Joshua Buck/Times-Call
Silver Creek’s Austin Apodaca looks for an open receiver against Windsor at Everly-Montgomery Field in Longmont on Sept. 30, 2010.

LONGMONT — Austin Apodaca takes a couple of quick steps, rotates his upper body and then uncoils, launching a throw that flies nearly 70 yards across the football field. He’s just messing around. There’s no game and no receiver at the other end to catch the ball.

Just a little gauge of his own arm strength.

That’s the part that always came easily to Apodaca, who is entering his third season as Silver Creek’s quarterback. Even as a skinny sophomore whose shoulder pads may have seemed a bit too big for his body, he looked natural passing the ball. It took some time assuming control of the headier roles that a high-level quarterback must play.

“It’s a learning process. It’s hard to have a young kid step in at quarterback, and I had to force some stuff that I wasn’t comfortable with. But the next year was better, and this year it’s even better,” he said. “Going into games my sophomore year, I was almost scared that I would mess up. Now, I’m anxious to get out there and start making plays.”

Nobody walks into a starting role in any sport, especially as underclassmen, and especially at quality programs like Silver Creek.

Competition sizzles everywhere, and there is a bit of added heat for the quarterback, a position that requires as much mental strength and stamina as is does physical. Apodaca has matured in that aspect over the years.

“Everybody knows that’s a position that gets focused on no matter what type of offense you run. It’s an intense position, and it takes a unique kid to be able to do it as a sophomore,” said Mike Apodaca, Silver Creek’s coach and the quarterback’s father. “It can be difficult to find that comfort level at that age to lead juniors and seniors, and that’s where he’s made the most improvement the last three years.”

Austin Apodaca played well that first season, completing half of his pass attempts for just over 1,400 yards with a dozen touchdowns and the same number of picks.

He and the Raptors made a huge leap last season, winning a playoff game with a relatively high number of junior starters. Apodaca threw for nearly 2,400 yards with 25 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions while connecting on better than 63 percent of his throws. He ran for another 256 yards and three touchdowns.

He’s filled out to 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds and growing, and he already made one of the biggest decisions of his young life early in the summer.

He gave a verbal commitment to play at Washington State, which not only sets him on firm footing for a successful future, but it also clears part of his mind for the present season.

“Most quarterbacks like to get the decision out of way before the season so they can focus on leading the team. I thought it was a perfect situation,” he said.

And Apodaca is the first to say that the quarterback doesn’t do anything by himself. He is just one of 11 on offense and one of many on a team with high expectations and even loftier goals.

“We will be able to go as far as offensive line takes us. We can’t do anything without them,” he said. “Running, passing — it all starts with the line.”

Senior Ben Woo Ching will be one of those lineman. As a solid 300-pounder, it can be hard to blend in, but that is exactly what he hopes this team will do during the regular season.

“Right now, we are excited and there is optimism and a good confidence on the team,” Woo Ching said. “But we want to stay under the radar a little.”

Brady Delander can be reached at bdelander@times-call.com.

SILVER CREEK RAPTORS

Coach: Mike Apodaca, 9th year (42-42 record)

Last year: 8-4, 3-2 in Northern Conference; lost in quarterfinals round of 3A state playoffs

Returning starters: Austin Apodaca (Sr., QB, 6-3, 180); Shaquelle Chambers (Sr., TE/DE, 6-2, 210); Nathan Dunlavy (Sr., LB, 6-1, 190); Trey Fleming (Jr., WR/DB, 6-1, 165); Luis Granados (Sr., OL, 6-2, 215); Trace Gray (Sr., OL/DL, 6-3, 225); Garrett Howard (Sr., OL, 6-2, 245); KC Lord (Sr., WR/DB, 6-0, 165); Ian McNabb (Sr., RB/LB, 6-0, 180); Ryan Rankin (Sr., WR/DB 6-1, 160); Greg Reynolds (Sr., WR/DB, 6-1, 170); Stephan White (Sr., RB/DB, 5-10, 160); Ben Woo Ching (Sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 300).

Others to watch: Andre Apodaca (So., LB, 6-0, 180); Royce Boginski (Jr., LB, 6-1, 195); Levi Cecil (So., OL/DL, 6-4, 215); Anthony Emberley (Jr., RB/LB, 6-0, 170); Wyatt Knechtel (Sr., TE/DE, 6-6, 220); James Krietman (Sr., DL, 5-10, 165); Austin Miller (Sr., OL/DL, 6-2, 245); Michael Simboski (Jr., WR/DB, 6-1, 152); Angel Sanchez (Jr., WR/DB, 5-10, 165); Hayden Smith (Jr., OL, 6-2, 255).

College prospects: Austin Apodaca, Chambers, Dunlavy, Gray, Rankin, Reynolds, Woo Ching.

Must-see game: Sept. 30 at Windsor

Strengths: QB Apodaca is considered among the best quarterbacks in the state, not just 3A, and he leads a large group of returning starters. Coach Apodaca has watched most of the upperclassmen grow up since elementary school. Talented and deep, the Raptors are excited for the season.

Weaknesses: There are few holes on this team, but it will be tested by a tough schedule that features four opponents that combined for a 36-11 record last season.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 — at Kent Denver, 2 p.m.

Sept. 8 — FREDERICK, 7 p.m.

Sept. 15 — at Northridge, 7 p.m.

Sept. 23 — STERLING, 7 p.m.

Sept. 30 — at Windsor, 7 p.m.

Oct. 7 — BERTHOUD, 7 p.m.*

Oct. 14 — at Erie, 7 p.m.

Oct. 21 — MOUNTAIN VIEW, 7 p.m.

Oct. 28 — at Skyline, 7 p.m.

Nov. 3 — ROOSEVELT, 7 p.m.Note: Home games in all caps; home stadium is Everly-Montgomery Field; *–denotes at J.J. Johnson Field in Lyons