With the start of the CIF-North Coast Section playoffs just days away, Cardinal Newman’s (CA) Keaton Dunsford returned from a late-night practice for a quick chat on the phone. The 6’4 junior QB is in his first season at the varsity level, but that didn’t stop him from leading the Santa Rosa-based Cardinals to a 9-1 record.
Thanks to a 67 percent completion percentage and 20 touchdowns to just four interceptions, his team earned a No. 3 seeding in the Div. III playoffs with a scheduled first-round matchup against No. 14 Sonoma Valley.
Only a 21-14 loss to Rancho Cotate, a 10-0 Div. II team, prevented Cardinal Newman from completing the same perfect season. Both teams entered the game with matching 8-0 records and tied atop the North Bay League. No team played the Cougars as closely this season as the Cardinals. “Our guys fought hard in that game, and we received invaluable experience facing bigger players like them, which helped us get ready for the playoffs.”
As Cardinal Newman won by an average score of 38-10 during the regular season, Dunsford cherished the few close games his team was a part of. “I definitely prefer the more intense situations like that. We don’t necessarily go out there to win by 40 or see the other team lay an egg. Like any competitor, I like being in those close games.”
Dunsford faced an interesting test to close out the season against Petaluma’s Casa Grande, the No. 4 seed in the Div. II playoffs. For the first time ever at the varsity level, two teams headed by NFA-trained QBs faced each other on the field.
The Gauchos are led by fellow 2014 starter JaJuan Lawson, a dual-threat specialist. “We’ve spent time practicing together in different camps, so it was a lot of fun to be out there at the same time,” Dunsford told me of the game, which ended in a 25-7 win. “I felt bad because JaJuan was dealing with injuries, so I just wish he could have been at his best.”
Both Lawson and Dunsford are personally coached by Will Hewlett, who attended the game between his pupils’ schools. “I’ve been working with him one-on-one for about three years now, but I’ve been going to the NFA camps longer than that and I have the training DVDs as well.”
Dunsford’s offseason plans are taking shape as he prepares for the recruiting process following his breakout season. “I’m going to camps at some Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale. I’ve been to those before, and I’m also doing the Notre Dame and Stanford ones.”
Carrying a 4.42 GPA, Dunsford is able to hold his own both off and on the football field, but he now turns his attention to his first varsity playoff experience.