Football: Chiawana's Zamora has grown into elite starter

November 27, 2013 

joey zamora quarterback chiawana

Chiawana senior Joey Zamora has come into his own as a quarterback. Now in his third year as a starter, Zamora has gone from managing the game to leading the team, which faces Federal Way in the state semifinals on Saturday.

KAI-HUEI YAU — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Joey Zamora looks as comfortable standing up in the pocket as he would sitting down in a La-Z-Boy.

Behind that offensive line, throwing to those receivers, Chiawana’s senior quarterback looks every bit the part of a third-year starter leading his team to the promised land.

So it is a little hard to reconcile that the ease he displays week in and week out, that calming confidence that comes with 31 starts, is something he has come by only recently. Only this season in fact.

“When Spray told me the offense was mine, it was time,” Zamora said. “It was time to man up or shut up. As a leader of a team, you got to lead the team. You can’t be just wussing out. You got to be a leader.”

Spray is Dave Spray, the offensive coordinator and longtime assistant to Chiawana head coach Steve Graff, going back to their days at Pasco.

That conversation between Spray and Zamora took place last fall, in the weightroom the Monday after the Riverhawks’ season-ending 55-28 loss to Gonzaga Prep.

And it has a lot to do with Riverhawks getting over that Week 10 hump that bumped them off the past two years and into the state playoffs. Chiawana (11-1) continues its run at noon Saturday against Federal Way (10-2) in the Class 4A state semifinals.

Spray imparted to Zamora that after two years of being told not to lose games, his job now was to go out and win them.

“I said, ‘This is your team, and how you lead it they will follow,’ ” Spray said. “I think he’s done his part, not only as a leader, but they play as well as he plays.”

And that’s been pretty good.

Make no mistake, it doesn’t take the best quarterback play in the world to make the Riverhawks go. They are blessed with an offensive line that could keep Zamora’s uniform clean in a dust bowl. Chiawana has a pair of big-play receivers in Dre Dorton and Deion Singleton who don’t need a perfectly thrown ball to take it to the house.

And at the end of it all, the Riverhawks can feed running back Clifton Lozano a steady diet of carries, gash off 10 yards a run and beat you up solely on the ground.

Chiawana is plenty good enough to put up big numbers with an average quarterback. The fact that Zamora has been so good has made them almost unstoppable.

The Riverhawks finished the regular season first in the Mid-Columbia Conference with 456 yards a game, and they haven’t slowed down in the postseason hanging 52 and 56 points on the board in a pair of blowout wins.

“We’re so balanced,” Graff said. “Spray and (Scott) Bond and (Steve) Davis are doing such a good job calling plays, (other teams) don’t know if we’re running or passing.”

Zamora has thrown for 2,204 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. And while he has thrown the ball more than ever (232 attempts, 59 percent completions), his interceptions have dropped down to four, or one every 58 passes.

“I think he’s played way better than we ever expected this year,” Spray said. “And we did expect big things from him.”

Zamora was a “diamond in the rough” when he earned the starting job as a sophomore, a big-armed kid who had the natural gifts but who had not played that much quarterback before. During his middle school days, he was stuck behind Zach Whitby, who started three years at Richland.

His job, as a newcomer to a team full of seniors who played in the state quarterfinals the previous season, was pretty simple.

“Throw to the open guy, play catch,” Zamora recalled. “Just go play catch with your cousin (Miquiyah Zamora, then a standout senior), hand the ball off (to Jordan Downing), go have fun.”

His numbers that season were solid: 1,123 yards, 12 touchdowns and a 58 percent completion rate. The key, though, was just five interceptions. It was the same number he threw as a junior, as the passing game became a larger part of the offense. He finished with 17 TDs and 1,627 yards.

This year, the yards are up, completion percentage up, touchdowns up, and interceptions down.

It’s like hitting the quarterback lottery.

Spray credits a lot of that growth to hours and hours of work between Zamora and Bond, the quarterbacks coach. It’s paying off big time.

And now the only nerves Zamora feels come off the field, when his head is buzzing with dreams of what could be for a Chiawana program that has never been this far.

“It’s hard to sleep at night just thinking about it,” Zamora said. “I can’t sleep. I know we’re making history. If our team and myself and everybody wants to that bad, we can make something happen.

“I’ve never been this far in the playoffs in my whole life, grid kids or anything. Being successful in everything we do is really nice. It’s a blessing to be part of this team.”

The feeling, you can be sure, is mutual.

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