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FOSTER SNELL, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER
San Clemente quarterback Jack Sears throws a pass during a nonleague game against Huntington Beach on Sept. 2, 2016.

San Clemente's Sears wants to give town the title it's been missing

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

SAN CLEMENTE – There’s an interlocking “SC” on the hill above Thalassa Stadium at San Clemente High.

As the San Clemente football team lines up to practice for its third consecutive trip to the CIF-SS Finals, “Tribute to Troy,” the fight song for the USC Trojans, blares out of the speakers.

In hindsight, maybe it was bound to happen that Tritons senior quarterback Jack Sears would switch his college commitment to USC.

It seems to be a natural fit.

“It was tough to kind of admit,” Sears said of his recent decision that he wouldn’t be going to Duke and instead would be joining the Trojans next fall. “I have a lot of respect for the Duke program and coaching staff. I just came back and had a little bit of a gut feel that maybe it wasn’t the place for me. Decided to go with my gut, went on a visit to USC, absolutely loved the environment.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Division 2

San Clemente at Murrieta Valley, Friday, 7:30 p.m.

“At the end of the day, just kind of had a change of heart and felt that USC was the best place for me. Comfortable with my decision and looking forward to getting in there in January.”

At USC, Sears will be back in a familiar situation, as the backup to Sam Darnold. They were teammates at San Clemente in 2014, when Darnold was the starter and Sears, then a sophomore, the team’s No. 2 QB.

Before then, Sears will try to do something Darnold and no other Tritons quarterback has ever done: win a CIF-Southern Section title.

San Clemente will get its third straight championship opportunity on Friday against Murrieta Valley in the CIF-SS Division 2 Final, and Sears has had a hand in all three shots.

After Darnold took a big hit late in the 2014 Southwest Division Final, Sears had to come in to try and rally the Tritons for the victory. Sears finished 1 of 10 passing for 27 yards in the 44-37 loss to Trabuco Hills.

“It was a little surreal at the time,” Sears said. “I wasn’t quite ready for it. But I stepped in, got my feet wet in the CIF championship game, saw there was a lot for me to improve on.”

As a junior, Sears used those lessons to lead San Clemente to 11-3 record and back to the Southwest Division Final. In a championship game that will be talked about for decades, San Clemente lost to La Habra on a heart-breaking Hail Mary, 39-36.

“That one was a little tough, especially with all the seniors who had been there the year before,” Sears said. “It was tough to see it end the way it did, but that’s one heck of a game.”

Now with those experiences and exposure in the prestigious Elite 11 camp, Sears has transformed into a dynamic leader, a presence in the film room and at the whiteboard and an all-around threat at quarterback.

“He’s a real threat as a runner,” Tritons offensive coordinator Troy Kopp said. “That’s one area I think he’s taken it more on his shoulders this year, to run the football effectively. He’s just a real special kid. Very instinctive. Student of the game.”

In two full years as a starter, Sears has thrown for over 2,000 yards each year and has a combined 68 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

Trusting his instincts and increasing his physicality, Sears has also run for over 800 yards each full season. He is the team’s second-leading rusher this season and has 16 touchdowns on the ground over the two seasons.

“If you’re going to run this type of offense,” San Clemente coach Jaime Ortiz said, “you’re going to have to give the quarterback the keys to the car. He may dent it, he may scratch it, but when he gets that thing running, it’s a beauty to be seen.”

Running the San Clemente offense has become one of the premier positions in Orange County football. Sears is just the latest to step into the position and become a Division 1-bound college quarterback.

“I told (him) just like I told Sam,” Ortiz said, “‘you’re not replacing Travis Wilson (Utah) or Chase Rettig (Boston College). You’re being who you are. Don’t be Sam, and don’t be Travis and don’t be Chase. Just be yourself.’ Jack’s done a great job of that.”

Sears has done that by keeping his composure and embodying the temperament of the SoCal surf town he calls home.

“I know it’s a San Clemente trait,” Ortiz said, “but he’s just mellow and kick-back. He doesn’t have to be center stage. He likes to just hang out and be with his friends. He lets his actions do the talking.”

Whether he’s using his golf game to clear his mind or proudly representing the city in his black-and-red uniform on Friday nights, Sears has embraced everything that is the San Clemente community and the football program.

“I think everybody knows this is, ‘One Town, One Team,’” Sears said. ‘You’ve got to live here to truly understand it and realize how special it is. People hear our motto all the time and think that’s just what we say, but it’s true. It’s a way of life.”

Sears has one last opportunity to lead this one town and this one team to its first CIF-SS football title.


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