If Payton Quintanilla had to pick the one word he heard the most over the past summer he would have to go with “slide.”
Quintanilla, a junior on Hoquiam High School’s football team, has had a linebacker’s mentality since he first started playing the sport in grade school. It’s a pretty straight forward creed, when you’re on that field you want to be the one initiating the contact.
That’s what made hearing the word “slide” constantly at practice a little difficult to absorb at first.
Quintanilla was a first-team all-1A Evergreen League linebacker last year for the Grizzlies, joining fellow first-team selection Chewy Muro to form a very production tandem last year.
This season, however, Quintanilla is no longer a linebacker. He is Hoquiam’s starting quarterback.
It’s a new position he’s excited to be playing, but don’t expect him to abandon that defensive mindset just yet.
Sure, he’ll line up under center, direct the offense and throw the ball around, but Quintanilla remains a linebacker at heart – regardless of what position he is listed at in the program.
“I’m always looking to hit,” Quintanilla said.
Whether he’s on defense or offense, it doesn’t matter. Quintanilla simply views a different color jersey as a target, a bull’s eye that needs to be hit, and sliding doesn’t figure into his play too often.
“I hear it a lot,” Quintanilla said about his coaches’ request to tuck the ball away and slide to the turf when he’s running with it once a defender gets within striking distance. “I’m getting better at it though.”
Quintanilla saw his sophomore campaign end prematurely after suffering a knee injury late in the 2016 season. He stated he had never incurred any type of injury playing before. He more than made up for that during a single play against Montesano last year, tearing his ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus.
Surgery was followed by a long rehabilitation stretch in order to get ready for this season.
When he did finally return to the field, it was not the same Grizzlies’ line-up as when he last played. Several starters had graduated, including Gregory Dick, Hoquiam’s two-time all-league first-team quarterback.
With depth paper thin at the spot, the Grizzlies were in need of a QB.
Quintanilla, always a team-first guy, stepped up and offered up his services despite having never played the position before. “It was a challenge,” Quintanilla said. “I had always played other positions. I never even thought about playing QB before.”
It would be a two-fold move for the Grizzlies. Not only did it fill a void at the vital position by placing one of the team leaders into a key role, it also removed Quintanilla from his linebacker spot and all the physical grit that comes with it.
“We actually have a lot of new people this year,” Quintanilla said. “We have new wide receivers, new offensive lineman. That actually kind of helped moving into this role. We were all coming in new, but it’s a really close group of players. We’re always supporting each other, which make things a lot easier.”
“We were watching film the other day,” first-year head coach Jeremy McMillan said following Hoquiam’s pre-season jamboree, “and his eyes were really big when he was watching. He just look amazed and he turned to me and said, ‘Wow, I’ve gotten a lot better.’ And he was right. He’s improved significantly since he first started. He’s definitely put in a lot of hard work.”
On the Grizzlies’ first offensive play from scrimmage at the jamboree, Quintanilla attempted his first pass ever in a game-like setting. It was successfully completed. Two players later, however, old habits surfaced and tuck the ball away and ran, bouncing off defenders and churning up yards before being dragged to the ground.
“It actually gets the other kids going,” McMillan said about Quintanilla’s play. “The linemen see him out there running people over and they get pretty fired up.”
Quintanilla is hoping all the work will help lead Hoquiam back to the state playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, which would be one season off the program record of five straight years (1975-79).
“I just want to play,” Quintanilla said. “I just want to be out there helping my teammates anyway I can.”
The Grizzlies opened the season with three non-league games with a record of 2-1 including a tight win over rival Aberdeen High School. One more non-league game against LaCenter is set for September 22 before the Grizzlies begin Evergreen League play at Tenino on September 29. Hoquiam will play at Montesano on October 13 in a game that should decide the league title.