars' linemen typically zone-block, allowing for occasional mistakes, and three of their defensive backs -- Johnson, Sean Adams and David Gould -- have varsity experience.
If those guys keep opponents out of the red zone, Johnson and Bernard won't have problems putting points on the board.
Even with a questionable offensive line, Gilster knows Bernard can keep his composure.
When Bernard was a sophomore, he took too many sacks and threw too many interceptions. Instead of losing five yards, he'd lose 10. Instead of throwing out of bounds, he'd throw to an opponent.
He's matured light years since then. Though Bernard's not as heralded as Johnson, he is one of the better quarterbacks in San Diego.
"He's just so different now, so much more efficient," Gilster said. "He just won't take losses."
It helps, of course, to have Johnson -- the No. 55 prospect in California according to Rivals.com -- as an option. A two-time first-team San Diego CIF selection, Johnson saw an array of double- and triple-team coverage in passing tournaments at San Diego State and the University of San Diego this summer. Those should help him prepare for 2008. Having spent an extensive amount of time together, Johnson and Bernard likely can crack any specially designed defenses. Because they've got the offensive playbook down pat, Gilster said they have a tendency to 'sort of freelance during games.'
Surely, that can be off-setting for a coach with a specific gameplan. But, with Johnson and Bernard, Gilster is willing to adjust.
"We've won three CIF championships in the past four years, so that's all our guys think about," Gilster said. "Most of them have the experience. We think we have the guys to do it, now they just have to show up everyday."
Please contact writer David Biderman at [email protected] with questions, comments or suggestions for future stories -- all ideas will be considered.