Former Bruin quarterback comes off bench sizzling hot at Sierra College
Tanner Mathias had once before played the role of backup quarterback.
But when he was the second-string signal-caller at Bear River High School, the Bruin coaching staff wasn’t about to have the 6-foot, 5-inch junior standing on the sidelines with a clipboard in hand.
Instead, Terry Logue and Scott Savoie plugged Mathias in at tight end, where he proved to be valuable blocker and a valued safety net for senior quarterback Drew Loftus.
So when Mathias was assigned the backup job as a redshirt freshman at Sierra College this fall, instead of being asked to help the Wolverines elsewhere, he focused his attention on being ready to take the snaps when he did get the call to action.
And when that call finally did come, the former Bruin couldn’t have seemed more ready to go.
Trailing Sac City College 16-3 at halftime of a Sept. 18 matchup at Sierra, Wolverine coach Jeff Tisdel turned to Mathias in hopes of him providing a second-half spark.
Mathias did more than that, throwing five second-half touchdown passes to rally the Wolverines to a 45-16 win.
“It felt like the (defensive backs) were walking and I was running,” Mathias said. “Things were slowing down for me. That’s exactly how it went.
“There were a few more passes that I probably could have completed and I probably could have read things a little smoother, but I wasn’t going to complain.”
Since that Saturday, there hasn’t been a whole lot to complain about at Sierra. The Wolverines are 3-2 on the season, after winning their last two games, against American River (40-34) and Feather River (27-21).
Mathias has thrown for 17 touchdown passes and 1,051 in essentially three and a half games, having not played in the season-opening 27-7 loss to Butte College. He again helped rally the Wolverines to the overtime win over Feather River last week, after trailing 21-14. His 223 yards and three touchdown passes preceded a game-winning fumble recovery for Sierra.
Though he’s struggled at times, completing 56 of 123 (45.5 percent) passes with six interceptions, there’s no mistaking the big-play ability of his big right arm.
“I just love it,” Bear River coach Scott Savoie said of Mathias’ performance. “Here’s a Bear River kid doing this. People always think of (Bear River) as a run-first offense, which we most definitely are. But we threw the ball quite a bit in Tanner’s season year.
“It’s just awesome that he’s gone off to the local junior college, playing for a pass-first team, and he’s the guy.”
Savoie said Mathias’ determination to play quarterback is likely the driving force behind his success. The former Bruin, who was named The Union’s 2009 Athlete of the Year after playing key roles in football, basketball and track & field at Bear River, had an opportunity to walk-on at Sacramento State as a tight end, Savoie said.
“But he wanted to take a shot at Sierra College and play quarterback,” Savoie said. “He wanted to take that shot and go there and hopefully transfer someplace else to play after that.
“The thing that was always apparent about Tanner is that he has a very short memory. He’s the kind of guy who, after throwing an interception, is going to go back in there and compete and not worry about throwing another interception. And that’s big for a quarterback.”
Mathias had a big senior season for the Bruins, leading Bear River to an 8-3 record, a second-place finish in the Pioneer Valley League and a win over rival Colfax that snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Falcons. He completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 1,523 yards along with 15 touchdowns against four interceptions.
But even with his sharp statistics and prototype size for a drop-back quarterback, there weren’t a lot of scholarship offers on his doorstep. Now, he’s hoping to continue to make the most of his opportunity with the Wolverines in order to land that coveted scholarship.
“Playing on the scout team last year (during his redshirt season), definitely got me more ready than anything,” Mathias said. “I think the leadership (skills) have always been there, even in high school. I’ve always been confident in my leadership ability, but my ability to read coverages and hit the open guy needed some work. And that’s what I did as a redshirt last year.
“If I get a phone call, I’d love to play at another college after playing here. I’ve got three more years to play after this year, so I do hope to play.”
First things being first, however, Mathias says he’s focused on leading the Wolverines to the Valley Conference championship, a quest that continues this week with a 7 p.m. game Saturday at Reedley College, south of Fresno.
“It starts with the Valley championship,” Mathias said. “You want to take them one game at a time. But realistically, I want nothing less than the Valley championship and then a state championship, if we can get it.”
Contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 477-4240.
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