Sam Marquez was a standout to begin the season.
Just not in the way he is now.
As the fourth-string quarterback, the freshman from Oxnard was handed a hat and a vest, so he’d stand out from all the other bodies on the sidelines as he signaled the plays onto the field.
“That's what I was told to do,” Marquez said. “If my coaches tell me to do it, I’ve got to do it.”
Three months later, Marquez will be the quarterback receiving the signals, leading the Pirates into the California Community College playoffs.
“It's an unbelievable story,” Ventura College head coach Steve Mooshagian said.
No. 4 Ventura College (7-3) will face top-seeded Riverside (10-0) in the Southern California semifinals Saturday afternoon at San Bernardino Valley College.
The Pirates’ unlikely fourth playoff appearance in five seasons has been led by the freshman from Oxnard High, who has come off the sidelines to go 3-0 as a starting quarterback after assuming he was headed for a redshirt season.
“It’s something I never thought would happen,” Marquez said. “I just didn't think I'd have a shot to start this year.”
Marquez has completed 71 of 110 passes for 968 yards and 10 touchdowns in just four games.
“Our receivers done a great job of going up and catching the ball for him and I can count on one hand maybe the mistakes that he's made,” Mooshagian said. “He's just doing what he's coached to do and he's done a great job.”
Even as he prepares for the postseason, Marquez clings to a backup’s mentality.
“I got to just stay focused,” Marquez said. “I can’t get all big-headed. At the end of the day, I'm just a football player. I don't want to see it as like I'm the starter or anything.
“I still want to treat it like almost like, I'm still (the backup) and I have to prove to the coaches that I can still do this.”
With Braden Siri, Nate Frederick and Ezekiel Savage II ahead of him on the depth chart, Marquez assumed this fall would be a redshirt season.
“He was doing everything right,” Mooshagian said. “We had four quarterbacks in the summer and it was like, ‘Gosh, we can't give everyone a turn.’
“He never complained. He always studied. He always knew what he was doing.”
Mooshagian thinks his early role signaling in the plays for Siri helped him.
“He was really watching the game and seeing what was going on,” Mooshagian said.
Siri and Frederick suffered injuries, opening up an opportunity after Marquez’s late appearance in a 31-21 loss at Bakersfield on Oct. 22.
The Pirates were trailing 24-7 with seven minutes to play when interim coach Terry Morris turned to Marquez.
“Stepping onto the field … it was just like a rush,” Marquez said. “It was just a lot to take in.”
Marquez led VC to two late scoring drives, throwing touchdowns to Sebastian Macaluso and Ja’ron Glenn. The Pirates lost 31-21, but Marquez did enough to earn the start the next week against Hancock.
“He's always been a coachable kid,” said running back Jesse Valenzuela. “He just showed poise against Bakersfield. He was there in the backfield showing that he’s not going to get to rattled.”
Marquez threw three touchdowns in wins over Hancock and College of the Canyons and two more against East Los Angeles.
The three-game winning streak to end the season, as well as the combination of other results, moved the Pirates back into the postseason on a tiebreaker.
And put the former fourth-string quarterback on course to start in the Southern California semifinals.
“It's a remarkable story,” Mooshagian said.
Joe Curley covers college sports for he Star. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more coverage, follow @vcscolleges on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Marquez has gone from fourth string to playoff starter for VC football