HS Football 2021: La Center Wildcats

Darren Cepeda moved to La Center from Guam prior to his sophomore year of football, and now, as a senior, he has earned the starting position at quarterback

Starting quarterback Darren Cepeda, who grew up in Guam, appreciates how the football team, the school, and community have accepted him

Darren Cepeda had quite an eye-opening experience when he arrived in La Center.

“It was a big shell shock,” he said. 

He was used to being the dominant athlete on a football team. But as a sophomore, new in town, he found himself surrounded by a ton of talent.

Oh, Cepeda has plenty of talent, as well. In fact, he started at cornerback that season, helping the Wildcats to the Class 1A state playoffs.

Still, he certainly was not in Guam anymore. Cepeda grew up in Guam, played his youth football there, then arrived in La Center in the middle of freshman year.

“It’s not as big as it is out here,” he said of football. “The competition is a lot higher out here, expectations are a lot higher here.”

It is Darren Cepeda’s time to shine as the starting quarterback at La Center. Photo by Paul Valencia
It is Darren Cepeda’s time to shine as the starting quarterback at La Center. Photo by Paul Valencia

Talent is talent, though, from wherever one comes from, and the Wildcats knew they had a special athlete in Cepeda.

La Center coach John Lambert saw what he could do then — putting Cepeda in as a starter on defense as a sophomore — and also visualized what Cepeda could do in the future.

Well, the future is now. 

Cepeda is the team’s quarterback.

“It is his time,” Lambert said. “He has improved a ton throwing the ball. He’s real quick, too. A shifty runner. We have the same element of run-pass option with him. He’s well liked and respected by his teammates, as well.”

Injuries slowed down Darren Cepeda as a junior, but now as a senior, he is looking to lead the La Center Wildcats. Photo by Paul Valencia
Injuries slowed down Darren Cepeda as a junior, but now as a senior, he is looking to lead the La Center Wildcats. Photo by Paul Valencia

Cepeda endured some tough breaks as a junior. Literally. He broke a bone in a pinkie finger just prior to the season. When he returned, he played one game, then broke his left ankle. That abbreviated spring season truly was abbreviated for Cepeda.

“The COVID season wasn’t good,” Cepeda said in quite the understatement.

But the recovery process has been good for Cepeda’s game.

“It took a couple months to heal. I was still going into the weight room and doing as much as I could,” Cepeda said. “I was throwing the football, just standing up and not really moving too much. I watched film while I was in bed, with my cast. I could have been, ‘Oh this is bad, this is terrible.’ I could have been down. I ended up being positive because (Coach) told me, ‘You still have your senior season, and you’re going to be a huge help to this team.’ That really brought me to my senior season.”

Cepeda is taking what he learned when he first arrived at La Center into the huddle this year. The seniors on the 2019 team are still inspiring him today. Cepeda has two goals this year. One is to bring La Center its first state championship. The other has to do with maintaining the excellence that is the expectation within the program, by being a role model to the younger players.

“I want to leave the guys with great leadership and show them what it means to be a La Center senior,” Cepeda said. “Provide the example to them day-in and day-out. Just be a great teammate to these guys.”

It is not just for the players, but for all associated with La Center football and La Center schools, he said.

“I come out here and try to work hard every day for each one of these coaches. They push me to be my best, in the classroom as well. Not just on the field,” Cepeda said.

His ankle injury healed, Cepeda has “escapability” and is a threat to pass or run from the quarterback position at La Center. Photo by Paul Valencia
His ankle injury healed, Cepeda has “escapability” and is a threat to pass or run from the quarterback position at La Center. Photo by Paul Valencia

La Center welcomed Cepeda and his family with open arms.

“It means everything and beyond,” Cepeda said of representing La Center on the football field. “It’s a great community. All these kids who I play football with out here grew up in La Center, stayed here, didn’t transfer. That says a lot about the program, where it’s been through the years. It’s been successful. 

“A big part of that is the coaching staff, the school board, the teachers. Just the whole La Center, it’s a great town. A great town.”

Darren Cepeda moved to La Center from Guam prior to his sophomore year of football, and now, as a senior, he has earned the starting position at quarterback
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