BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
If this is how Asauni Rufus' career as a quarterback ends, he left with a championship ring and a breathless audience.
Rufus, Bakersfield High's senior quarterback and the BVarsity Football Player of the Year, plans to sign with Nevada on Feb. 5 to play defensive back.
"Quarterback was my first position ever," Rufus said, "and I'm going to miss it. But it's taught me so much, and it's going to help me out on the defensive side of the ball."
Those lucky enough to see Rufus play quarterback will miss it, too.
He was the rare combination of style -- his reads in Bakersfield's option offense were definitive, his cuts decisive and his speed dramatic -- and substance -- most notably a 13-2 season for Bakersfield that resulted in a Division I CIF state bowl championship.
"He's special," Bakersfield coach Paul Golla said. "He's so football intelligent. We'll be three weeks into a season, and I'll say, 'Asauni, we've got to do this,' and he'll say, 'Three weeks ago, you said this.' And I'll have to say, 'You weren't supposed to remember that.'"
That combination of intelligence and athleticism led Rufus to impressive totals of 1,575 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and just one interception, and 1,831 rushing yards with 31 touchdowns.
This came after a junior season in which Rufus was explosive, but also occasionally mistake-prone.
"I just learned to get comfortable with being successful," Rufus said. "My junior year, I did a pretty good job of managing the game, but at times I got greedy and made bad reads. It's just about understanding what the defense is trying to take away. Just knowing and being prepared for each team helped me out a lot."
Rufus was at his best during the Drillers' run to a record seventh state championship. In the Central Section final, a 60-21 rout of Clovis North, Rufus completed 10-of-11 passes for 180 yards and ran for 165 yards. In the Southern Cal regional bowl game at San Marcos-Mission Hills, he was 10-for-10 passing for 224 yards with 79 rushing yards and the winning touchdown in the final minute.
And in a 56-26 state-championship victory against Loomis-Del Oro, Rufus completed 5 of 7 passes for 71 yards and ran for 184 more.
Those three crucial games combined: 25-of-28 passing for 475 yards, 428 rushing yards, 4 passing touchdowns, 6 rushing touchdowns and zero turnovers.
"I've always felt confident," Rufus said. "I told you (midway through the season) I felt like we could play with anybody in the country. I actually felt like that since 7-on-7 (workouts) in the summer. Then we actually put the product on the field."
Early setbacks to Westlake Village-Oaks Christian and Long Beach Poly threatened to derail Bakersfield's state-title hopes before the calendar reached October, but Rufus and his Drillers never got discouraged.
"It taught us resiliency and ups and downs," Rufus said. "You can always control your relationship with your teammates, your brothers."
That kind of perspective comes as no surprise. Rufus' father, Curtis, played on two section-title teams for BHS in 1989 and 1990, and Asauni is an honors student with a healthy grade-point average.
"We've had some great quarterbacks, and the characteristic of a great quarterback is that you're a winner everywhere," Golla said. "Not just that you're a great football player that gets Cs and Ds in the classroom. You're a winner in classroom and in life, and that's Asauni."
Once he gets to Nevada, Rufus will just have to do his winning from a different position -- likely safety, where he hopes to follow the high school quarterback-to-NFL draft pick path blazed by another former Drillers' QB, Phillip Thomas.
Rufus hasn't played defense since his sophomore year at BHS.
"Oh, I can play that, too," he said. "Nevada's going to give me a chance."
But isn't that cheating the football world of a great option quarterback? Mission Hills coach Chris Hauser said he thought Rufus could play quarterback for a major college team that runs an option offense, like Auburn or Georgia Tech, and Rufus has heard enough comments from fans and coaches to think, just maybe, he'll see a snap or two in Reno.
"I'm sure it'll pop up," Rufus said. "If we're on the goal line, fourth down, I may be trying to inch my way down toward the coach and say something. It'll be hard to control."