Five-star Torrance (Calif.) North senior linebacker and USC commit Mique Juarez tried to do it all Friday night at Redondo Union’s Sea Hawk Stadium. He did just about everything he could on a football field. He rushed for two touchdowns, tossed another and played at least eight different positions for North Torrance, but it wasn’t enough in a 26-21 loss.
The physical 6-foot-2, 226-pound Juarez only left the field on a couple of series when he was nicked up by the Sea Hawks, who were taking every chance they could to try to lay a lick on Juarez, including hitting him out of bounds and drawing a 15-yard penalty in the first quarter. The hit caused Juarez to have to leave the game, but after a series off on defense, Juarez was back in the game playing quarterback for the Saxons.
“It’s just all about having mental toughness,” Juarez said about playing both ways. “We condition a lot. Obviously, me being a bigger guy, I need more conditioning myself. It’s how hard I want it or how bad I want it. It’s easy in a way, but then again, you just have to be mentally tough.”
After taking the snaps part-time last season, Juarez is assuming the role of full-time playmaker for North this year. He is being recruited as a linebacker by USC and will undoubtedly be a defender at the next level, but Juarez is needed more as an offensive weapon by the Saxons. He finished Friday night's opener just 8-for-26 passing and was constantly facing pressure as he battled poor snaps and even worse blocking in front of him.
North Torrance doesn’t have the same caliber of players that Juarez played with all summer on the 7-on-7 passing league and camp circuit. Instead of being on a roster filled with the top players in the country at The Opening, Juarez is playing with a 42-man roster that currently only has five other players listed weighing more than 200 pounds. But he isn’t bothered by the difference.
“To be honest, it’s just football,” Juarez said. “Everyone has their different level of play. It’s just how we surround ourselves. Going out to The Opening, obviously there were guys out there that were good. Coming down here, it’s just my surrounding. If I’m a four- or five-star whatever, I’m the leader and it’s a we thing. There’s always going to be a different level of play.”
Even without a ton of high-ranking guys around him, the Saxons had a shot against Redondo Union. They fell behind 20-7 in the first half with two touchdowns coming on special teams. Juarez had his punt blocked. (Yes, he is also the punter, along with punt returner and kick returner.) And the Sea Hawks were able to scoop up the ball and run it in for a score.
The only special teams unit Juarez isn’t on is kickoffs, which might be something the North Torrance coaching staff reconsiders before the next game. After a Juarez pass got them inside the 5-yard line, he plunged in from one yard out to get the Saxons on the board, but the subsequent kickoff was returned by Jermar Johnson for a touchdown.
In the second half, Juarez threw an on-the-money pass to a streaking Justin Allmond for a 66-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 20-14 midway through the third quarter. Redondo Union still dominated possession in the second half and kept Juarez from doing much of anything on offense, bottling him up and holding him to just 30 yards rushing on 12 carries. It tacked on a score with just more than three minutes remaining that looked to be the nail in the coffin, but Juarez flashed his abilities once again.
A first down reception by Allmond got North into the red zone and Juarez finished it off with his best highlight of the night, taking a read option to the right and diving for the pylon to score on a 17-yard run, making it 26-21 with 61 seconds remaining. But North wasn't able to recover the onside kick to give Juarez one final shot.
“It was a good game. A hard fought game,” Juarez said. “To be honest, we gave it our all. And then you know it’s the first game. There are going to be mistakes. Now it’s just going into next week and fixing those mistakes, so it was a good game.”
Juarez lined up at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, safety and even defensive end, but he didn’t have much impact defensively in the Week 0 opener. Redondo Union tried to neutralize him with misdirection using read option principals with fly sweeps and some other wrinkles that kept the North Torrance defense from being more aggressive.
Juarez did time the snap counts a couple of times to varying degrees of success when the Sea Hawks sent men in motion, but he never got a chance to make an impact play defensively that might have changed the course of the game.
His biggest hit actually came on the blocked punt when he tracked down the Sea Hawk that recovered the fumble and proceeded to slam him to the turf as he attempted to cross the goal line. Offensively, Redondo Union spent most of the night running away from Juarez and when it did come his direction, there were generally two blockers looking to get a piece of No. 3.
Also looking to attack Juarez have been college coaches attempting to sway the No. 2 outside linebacker prospect in the West and No. 17 overall player in the 2016 Scout 300 from his commitment to USC. He has contended recently that nothing has changed and that he still plans to take official visits and allow the recruiting process to play out. He reiterated that message Friday night.
“Right now, I’m still keeping it with USC. Nothing’s changed. Still going through the process right now. I mean it was cool at The Opening with Daelin Hayes talking about USC and all the USC commits that were out there. I’m just keeping it that way as of right now. Nothing’s changed.”
Make sure you also check out the recent exclusive sit down interview Mique Juarez did with USCfootball.com: