Nathan Eldridge isn’t who he’s supposed to be.
Saugus High quarterbacks are supposed to be runners-who-throw, not throwers-who-run.
They certainly aren’t supposed to toss 14 touchdowns against two interceptions through five games.
Eldridge, in fact, doesn’t fit the mold of the American high school quarterback at all.
He’s the arm minus the machismo. The poise minus the prima donna.
Eldridge, 16, isn’t who he’s supposed to be, but he’s the triggerman for a Saugus offense that can, and does, score from anywhere on the field.
The junior also just may be Saugus’ second straight Foothill League Player of the Year.
Saugus football players file into S-Lecture Hall on campus the morning of their 2016 season opener against Santa Barbara High.
They’re carrying yellow notebooks meant for observations from game film.
The pages are also for three pregame goals.
Eldridge, hours before his first varsity start under center, writes that he wants to pass for more than 150 yards, rush for 50 and finish the game turnover-free.
He thinks, as he shares them with linebacker Juan Esquivel, he’s set lofty goals. Really, he underestimates himself.
He pulls on his dark blue uniform, No. 28, and throws for 172 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
That, as it turns out, is just the beginning.
“It surprised me,” Eldridge says of the Santa Barbara game, a 35-7 win. “I was like, ‘Oh man, I got over 150 passing yards.’ I thought that was a lot. I thought Saugus quarterbacks didn’t pass that much. We’re usually runners.”
Fact: A Saugus quarterback has run for at least 400 yards every season — with the exception of 2014 — since 2004.
In that span, only three Centurions have thrown more touchdowns in a year than Eldridge’s 14 (Chris Hamilton most recently, with 20 in 2013).
While Eldridge is a long way from the Centurion record for passing TDs in a season (42, David Parker in 1999), he is certainly a Foothill League Player of the Year contender.
He has shown the ability to loft the ball over the top of coverage and to zip it into tight windows. He’s played in pressure-packed, down-to-the-wire games and led Saugus to a 5-0 preleague record.
“Before, I was just trying to throw it on a line and get the ball in my receivers’ hands,” Eldridge says. “Now I’m trying to read the coverage of the defenders better to know where I should put the ball.”
Eldridge improved dramatically as passer this summer, working with quarterback coaches to adjust his arm angle and footwork and getting together with teammate Jared Pane on weekends to play catch.
His running ability used to highlight his game, now his arm primarily produces the highlights.
It doesn’t hurt, obviously, that he’s playing with what coach Jason Bornn considers the deepest receiving corps of his 14-year tenure. The season is young, but Pane, Gary Bojorquez, Daniel Gilmartin and Chase Seyforth have already made jaw-dropping grabs.
“We have great athletes who have made me look better,” says Eldridge, who’s completing 60 percent of his passes for 1,080 yards. “That’s definitely nice.”
It’s not just talk, either. Eldridge is as others-centered and down to earth as he sounds.
He’s quick to credit friends and family for his success, recently sending 370 words worth of text messages praising everyone from his offensive line and receivers to his grandfather, Nick Diaz, who helped pay for quarterback lessons.
Eldridge makes time, in a schedule packed with football and academics, to play catch and wrestle with his 10-year-old brother, Luke.
He says he models his game and life after former Florida Gator dual-threat quarterback Tim Tebow.
“I’m a Christian, and the way he lived his life and the adversity he went through and his relationship with God inspired me to be a Christian athlete,” Eldridge says.
Eldridge is sensitive and caring, showing concern after a recent interview that he hadn’t painted Saugus backup quarterback Elijah Gragas — who he battled for the starting quarterback job on the freshman team in 2014 and on varsity this year — in a positive light.
Of course, Eldridge had only said positive things about Gragas.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Eldridge says. “We always kept it cool with each other. There was never any enemy-like thing going on. He’s a very good athlete and a very good quarterback. He definitely pushed me to get better.”
Maybe Eldridge’s humility comes from the fact that his parents, Bill and Deana, didn’t pressure him in sports. They weren’t jocks in high school, and they put Nathan and his older sister, Leah, into athletics, because, well, that’s what new parents do, Bill says.
Leah set the bar high, pursuing academics and athletics at Saugus with a fervor that Nathan looked up to.
He liked basketball and football. Each was his favorite, depending on the time of year.
The gridiron, though, is where he’s excelled. After starting for the freshman team in 2014, he received the call to varsity as a sophomore.
There he sat behind senior Louis Eusebi, watching and soaking in the speed of the game.
When a leg injury forced Eusebi out of a game against Ventura that year, Eldridge completed 15-of-31 passes for 85 yards and three interceptions. He saw limited action otherwise and wasn’t guaranteed ascension to the throne after Eusebi graduated.
He knew he’d have to earn it.
Some of Saugus’ star players were confident Eldridge would win the job, though. One teammate said Eldridge would be better than Eusebi, the 2015 Foothill League Player of the Year. An outlandish statement at the time.
Now not so crazy.
Eldridge is certainly impacting the game differently than Eusebi, who ran for 800 yards and 11 touchdowns last season but threw four TDs and 11 interceptions.
Eldridge is an adept runner, but he’s shown a willingness to hang in the pocket, eyes locked downfield, even as defenders approach with full heads of steam.
“He’s taken some incredible shots this year,” Bornn says, “and he bounces right back up.”
The biggest hit of all through five games has been Eldridge.
But you’d never hear that from him.