Stevan Navarro started the season as a fourth-string running back. But the San Benito High junior now finds himself in a starring role in the backfield alongside Jonny Gonzalez. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Navarro is coming off two huge games: a 16-carry, 146-yard, two touchdown performance in last week’s 29-27 loss to Palma, and an 11-carry, 194-yard, three-touchdown effort in a 60-30 win over North Salinas two weeks ago.
Navarro is second on the team in rushing, with 456 yards on just 42 carries, a team-best 10.9 yards per carry average. As the Haybalers (6-4) await their playoff matchup after the Central Coast Section seeding meeting Sunday, one thing is for certain: Navarro can be counted upon to bring toughness, intensity and a willingness to push past his limits.
“My strength is to run the ball hard every time,” he said. “The hole collapses very quickly, and whoever is in my way, I just want to say to get out of the way. I love contact, and I love the feeling and adrenaline you get after hitting somebody. That’s what smashmouth football is all about.”
What makes Navarro so effective is he combines brawn with breakaway ability.
“When I get in the open field, I have the power and speed to get away,” he said.
Against North Salinas, Navarro returned a kickoff 75 yards for a TD and rushed for a 61 yard score. Out of his six TDs, Navarro said his most memorable moment came in the aftermath of the kickoff return for a TD.
“I was so excited and worked up that when I got to the sideline, I felt like passing out,” he said. “I jumped up with Jonny, and when I came back down I got real dizzy. It took a while to get my breath back.”
Among his other highlights, Navarro also had a 26-yard rushing TD against Palma. Despite showing some great vision and skill, Navarro said it’s his battering ram attitude that sets all of his big runs up.
“When you take people head on and keep hitting them, they don’t want to go at you (later in the game),” he said. “That’s what I did against Palma—I came out with a punch and kind of went off. Every guy that came my way, I was trying to de-cleat.”
Few players in the entire CCS have come on stronger late in the year than Navarro, who used his fourth-string position on the depth chart at the beginning of the season as motivation to better himself.
“I was down in the depth chart, and I didn’t like being there,” he said. “It wasn’t a great feeling. I knew I had to work hard everyday in practice, but especially outside of practice.”
Navarro used every bit of his free time to pore over the playbook and watch video of the team’s upcoming opponent.
“I had to be ready mentally and show what I was capable of doing on the field,” he said. “I really took responsibility to work hard, step up and do the things I was supposed to do. Everyday was a chance to prove myself.”
Navarro received tremendous support from Gonzalez, who versed Navarro on footwork while learning to get mentally tougher. The two would do pushups at the end of each practice, which Navarro said has gotten him stronger.
“When the body is tired, the spirit is still alive,” he said. “And the spirit is something a football player has to have.”
It’s that inner fire that allows Navarro to wake up at 5:10 a.m. on school days so he can get to the San Benito High weight room by 7:15. Navarro, who is currently living in San Jose with his mom and uncle, has a much longer commute than his teammates.
But the love he has for Haybaler football and his teammates and coaches superseded everything else. A family situation led Navarro moving to his uncle’s residence in San Jose last March. He attended Lincoln High for a few months before transferring back to San Benito for the start of his junior year.
“I had to make the commitment to drive an hour all the way to San Benito everyday to play football because they’re my brothers,” he said. “We have a true brotherhood that a lot of teams don’t have.”
Navarro credited his mom, Diana Sanchez, and his uncles, Danny and Ben Sanchez, for helping him stay strong amid a tumultuous living situation. Navarro estimates he has moved “about 10 times,” the last of which took him from Hollister to San Jose last year.
“It was a tough year,” he said. “But I’m grateful that I have my mom and uncles to lead the way. It’s been hectic moving house to house, but I knew we would find somewhere to settle down and hopefully get comfortable enough so I could enjoy the rest of my high school years.”
Diana, who works in Hollister, drives her son to school while providing tremendous support in everything he does. Danny has been instrumental in opening up his home, allowing Navarro to have peace of mind with his living situation.
And Ben is the kick-butt, take-no-prisoners person that every young athlete needs to stay on the right track.
“Ben was a Marine,” Navarro said. “He trains me hard and has been really put in the time and effort to establish a relationship with me because I didn’t have a father figure in my life growing up. Everything he has taught me relates to real life, especially for football. He said the off-season is the season when you can get better, when no one is looking. That is where you find yourself. The regular season is just a showcase of the hard work you put in the off-season.”
Tough, determined and resilient, Navarro has become a stalwart running back, poised for even bigger things next season. Once the season is over, he’ll take a short break before attacking the off-season in the same way he does a defensive player—with ferocity and vigor.
“I’m going to stay driven,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier to play running back because I looked at it as the best position. It was a big dream, and now that dream is reality.”