Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2006 | Earlier this year, before the first whistles of football training camps, I told you this would be the year of the quarterback in San Diego.

From Toronto to San Diego and from Montezuma Mesa to Alcala Park, the pass is back in the town that of late has been better known for Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson and turning out four Heisman Trophy running backs since 1981.

Don Coryell, mastermind of the passing game at San Diego State and with the Chargers, would be proud of what we’ve seen so far this season.

Philip Rivers, Chargers.

The first-year starter may have put Martyball to rest after his last two games. Rivers completed passes to seven different receivers in the Chargers’ 48-19 win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. It was his first career 300-yard passing game as he completed 29 of 39 passes for 334 yards with two touchdowns and no interception.

It may have been a milestone game for Rivers in the stat book, but the real coming-of-age game was the week before when he read the Pittsburgh Steelers’ relentless blitzes. Seven receivers caught passes in that game, too, as he completed 24 of 37 passes for 242 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Rivers, with five starts under his belt, has shown he can complete passes in any situation and find multiple receivers.

I’ve always thought the Martyball charges in San Diego against Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer have been overblown.

When Schottenheimer coached the Cleveland Browns, he let Bernie Kosar sling the ball. Kosar would have passed Schottenheimer’s teams into two Super Bowls were it not for “The Drive” by John Elway and “The Fumble” by Ernest Bynar.

Maybe Rivers, with an unorthodox throwing motion similar to Kosar’s, has been playing Bernieball.

Damon Allen, Toronto Argonauts

You probably forgot about this San Diego quarterback, but you’d be overlooking pro football’s record holder for career passing yards. The 2005 Canadian Football League MVP assumed the title in a Toronto Argonauts win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He surpassed the total of 70,553 yards that Warren Moon established in the CFL and in his NFL Hall-of-Fame career.

The 43-year-old Allen, a Lincoln High alumnus and younger brother of Hall-of-Famer Marcus Allen, is one of San Diego’s all-time great athletes. In addition to playing quarterback at Cal State Fullerton, Allen played for the Titans’ 1984 NCAA championship baseball team and was a draft pick by the Detroit Tigers.

If you’re dismissing this record as a Canadian mark, you should know that Moon and former NFL head coach Steve Mariucci – Allen’s quarterback coach at Cal State Fullerton – were on the sidelines to recognize Allen’s record. That’s how much he thought of Allen’s accomplishment.

Kevin Craft, San Diego State

One of the more ironic stories in college football is the emergence of Aztecs redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Craft, a Valley Center High alumnus. Craft’s father, Tom, was dismissed as the Aztecs’ head coach at the end of the 2004 season.

New coach Chuck Long not only didn’t run off Craft – as 99.9 percent of college coaches have done in similar situations – Long praises the redshirt freshman as a quarterback of the future. He cited Craft playing with the poise of a fourth- or fifth-year senior when injury-riddled SDSU was overmatched in a Craft’s first start, a loss at BYU.

Although Craft didn’t play until talented starter Kevin O’Connell and backup Darren Mougey were injured, it’s inaccurate to think he got the job by default. You could see during spring football and fall camp that Craft had a better arm than Mougey. Mougey, who has trouble reading defenses, wasn’t going to hold off Craft much longer.

Don’t forget that Craft turned down UCLA for the Aztecs when Karl Dorrell made a last-minute recruiting bid for the 6-foot-5, 200-pounder coming out of high school. Otherwise, Craft might be the Bruins’ starter right now. UCLA was forced to turn to a redshirt sophomore, Patrick Cowan, when starter Ben Olsen was injured.

The Aztecs have been decimated by injuries – Don Coryell couldn’t win without his starting quarterback, starting running back (Lynell Hamilton), both tight ends (Eric Miclot and Lance Louis) and an undersized offensive line – but the quarterback reins – with O’Connell when he’s healthy and Craft as his backup – are in good hands.

Josh Johnson, University of San Diego

Johnson was added to the Walter Payton Award watch list last week as the 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior continues to put up big numbers and attract the interest as an NFL draft prospect. The Payton award, named for the late Chicago Bears Hall-of-Famer, is the Heisman Trophy’s Division I-AA football equivalent. Former Chargers quarterback John Friez won the honor in 1993.

The Toreros’ 68-7 rout of Valparaiso Saturday night wasn’t much of a game, but anyone who attended only needed to see one pass from Johnson to feel they got their money’s worth.

All night, Valparaiso defense was playing deep, and Johnson was taking the underneath pass in head coach Jim Harbaugh’s West Coast offense en route to completing his first nine passes in the first quarter. He completed 18 of 23 for 286 yards and four touchdowns before sitting out the fourth quarter.

But in the third quarter, when the defense presented a shot at a deep ball, Johnson lofted a majestic 60-yard spiral that John Mathews caught in stride, although he had defender hanging on him and wasn’t able to run for additional yardage. It was such a beautifully thrown ball, there was something about its flight that you could see it was on target before it reached the peak of its arc and descended into Mathews’ waiting hands.

Go see him now – USD’s next home game is Oct. 28 against Morehead State (Phil Simms’ school, by the way). Then when he ends up in the NFL, you can say you saw him “back when …”

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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