Jackson Stratton’s evolution is evident in the openers.
In the first game of his sophomore season, and just his second varsity start, Stratton — who announced a verbal commitment to Washington last weekend — threw zero touchdown passes with five interceptions in an 18-7 defeat against nearby Bishop’s High School.
Tyler Roach, Stratton’s head coach at La Jolla (Calif.) High, said his sophomore signal caller “was a little antsy with the football and trying to force it and make some things happen where maybe he didn’t need to. But those were the things expected with a young quarterback. You have to work through those things and keep his confidence, and Jackson’s a confident guy.
“So he was frustrating himself, knew he wanted to perform better. And as we started to evolve as a team his sophomore year, he really made some huge strides.”
In La Jolla’s 2-3 start in 2019, Stratton completed 70 of 125 passes and threw for 731 yards with four touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
In the Vikings’ 8-2 finish — which included section and regional championships — he completed 134 of 238 passes for 1,572 yards with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions.
So Stratton’s ascendance in his junior season should not have come as a surprise (especially when you consider that he didn’t settle at quarterback until his freshman year of high school).
Nineteen months after throwing zero touchdowns and five interceptions in his sophomore debut, Stratton completed 18 of 25 passes (72%) for 258 yards with five touchdowns and zero picks in a season-opening 49-12 victory over Morse this spring.
And, while the 16-yard rifled post and the 62-yard arcing rainbow were both plenty impressive, another touchdown pass better demonstrated Stratton’s progression as a quarterback.
“There was a play where he climbs the pocket with some pressure coming off the edge, keeps his eyes downfield and just rips a strike into the back of the end zone for a (17-yard) touchdown,” Roach recalled. “That was the one where I was like, ‘Ohhh, OK.’
“He had shown the pretty balls. I knew he could make all those throws. But this was one where, just the way he moved in the pocket, the confidence to keep his eyes downfield, looking to make a play and then just throwing a strike in the back of the end zone, that was a new level. That was a poise we hadn’t quite seen the year prior.”
Stratton and La Jolla simultaneously reached a new level this spring. In a 5-0 season, the Husky commit completed 69.8% of his passes, throwing for 1,269 yards with 19 touchdowns and two interceptions, while adding three rushing touchdowns. He described his game as “pocket-mobile. I like to sit in the pocket and throw the ball, but I also move around well in the pocket and find spaces and people that are open.”
For 15 months, Stratton filled an extended offseason with film study and strength training and mechanical improvements … then unleashed that arsenal on overmatched opponents.
“His body developed, confidence developed. The game slowed down a bit,” Roach said. “We knew, ‘Hey, we’ve only got five games this junior season. There’s no time to sputter out of the gate.’ That’s what we talked about as a whole team. ‘We’ve got to come out guns blazing and not hold anything back.’ And man, he had a pretty special junior season.”
But because of inconsistent sophomore film, a delayed junior season, a prolonged dead period and his positioning in a somewhat underrecruited area outside San Diego, Stratton remained somewhat underexposed. With a 4.3 GPA and a 31 ACT score, he earned offers from Brown, Columbia, Florida International and Nevada, with Pac-12 programs expressing interest as well.
Last month, 247Sports national recruiting analyst Greg Biggins called Stratton “a player we think could emerge on a lot of college boards this offseason.”
That was certainly the case for Washington, which initially made contact a month and a half ago. The three-star signal caller made his first campus visit for the Purple vs. Gold game on May 1, moving every couple minutes with his dad to try a different seat in Husky Stadium.
And from every conceivable angle, Stratton saw a fit.
“I loved watching it,” he told The Times after committing Saturday. “Even with like (9,000) people allowed to go, that was a crazy atmosphere. People were into the game. The fans were amazing. I loved it from everywhere.”
On Saturday, without ever announcing his offer, Stratton committed to UW. He said the time was right “just because I love the school, especially with football and academics. I wanted to go to a school where academics are just as important, and UW is that place. Academics and football are both at the highest level.”
As for star rankings and offer lists and national exposure, the Huskies’ prospective quarterback doesn’t particularly care.
“Part of the whole conversation was, ‘We don’t want to sit and draw this thing out,’” Roach said. “Jackson’s not trying to get an offer to just leverage it to get 10 other offers. He wants to go where it’s a two-way commitment. You guys are all in on him. He wants to be all in on you. So instead of them jumping to throw an offer out there and him wanting to boast that on Twitter to improve his stock or get an extra star, that’s not what it was about.
“That’s what I think was unique about the UW coaches getting to know him and him getting to know them. We didn’t need all of that extra hype.”
All he needs is an opportunity — and he’ll get one at Washington, where sophomore starter Dylan Morris and five-star freshman Sam Huard are both expected to be back in 2022. Stratton, meanwhile, is on track to enroll early and join that competition next spring.
But first, he has one last season opener at La Jolla to steal the show.
“It feels amazing,” Stratton said of his UW commitment. “It’s a little bit of a weight off the shoulders, but now the real work begins.”