Valencia QB Connor Downs has team looking up

Valencia's Connor Downs throws a pass during an 11-on-11 practice against Ventura at Valencia. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

When senior Connor Downs took over as Valencia’s quarterback this season, he took the keys to an offense that helped guide the team to eight straight Foothill League titles.

Not to mention, a move down to Division 2 last season has given the Vikings legitimate hope toward winning their first CIF-SS title.

No pressure, right?

“It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s a good kind of responsibility and one I’m proud to have,” said Downs, who’s gearing to lead the Vikings into a second-round matchup Friday at Norco in the Division 2 tournament. “I’ve really felt the support of the community throughout the year. I’ll be at the store and have people I don’t even know come up and tell me, ‘Good game.’”

Downs hasn’t looked the part of a first-year starter trying to figure things out. He’s thrown 25 touchdowns to just four interceptions this season while completing 63 percent of his passes.

“He’s done a great job of settling in,” said Vikings coach Larry Muir. “It had to get to the point where the offense was his deal and we’ve gotten to that point. When he puts his foot on the gas, we go.”

Both Downs and Muir pointed to the team’s loss to Calabasas, its only loss of the year, as a major turning point.

Downs recalled throwing an interception in the second half of the wild 65-63 loss and, while trying to decompress on the sideline, felt a hand wrap around his shoulder.

It was senior running back Moises Haynes.

“I think our connection as a team is emotional, it goes beyond football,” Downs said. “It’s not as much as, ‘You’ll get ‘em next time.’ We just know we’ll get the job done next time.”

The likes of Haynes, Jayvaun Wilson and Mykael Wright have been critical to help ease Downs in as well.

Valencia quarterback Connor Downs (14) dodges blocks on his way to the end zone during a football game against Chaparral of Scottsdale, Ariz. on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

“You get those guys in open space and they’ll make things happen,” Downs said. “If I throw an incomplete pass, I know we can hand it off to Moises, Jayvaun, Mykael, or anyone, really, and they’ll pick me up.”

Downs hasn’t thrown an interception since throwing two in the team’s win over Saugus on Oct. 20. He threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns in the Vikings’ playoff-opening win over Great Oak last week.

His efficiency can partially be credited to a constant voice in the back of his head.

“For (Muir), the biggest thing for quarterbacks is to take care of the ball,” Downs said. “If I throw a pick or fumble in practice, I run. Having that emphasis during practice has been big for me.”

Downs said he’s had contact with a few NCAA-Division 2 schools. But with only one year starting at the varsity level, he’s still trying to get his name out. Bringing the Vikings their first ever CIF title would certainly help in that regard.

“There’s been a lot of pressure on this senior class to take the team somewhere we’ve never been before,” Downs said. “I know a lot of that pressure falls on me and I pride myself on being able to live up to those challenges.”

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