Despite being a Santa Cruz resident, AJ Minyard’s place and role was always with Los Gatos High and its football team.
The senior quarterback was the Wildcats’ ball boy starting when he was 6 or 7 years old and served in that capacity all the way until his eighth-grade year. Minyard’s mom and dad are both teachers at Los Gatos High and as such AJ had the option to attend Los Gatos or a school in the Santa Cruz area.
For Minyard, it was a no-brainer.
“I live in Santa Cruz but I consider myself a big Los Gatos guy,” he said. “It will always hold a big place in my heart. I’ll remember Los Gatos no matter where I go [after graduating]. I spend most of my time there and pretty much grew up there.”
When he attended Van Meter Elementary and Fisher Middle School, Minyard vividly remembers walking to Los Gatos High after his school day was over to watch the football team practice and serve as the ball boy under the Friday Night Lights.
It was Minyard’s way to get involved in the game since he didn’t have the choice to play tackle football.
“I always wanted to play tackle football growing up, but my mom didn’t sign me up,” said Minyard, a two-sport standout who is projected to play baseball in college. “So being a ballboy and going to practice was the closest thing I could get to be a part of a true football program. I wanted to be involved as much as I could.”
Before the season started, Minyard was in a tough competition for QB1. However, the 6-foot-3, 155-pounder had the inside track as he served as Jake Boyd’s backup last year. Even though Minyard saw limited game action because Boyd was durable, the experience was invaluable.
Minyard did start the Palo Alto game in place of Boyd and spearheaded the team to a convincing victory, which gave him confidence into the off-season and for spring and summer conditioning.
“It really helped having that game for me,” he said. “It helped me gain confidence going into next season. I was obviously looking forward to going into the baseball season, but also focusing on football and it was a great way to boost me into the next year.”
Minyard has been a reliable presence and playmaker since the beginning of the season, a byproduct of having a clear focus and mindset as official full-contact practices started in August.
“My main goal was to just work as hard as I possibly could and not leave any room or thought I could’ve done better,” he said.
Minyard has produced some of his best performances in the last three games. In a recent back-to-back stretch involving wins over Sacred Heart Prep and Palo Alto, Minyard was near-perfect, completing 12-of-13 passes.
While Minyard and his teammates weren’t nearly as sharp in their most recent game, a 19-6 win over Burlingame High, Minyard still excelled, completing 7-of-10 passes for 122 yards and no interceptions.
The last stat is noteworthy because Minyard has been focusing on limiting turnovers as he admittedly struggled at times with taking care of the ball in the first handful of games. Minyard has also been focusing on making the proper checkdowns and staying calm through his reads and progressions.
“I’m making sure I’m not making a throw harder than it needs to be,” he said.
Minyard credited his success to the entire team but in particular the offensive line, which lost its best player in Ryan Vernale in the Pittsburg game. However, Minyard said the rest of the linemen have rallied and come together nicely.
They include center Matt Ludeman, guards Leo Cocchiglia and George Charles, and tackles Lyndon Bailey and Henry Anslinger.
“Everyone on the O-line has stepped up since Ryan’s absence,” Minyard said. “Obviously, not having Ryan is a big blow to our O-line, but I still trust them with my life and they’ll do anything to make sure I get time to pass and Boxer [Kopcsak-Yeung] has enough room to run.”
Minyard was phenomenal in the season-opener, going 16 of 21 for 244 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-14 win over Soquel. Talk about coming out guns blazing.
“That game would be my personal highlight [so far],” he said. “I loved starting the season off that way and it really helped me stay confident to roll into the season and create momentum.”
Though he has proven his worth on the gridiron, Minyard’s best sport is baseball. Last spring, the right-hander had a terrific junior season, going 5-3 with a 2.14 ERA, allowing just 47 hits in 49 innings while striking out 35 and limiting opponents’ batting average to .240.
Minyard started T-ball when he was 4 or 5 years old and definitely has the tools to pitch in college. Interestingly enough, Minyard said all of the practice reps throwing the football last year helped him on the pitching mound.
“Throwing the football the whole season really helped me gain velocity for baseball,” he said. “So I’m trusting the process again where football will help me take off again into the winter training period for the next baseball season.”
For now, Minyard is focused on helping lead the Wildcats to another league championship and reach the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs. He’s literally living a dream, as he’s been stalking the Los Gatos sideline for 11 years, first as the ball boy and now as the quarterback.
For Minyard, reality is better than a dream.