By Grace Bernal
Jordan Barton, the starting quarterback for the Damien High School Spartans, had high expectations for his senior year coming into the 2019 season. Having already received athletic scholarship offers from Redlands University and Sacramento State, he was in the hunt to see what other colleges might be interested in his talent and providing him with a possible stepping stone to a career in the NFL.
At a still-growing 5 foot 11 and a yet-to-fully fill out 165 pounds, Barton can throw level passes with zip accurately to 45 yards, and heave the pigskin somewhat wildly in a looping arc to 65 yards. The Spartans had come off a somewhat disappointing show of things last year, with an overall 4-7 record and a league record of 1-4, in Mark Paredes final season as coach. Last January marked the arrival of Matt Bechtel, a Damien alumnus, who had just guided South Hills High through a season where they rang up a string of 14 straight victories, a Hacienda League championship and then two lopsided post season victories before being defeated for the first time in the 2018 California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section title game against Lawndale.
Bechtel’s return to Damien as a coach, some 20 years after he had played there as a quarterback, was a good omen for Barton, who was hoping the on-and-off-the-field discipline Bechtel is known for instilling in his players would redound to his benefit, allowing him to function as the Spartan’s field general in an environment tightly controlled by Bechtel in his role as sideline general. That, with what he knew was a solid group of linemen in front of him and some talented receivers he had been working with at Damien over the previous three years, held out the promise of being able to cap his high school football career with a winning, and quite possibly a championship, senior year.
Barton realized that Bechtel’s advent at Damien meant that the playbook he had been utilizing for the first years he was at Damien was going out the window and he would be required to learn everything anew.
“I studied the playbook about an hour everyday, but sometimes it’s no set time,” Barton said. “I just keep with it until I feel that I fully understand everything and know all my assignments and those of my teammates.”
He added, “We practice about eight hours a week, not including film time, so, yes, I have mastered the playbook. There’s new stuff every week but it’s pretty easy to learn and remember.”
Barton was raring to go. The first game of the season, in a non-league contest against Glendora, he had what appeared to be an auspicious start. In the first half, he completed seven of thirteen passes for 92 yards with one touchdown throw to Jacob Leazonby. He had just hit his stride in the second half, with two completions in three passes during the Spartan’s first possession in the third quarter. Having yet avoided any interceptions, Barton was ushering the offensive unit downfield toward what looked to be another sure touchdown when disaster struck. On a pass play in which a linebacker was blitzing, the forward running back, who was supposed to pick up any intruders into the backfield, missed his blocking assignment. As Barton was dropping back and had just set up to throw a midrange pass to his left, he was lit up by the linebacker. Because of his athleticism, Barton did not go down. However, because of the force of the hit he had sustained, when he came down he landed awkwardly with his left foot, causing it to bend slightly upward, resulting in an inside fracture mid-foot.
He came back into the game with the next series of downs, completing one pass and playing until Damien had to punt. It was clear at that point, however, that something was amiss. With Barton out of the line-up for the rest of the game, the Spartans were unable to stay on track offensively, and the Tartans prevailed 17-7.
An X-ray at Pomona Valley Hospital, where he was taken, revealed the break, what was termed a “slight” fracture of his left foot.
Barton thereafter came under the care of Damien’s head athletic trainer, Gabrielle White, who oversees Damien’s sports medicine program. Barton was outfitted with a boot and underwent a physical therapy regimen outlined by White, which included nonstop, weekends included, water therapy in the pool.
Barton remained sidelined for four weeks. The recuperative power invested in youngsters, along with the magic White worked, allowed Barton to make his long-awaited return in the Spartan’s sixth game, what promised to be a hard-fought contest against 2018 Baseline League Champion Upland High, who last year went all the way to the California Interscholastic Federation championship game before losing. Barton and his teammates played valiantly, but were overcome 21-3, with the Highlanders defensive secondary preventing Barton from making any scoring contact with his receivers.
“We always look forward to playing teams the level of Upland,” Barton said. “We can play with any team out there, and playing tough against them proves it.”
While Upland carried the day on the gridiron last week, it turns out that the Highlanders had failed to properly register two of their players, and under the California Interscholastic Federation’s rules, they were required to forfeit the game against Damien on technical grounds. That puts Damien on firm footing with a 1-0 record going into the rest of the Baseline League Season, which continues when they meet the Chino Hills Bulldogs tonight.
While with the four-game interruption it does not look like Barton’s season will turn out in quite the way he hoped, he was philosophical about things
“My injury has taught me to be patient and has taught me to keep a positive mindset,” he told the Sentinel. “Your mind plays a large role in how fast you recover from your injury. My advice to an injured athlete who’s eager to get back into the game is listen your body. You know your body better than anybody else. If you feel you can go and you know it won’t make things worse, go ahead and do it. Play it smart and get yourself healthy again and rest, but if you can feel it and your body is telling you ‘Yes,’ I say get back with your team. There’s nothing like being on the field playing with your teammates.”
Barton said, “I’d say the biggest challenge in football is just going out and living up to my own expectations every week. Every week I set a new goal for myself and challenge myself to get better than I was the week before.”
He is prepared for setbacks along the way, and fierce competition is part of sports, he said. “The Baseline League is loaded with solid teams all the way around,” Barton said. “It’s great competition week in and week out.”
It was rough being on the sidelines and not being able to play, but he says he was rooting for his team as hard as anyone, including cheering on Dylan Gutierrez, the 16-year-old freshman who filled in for him as quarterback.
The Sentinel asked if watching someone else at his position made him consider that he might have to take an alternative route to playing if someone were to beat him out as the play caller.
“I don’t shy away from playing another position because I’ll do whatever the team needs me to do,” Barton said, “but I feel I’m best at quarterback and I plan to stay at quarterback for the rest of my career.”
Asked if his perception of football has changed since he started as quarterback on the Damien freshman team, he said, “No, nothing has changed from freshman to senior year. It’s pretty much been the same amount of intensity all four years of high school.”
And even with the setback of this year’s injury, he said, he will look to play when he gets to college, proving he can compete at that level.
“Yes, I see myself playing college football,” he said.
As dedicated as he is to making it on the gridiron, Barton said that is not his only or even primary focus.
“Grades are very important to me,” he said. “My parents have drilled that into my head since I started going to school. Good grades are a must in order to get into a good college and create a good future.”
Barton said, “As of right now, I’m not sure where I want to go. I would love to stay close to home, but I will go anywhere if it means I will receive a great education and be given the opportunity to play football.”
Things do not always run smoothly or the way he and everyone else expects or wants, he said. His injury and the way it untracked him for four games illustrated that. He said, however, that whatever adversity and bumps in the road that one encounters, “You have to trust the process. There will be tough times, but it all happens for a reason. Those hard times will only make you better and stronger and make you strive to be greater. Also, don’t wish time away. Enjoy every little thing and every moment because it really does go by fast. Have fun and enjoy the game. It should always be fun.”
By Grace Bernal