Before AJ Derr was born, his soon-to-be parents took a trip to the Atwater High football field with his future grandma. At the time, Jon Derr was working at the school as a teacher and football coach, so he had access to the press box. While grandma Sue, and his mother, Mindee, were on the field, his father announced through the loud speakers various arrangements of initials, like DJ, RJ and AJ — ending each one with “Derr.”
The whole point of this presentation was to determine which name has the best ring to it, just in case the child became a sports star. Inevitably, they chose AJ, only later filling in those initials with Austin James.
In 2010, the name “AJ Derr” was routinely shouted by announcers during the Pitman High football season.
Since then, it’s hard to mention Pride football without mentioning Derr’s name. He’s entering his senior season as the returning starting quarterback, one who has mastered the Pride playbook. He understands that this is his final season as a quarterback at any level, considering he’s too undersized to play beyond high school. He’s also considered a baseball prospect.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” said Jon Derr, who’s also the team’s defensive backs coach, about his son’s final season of football. “It’s finally here, yet we know there’s an end at some point.”
For now, the Derrs and the rest of the Pride are preparing for the beginning of the end, seeing that the 2011 season won’t start until Friday night.
In 2010, the Pride finished with a 7-4 overall record and their fifth overall playoff appearance. The program hasn’t had a losing season since the school opened in 2002, and coach Brandon Harris expects AJ Derr to once again play a huge role in continuing that winning tradition.
“It’s always nice to have a quarterback who knows the offense, who’s been there,” Harris said. “It’s phenomenal to have a quarterback who’s been up in varsity for three years.”
Derr was unable to battle for the quarterback position as a sophomore after having his second surgery to his throwing hand. That year belonged to senior Hayden Baldwin, who took the Pride to the playoffs.
“The quarterback we had was really good,” Derr said about the 2009 season. “He was the guy.”
Derr had to settle for being a kicker and safety.
When last season came around, there was no quarterback controversy. The spot was all Derr’s — and he excelled. This year, he hopes to continue that success as an experienced leader. He’s gotten stronger and faster, enabling Harris to use him as a double-threat to solidify an impressive group of running backs who are coached by former Pitman and Fresno State standout Anthony Harding.
“I’ve always had a lot of confidence in him,” Harris said about Derr, “but we’re able to do more this year than last year, just because we’ve dialed in and we’re able to move a little bit faster and change some things up.”
Derr understands that he has just one more season of football left with the Pride football program. And he’s ready to go.
“I just hope as a team, not anything individual for my own son, but for our team,” said AJ’s father, Jon Derr, “that we really have an opportunity to grow together and we’re on the right track. We’re really here to develop young men, my son included, into fine adults and fathers and businessmen and husbands.”
As well as future quarterbacks whose name has a nice ring to it.
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.