Matt Young hasn’t started a game at quarterback since Desert Vista’s final junior varsity game in 2010.

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been behind center, calling cadence and executing the Thunder offense to perfection.

While Young backed up Hunter Rodriguez last season, he was clued into the game plan each week and although he didn’t get many actual snaps during the week, he mentally visualized going through the plays as a way to keep sharp.

“I got a lot of mental reps,” Young said this week before one of the team’s spring practices. “(Visualization) is a big part of sports. The more you get your mind into it, the better off you are. I kind of had that time last year to visualize and it should help this year.

“After we got the game plan, I would visualize it then and on the sidelines when a play was called. I’d see myself doing it to stay locked in.”

Of course, that is a little different than running an actual huddle and facing a defense that wants to separate you from the ball.

That’s what spring ball, 7-on-7 tournaments this summer and scrimmaging Brophy on Aug. 8 is for before playing Palo Verde out of Las Vegas in the Sollenberger Classic at University of Phoenix Stadium on Aug. 17 to start the regular season.

“It’s good to be back out there with my classmates from JV and freshman year,” Young said. “Camp is going good.”

He has made an impression on his teammates in the early going of the transition.

“Matt is a great quarterback and real student of the game,” junior offensive lineman Zack Tamburo said. “Matt is one of those guys that is always working and he is going to make big plays no matter where he is on the field.”

The talk for the last two years is that Young is barely a notch below Rodriguez, who was a two-year starter that threw for 4,110 yards, 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in leading the Thunder to a 23-4 record and a state title.

“Two years ago it was just a play or two that made the difference (in selecting Rodriguez to be the starter over Young),” Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said. “It was that close.”

There are clear differences between the two as Hunter is left-handed and 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds. He stood in the pocket until the last second, if need be, to complete a pass in the seam.

Young is right-handed and is 5-10 and 185 pounds. He is a dual threat quarterback who goes through his progressions, but has the athletic ability to make a big play with his feet as well.

The offense will still feature the fly sweep (and why not with Kaleb Germinaro returning), but Young’s athleticism will allow for some new wrinkles.

“Sitting behind Hunter helped me a lot,” Young said. “He is always calm under pressure and that’s what I learned from him. I want to stay calm in the pocket like he did and add the things I can do.

“There is some new stuff to compliment the offensive talent we have this year.”

Young was able to display his abilities last year in various positions as he played a little wide receiver, handled most of the kickoff and punt returns, and played a lot of defensive back in nickel and dime situations down the stretch after injuries tore away the team’s depth.

Every time Young touched the ball, there was a little bit of a buzz on the Thunder sideline because his teammates knew what he was capable of even though he wasn’t starting.

While he scored a rushing touchdown against Dobson, had a punt return for a score against Corona del Sol, Young’s biggest play of the season shows that he will be ready for the prime time this fall.

After Desert Vista went up 7-0 against Hamilton in the state title game on its opening possession, Young intercepted the Huskies’ Blake Kemp and returned it 43 yards for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead that the three-time defending champs never recovered from in a 45-19 Thunder victory.

“That showed me an entirely different view of the game,” Young said. “My defensive coverages gave me a better understanding as a quarterback and that’s only going to make me better.”

Young, who has received interest from some Division II colleges, said he will approach every meeting, practice or any other team function as a step on the way to defending the state title.

“Being a quarterback you have to be a leader,” he said. “It’s about your actions. Most of the guys look to see if what you do matches what you say. You don’t want to be hypocrite or you will lose them.”

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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