If you would have said Steele Jantz had the opportunity to play college football circa October 2007, folks around here would have looked at you like a crazy person.
But here we are, nearly 12 months later and Jantz, 19, is standing taller on two legs more than 2,000 miles away than he did that fateful night at Hooper Stadium in which he broke his leg, momentarily fracturing his dream of playing for a Division I football program.
One could assume Jantz’s life motto is carpe diem, the way he rebounded from tragedy and pieced together his wits, focusing on opportunities to come.
Instead of lounging around the house, miffed about his broken leg and mad at the world, Jantz did exactly the opposite. He rehabbed his tail off for the next three months, studied hard in his classes and graduated early due to the extra credits he had earned.
“I kind of realized that this type of thing, especially because of my senior year, this stops people from moving on,” Jantz said. “And that kind of scared me. I wanted to make sure that wasn’t going to happen. I just … I just didn’t want that to be me.”
With high school behind him, he took a wild chance in January by going to Hawaii and attempting to walk-on at the school of Colt Brennan (Washington Redskins) and Timmy Chang (NCAA record holder for most yards gained in a four-year career: 16,910).
“I don’t know,” Jantz said of how Hawaii came into the picture. “It wasn’t planned. It’s hard for me to give you a logical reason. I just thought I’m gonna apply for it and walk on.”
He didn’t fail to impress.
“He’s kind of a surprise for us,” said Nick Rolovich, Hawaii’s quarterback’s coach and a former Arena Football League player. “He was on campus when we got the job, and nobody knew he was around.
“I had no way of getting in touch with him,” Rolovich continued. “And then one day he just walked into the office. You have to just look at him, and he looks the part. He’s got a great frame, good size and got some focus on him.”
Not to mention a rocket arm.
The 6-foot, 3-inch quarterback was heralded for his defensive skills in high school, as a second team Delta Valley Conference player at safety and linebacker in his junior season at NU. But before he moved to Nevada City, Jantz used to sling the football in Southern California.
Originally from the greater Los Angeles area, Jantz played quarterback at powerhouse Crespi high school, running the team’s shotgun offense as a freshman before ever commanding Nevada Union’s version of the Wing-T. It’s his early experience that prepped him for the aerial assault known as Warriors football, but it’s the raw skills he has honed that garnered excitement for a guy who essentially came out of the woodwork.
Hawaii football blogs, particularly the one run by the Honolulu Advertiser, have chronicled the sheer surprise the Nevada City product has been on the island ” even as he is the eighth quarterback on a team in the midst of three-way quarterback battle.
“I’ve enjoyed getting on the University of Hawaii online and reading the blogs about him,” Nevada Union head coach Dave Humphers said. “I’m real proud of him.”
After strong showings in spring and summer camps, Jantz earned his right onto the most dynamic passing team in the Western Athletic Conference. He’ll redshirt this season and play scout quarterback in practices for the Warriors before being thrown into the competitive mix next season.
This season though, he’ll take on a host of roles to help prepare the Warriors. Before playing nationally ranked Florida (No. 5 in the AP and USA Today polls) Aug. 30, Jantz was “Steele-bow” on the scout team, emulating 2007 Heisman winning quarterback Tim Tebow. But for the most part, he’s soaking up the sun, so to speak, and snatching opportunities as they come to him.
“I do like it,” Jantz said. “Obviously it’s 2,000 miles away. That’s the hardest part, being away from family. But it’s good weather, the beach isn’t far. It’s fun.”
It’s a far cry from where he stood a year ago.
No one knew that Jantz’s left leg was fractured. They all thought it was shin splints. In fact, Jantz said, if Humphers knew that Jantz was hurt, then he wouldn’t have been playing defense.
“That was my choice,” Jantz said in his cool demeanor.
Jantz had sat out the first two games of the non-league schedule, waiting for the lingering feelings in his left leg to leave so he could prepare to make his mark on Miners football.
It was his senior season and he was just as pumped about the year as the rest of his teammates. He had waited in the wings as former Nevada Union quarterback Chad Mason led the team to dominance as the top guy. It was finally his turn to show off his skills and maybe grab some attention from recruiters. The only thing that was keeping Jantz off the field was the inflammation in his leg. He was told with ice and rest, he’d be fine for play. He passed his physical easily.
The memories of that night are ghastly.
Playing at safety against a visiting Del Oro, Jantz was away from the ball when the Golden Eagles called a running play. Virtually on the other side of the field, Jantz ran over to the action, reaching the pile and shedding a blocker, before tangling with another Golden Eagle. That’s when a teammate fell into his leg, theoretically snapping Nevada Union’s season in two.
The team never recovered.
The standing-room only crowd fell awash in silence. It was as if those in the crowd knew they were staring at a 4-6 season. (NU only won three games on the field last year, securing a forfeit victory over Franklin of Stockton for their fourth win.)
After the injury, the team never named another starting quarterback, instead opting for a competition between then-junior John Wivholm and junior varsity call-up Broughan Jantz, Steele’s younger brother.
While Jantz rehabbed his injury, his team struggled to make due against a strong Delta Valley Conference. It was the worst losing season in 38 years for Nevada Union, since the team went 4-5 in 1979.
Jantz says the bone has healed completely, but he is still getting his strength in the leg back to 100 percent.
To contact Sports Writer Zuri Berry, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4244. You can also read his blog online at TheUnion.com/blogs/sports.
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