BETTER THAN A PASSING GRADE: Skilled senior Arizmendi shining, learning in first season as Temple QB
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
FIRST-SEASON SUCCESS: Temple senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi has helped lead the Wildcats to a 4-1 overall record and a 2-0 start in District 12-6A in his first varsity season. After playing on junior varsity last year, Arizmendi has completed 65.8 percent of his passes while throwing for 987 yards and 14 touchdowns against four interceptions. He had four touchdown passes each in runaway wins over Longview and Bryan and passed for three TDs in the district-opening victory at Copperas Cove. Temple plays Harker Heights (3-2, 1-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Killeen's Leo Buckley Stadium. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Humberto Arizmendi takes care of his business in the classroom, as evidenced by the fact that he earned a spot on Temple High School's A/B honor roll for the academic year's first six weeks.
But asked to give himself a grade for his performance in his first five games as the Wildcats' starting quarterback, the senior barely scraped by – at least in his own mind.
“Probably about a B-,” Arizmendi said Tuesday during lunch.
Now is a good time to mention that Arizmendi has completed 73 of 111 passes (65.8 percent) for 987 yards and 14 touchdowns against four interceptions for a 4-1 Temple team that shares the District 12-6A lead at 2-0 entering the Wildcats' road game against Harker Heights (3-2, 1-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Killeen's Leo Buckley Stadium.
So, why did Arizmendi assign himself what seems to be a relatively low grade considering his stellar production on the field during the regular season's first half?
“Interceptions and I guess some of my misreads and bad timing on some of my throws,” he said. “Some of the three-and-out drives I'd like to have back. I hate those.”
Told about that B- grade Arizmendi put on himself, Temple offensive coordinator Josh Sadler wasn't surprised.
“Humberto's a very humble kid. He's never satisfied and he knows what improvements need to be made. He's a great kid to watch film with. He's always looking for every edge,” Sadler said, adding that Arizmendi still can improve the accuracy of his deep throws and the overall timing of his passes.
Despite never having taken a varsity snap prior to this season, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Arizmendi – who quarterbacked Temple's junior varsity Blue team last year – has taken to the position quite well as the Wildcats' fifth consecutive senior starting QB in Scott Stewart's five years as head coach.
Arizmendi has recorded 13.5 yards per completion and has averaged 27 yards on those 14 touchdown tosses, connecting with five players for multiple scores: four TDs to senior AJ McDuffy, three each to senior Luke Allen and junior Samari Howard and two apiece to junior Tr'Darius Taylor and sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot.
Arizmendi threw four touchdown passes in Temple's season-opening, statement-making 40-13 win over state-ranked Longview at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, tossed four more scores in last Friday's 44-7 homecoming victory against Bryan, fired three touchdowns in the Wildcats' district-opening 55-21 win at Copperas Cove two weeks ago and posted two TD passes in the 28-13 victory at a Magnolia West team that's now 4-1.
He was limited to a season-low 135 passing yards and one touchdown in Temple's lone loss, a 43-25 home defeat in the Wildcats' third game against an Arlington Martin squad that's currently 4-1 and ranked No. 17 in Class 6A.
Arizmendi completed a season-low nine passes (in an interception-free 15 attempts) against Bryan, but they were good for a career-high 243 yards as part of the Temple offense's 482-yard outburst on a cold, breezy night.
Although it might be a stretch to slap the “dual-threat quarterback” label on Arizmendi, he runs well at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash and has shown himself to be a willing, capable rushing threat with 134 yards on 37 carries.
Stewart knew there would be an adjustment period for Arizmendi after he won a tightly contested preseason competition with the mobile, strong-armed Harrison-Pilot for the starting quarterback job, which wasn't decided until after Arizmendi excelled in the Wildcats' home scrimmage against College Station.
EYES ON THE TARGET: Temple senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi has thrown two or more touchdown passes to five Wildcats: four to senior AJ McDuffy, three each to senior Luke Allen and junior Samari Howard and two apiece to junior Tr'Darius Taylor and sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Arizmendi, a team captain, also has rushed for 134 yards in his first varsity season to help Temple go 4-1 overall and 2-0 in District 12-6A entering its duel with the Harker Heights Knights (3-2, 1-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Arizmendi certainly has made several throws that he'd like to have back, but the big plays he's produced and steady week-to-week improvement during his first and only varsity season have greatly impressed his head coach.
“I don't know if it's a surprise, but what I've been very appreciative of is just the fact that he continues to grow. It's those things that you have to play through,” Stewart said of Arizmendi, who was voted as a team captain by his teammates. “You don't see the same mistakes over and over. You'll see a misread coverage, and then you won't see it again. You'll see (defenses) try to bait him – the things I try to do (from a defensive perspective) to a young quarterback – and you see him not throw that ball the next time.
“That kid watches film like not many kids watch film. He's a sponge. He takes a lot of pride in understanding the 'why' and the 'how,' because I think 99 percent of people can understand the 'what.'”
Part of Stewart's process when deciding whether to play Arizmendi or Harrison-Pilot – or potentially a combination of both – at quarterback was that Harrison-Pilot is an outstanding athlete who despite being a sophomore already had a full season of varsity experience entering this year. He started every game at free safety and was a second-team all-district selection for the 2019 Wildcats, who shared the 12-6A championship and finished 8-3.
Stewart compared Temple's situation to that from 2017, when senior T.J. Rumfield won a very close competition with junior Jared Wiley for the starting quarterback post. A tall, traditional pocket passer, Rumfield didn't play another position, while the hulking, athletic Wiley doubled as a receiving and blocking weapon that the Wildcats used with great success.
And after Rumfield (now playing baseball at Virginia Tech) was his district's offensive player of the year in his only starting season, Wiley did the same thing the next year as a single-season starting QB for the Wildcats before going on to Texas, where he's a starting sophomore tight end.
Three years after Stewart had to choose between Rumfield and Wiley at quarterback, that experience informed his decision as he went with Arizmendi at QB and opted to keep the versatile Harrison-Pilot on offense at receiver, where he's made a team-leading 19 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns. He's also played some at quarterback in relief of Arizmendi.
“Foundationally, I think it has a lot of similarities with the T.J. and Jared thing (in 2017). I mean, I think we could get by with either one of them (at quarterback) and would have zero issues doing that,” Stewart said of Arizmendi and Harrison-Pilot, Temple's projected starting quarterback in 2021 and 2022. “One of them (Harrison-Pilot) can play any (skill) position on the field; one of them (Arizmendi) can't. Where do you make the team better?
“I think those two are close enough (at QB) where we could say, 'OK, let's switch series.' But there's only one of them that can go out there and get in space and do that kind of stuff. Not to take anything away from Humberto, but he ain't Mikal Pilot in space.”
Fair enough, but Arizmendi moves well enough that he's definitely not a sitting duck in the pocket. In the win at Copperas Cove, he rushed for gains of 23 and 17 yards. That came a week after he got rolled up on by multiple players during the Martin game, causing a slight injury to his left knee.
“It popped,” Arizmendi said, admitting that he was “a little bit” frightened by that sound. “I just had to brush it off real quick and finish the drive. I've been wearing a brace for the last two games.”
Midway through the first quarter against Bryan last week, Arizmendi dashed up the middle on third-and-4 for an 11-yard gain to the 3-yard line, setting up Howard's scoring run – the first of his four touchdowns – on the next play.
Arizmendi joked that some teammates don't give his rushing acumen the respect it clearly deserves.
“They know what I can do, but some of them act surprised,” he said with a laugh.
Stewart always enjoys having a quarterback who can do damage with his legs, but seeing Arizmendi charge into the teeth of defenses with an apparent disregard for his own well-being gives Temple's coach some anxiety.
“I go, 'Get down!' I scream. Because he'll get in traffic and try to get every inch, which I appreciate,” Stewart said. “He'll get dragged for 15 yards. I'm like, 'Dude, at some point just get behind your pads and if they don't hit you very hard and you still fall down, we're good.' It's when you start getting twisted up that it's 'tee off on the pinata.'”
Another comment Arizmendi made about physical contact helps to explain his willingness to be a runner.
“I thought they were going to hit harder, but it's not even a difference,” Arizmendi said, comparing varsity defenders to those he faced on JV. “It must be my adrenaline or something, but I haven't really gotten hit hard.”
Along with having a good rapport with senior center and fellow first-year starter Matthew Frye, Arizmendi considers himself fortunate to have such a talented, deep group of receivers. McDuffy paces Temple's receiving corps with 276 yards and four touchdowns, and Allen, Harrison-Pilot, Howard and Taylor all have joined him as productive and reliable targets to complement the difference-making rushing skills of Howard (567 yards, eight TDs).
“I couldn't ask for any other receivers or running back. I think we're all on the same page because we worked through the summer, trying to figure out what our strengths and weaknesses are,” said Arizmendi, who added that the experience Allen, Harrison-Pilot and Howard have from playing quarterback helps them all relate to and communicate with each other.
“It's a great thing to have,” Sadler said of Temple's wealth of receivers. “As an ex-quarterback who didn't have that, it's unbelievable to be able to check one, two, three options and know that they all can take it to the house at any point in time. The big thing with Humberto is he trusts the system and is distributing the ball where it's supposed to go.”
DAZZLING DEBUT: Humberto Arizmendi was outstanding in his first game as Temple's starting quarterback, completing 21 of 28 passes for 213 yards and four touchdowns as the Wildcats defeated state-ranked Longview 40-13 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Sept. 25. Arizmendi and Temple trailed 13-10 in their season opener before outscoring the Lobos -- who haven't lost since -- 30-0 in the second half. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Arizmendi has experienced some difficult moments during his first five varsity games. He said he wasn't overly nervous for Temple's season opener against Longview, having already visited the Dallas Cowboys' spacious stadium in 2014 to watch the Wildcats play Aledo in the 5A Division I state championship game. He floated an early pass down the middle that was intercepted, but he came back to fire four touchdown passes as Temple stunningly scored 30 unanswered points to blow out the Lobos in a 27-point victory Arizmendi described as “very energizing.”
In the frustrating loss to Martin, Arizmendi threw a midfield interception that the Warriors returned to the 1 to set up a touchdown. A week later, Copperas Cove's Isaiah Chisholm intercepted Arizmendi's too-high pass in the second quarter and returned it 66 yards to the 1, leading to a TD. Later in that period, the Bulldawgs' Tyrese Carter jumped in front of a long out pass and returned the interception 90 yards for a score.
Arizmendi knows that Stewart and Sadler are going to be in his ear after mistakes such as those, but he does his best to keep his confidence up and turn the proverbial page before the next opportunity arrives.
“I try not to think about it too much. I do get mad about it at first, but as it goes I just don't worry about it any more,” said Arizmendi, who identified his 11-yard touchdown pass to Harrison-Pilot in the back of the end zone at Magnolia West as his favorite throw this season. “If someone's yelling at me, I really try not to listen because I try not to let any negativity bring me down. I always hear Coach Stewart first, because he's the loudest one. Coach Sadler says, 'You know what you can do. Play to that level.'”
Said Sadler: “He handles it really well. You can see it in his eyes that he gets locked back in and ready to go. He has a short memory on stuff like that. What we tell our quarterbacks is that the only throw that matters is the next throw.”
“There's no teacher like experience” is one of Stewart's go-to phrases, and it applies to Arizmendi as much as any player. As much ability and potential as the senior quarterback has demonstrated through five games, he might be primed for an even sharper second half of the regular season now that he's experienced both success and failure.
“He continues to improve on the nuances of that position. He obviously can throw the ball well enough. He knows the playbook inside and out,” Stewart said. “Now what he's got to continue to grow on is the post-snap nuances. There's only one way to do that. I don't have a JV Blue squad good enough to show him those looks. That (opposing defender) Friday night is going to be better than that guy at practice.
“Now it's way faster and those windows (close earlier). Don't be late with the ball against Harker Heights, because it'll probably end up going the other way. Be on time or hit the guy with the nachos. He has to understand that checkdowns are fine, especially when you get it into Samari's hands. That 6-yard choice route can turn into something big in a hurry. And if it doesn't, it's 6 yards. That's the patience of understanding we don't have to score on every play. Every play is designed to score, but it's not going to happen. Just don't put us in a situation where we have to dig ourselves out of a hole.”
With Temple clinging to a 6-0 lead against Bryan 5 minutes into the second quarter of a defensive struggle, the Vikings' pass rushers charged up the middle at Arizmendi. Rather than take a sack or force a bad throw, Arizmendi patiently lofted a touch pass over the oncoming traffic to Howard, who juked and darted through the rest of the defense for a 29-yard touchdown. That was the first of Arizmendi's three TD passes in a span of 5:09 en route to a 34-0 halftime advantage.
If the name Arizmendi sounds familiar to Temple football fans, perhaps that's because Erick Arizmendi – Humberto said they're distant cousins – was a first-team all-district utility player and second-team all-district punter for coach Mike Spradlin's Wildcats district championship squad in 2013.
Humberto Arizmendi said that after graduation he's interested in going to nursing school because he wants to have a career that will help others. Five games into not only his senior season but also his varsity career, the question now is whether football will be a factor in where he decides to attend college. Although Arizmendi is late to the recruiting party, he's having success and hoping that putting 10-plus games of sharp passing on his highlight reel will lead to a next-level playing opportunity.
“I think he has a shot to play some Saturday football,” Sadler said. “Someone will come here and see that diamond in the rough.”
During Stewart's time in Temple, he's had several talented players who were three-year starters. Senior Aaron Wagaman is in his fourth season as the top kicker, and Harrison-Pilot and sophomore linebacker Taurean York are on track to become four-year starters.
But for Stewart, there's something very gratifying about coaching a player who must bide his time, continue to grow and develop on sub-varsity teams and then finally take advantage of an opportunity to perform on varsity as a senior. Arizmendi, his productive starting quarterback, is one of those players.
“It validates your program and the system that you have to develop these kids,” Stewart said. “There's some places that it's almost like an insult if you're on the junior varsity. That's just not the case here. We coach our tails off there (on JV) just like we coach our tails off on Friday nights.”
The mild-mannered Arizmendi isn't the type to make outlandish statements, but he's seen enough from his Wildcats – and himself – through five games to believe they have potential to play far beyond just the next five games.
“I think we could go all the way,” he said. “It's just a matter of how we think and how we execute our stuff."