By Andrew Aragon, Deseret News
HYRUM — Alex Kuresa stood out when he started his first varsity game as Mountain Crest's quarterback — and not just because he stood about 5-foot-7 with cleats on, and was undoubtedly the lightest player on the field.
He could play from Day 1 — even if he couldn't see over his linemen.
Kuresa set the tone for one of the greatest high school football careers anyone has ever had in Utah in his first start as a varsity quarterback. As a ninth-grader, he completed his first 18 passes, threw for 180 yards and led the Mustangs to a 28-9 win over Roy.
"My freshman year being in there I was like, 'Whoa.'" Kuresa said. "Over the years I've developed confidence in the system and just a swagger with this team. I was going to do what I can do for the team — and just get a win for everyone."
Three years after breaking into the starting lineup, Kuresa wrapped up his career with a lot of wins, major state records, and now the state's most prestigious individual high school football award. He is the Deseret News' Mr. Football award recipient for the 2010 season.
"Obviously, I was happy, ecstatic," Kuresa said when learning he is this year's Mr. Football. "A lot of hard work has gone into (being recognized) so to have it be realized at that big of a level is important. It was a goal of mine. It's a goal accomplished."
Kuresa was outstanding in his senior season while leading the Mustangs to a runner-up finish in 4A. He threw for 3,983 yards, 38 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. Those numbers pale in comparison to what he did in his career, as he owns five career records and is tied for another.
Kuresa leaves Mountain Crest as the state's all-time leader in total yards of offense (12,917), passing yards (10,951), passing touchdowns (101), completions (751) and attempts (1,154). He is tied with Riley Nelson, a former Mr. Football award winner from Logan High and a future teammate at BYU, with touchdowns-responsible-for at 130.
"If someone would have told me that I was going to have those numbers my freshman year I probably wouldn't have believed them," Kuresa said. "To see how successful the team's been and see how well we've played and how I've benefitted from the system and from all my teammates, it's amazing. I wouldn't have expected any numbers like that."
Mountain Crest coach Mark Wootton didn't foresee Kuresa having such a record-breaking career when he inserted him into the starting lineup in 2007 while Kuresa was a ninth-grader at South Cache Junior High School.
"You're not even thinking that way," Wootton said. "We were just scrambling at the time, trying to finish the season out. He came in and right off the bat, you just saw he's special. He had a ton of talent, but he was just so tiny at the time. He understood the game. He always had a lot of confidence in what he could do. It just took off from there and never slowed down, which was nice."
Kuresa led the Mustangs to three semifinal appearances and one state championship game during his high school career. He had a 33-8 record as a starting quarterback.
Kuresa's critics — and it's almost amazing that he has any after the career he had — will say that he never led his team to a state title. Kuresa and the Mustangs came close last month before losing to Highland 37-36 in a double-overtime classic. Mountain Crest attempted a two-point conversion for the win in the second overtime, but came up short.
"It definitely would feel a lot better with that two-point conversion," Kuresa said of his high school career. "But I've said this before. If we would have known how the season would have ended, if coach would have told us our freshman year how this season would end and our careers would go, I wouldn't back out and none of the team would back out. We'd all still be in there lifting. We'd all still be in there working out. We'd all put all the time, sweat, blood and effort into that same thing."
Kuresa has been putting blood, sweat and tears into becoming one of the state's all-time greats since grade school. But when he first started playing football, he was more interested in being a receiver because he thought that position earned more glory — which is ironic when you consider how many honors he's earned as a quarterback. His dad, Dave, told him he was going to play quarterback, and that being a receiver wasn't an option.
"My dad helped me develop a work ethic from a very young age," said Kuresa, who comes from a family of athletes that includes a brother, Jake, who played football at BYU, a sister, Jaicee, who played volleyball at Utah Valley University, and a cousin, Tyler Haws, who was a two-time Mr. Basketball award winner at Lone Peak High. "I have a dad who has knowledge of the game, and a lot of kids don't have that. I've been lucky to have a dad who I got to watch film with when I was younger and just grow into the game of football."
What helped Kuresa continue to become great was that he was never satisfied with his abilities. He kept getting stronger, faster and more elusive. He spent countless hours throwing passes to his receivers — away from his coaches and practices — to develop a rapport with them that paid off and made their offense explosive.
Kuresa also grew. He was listed at 6-foot-1, 165 pounds as a senior.
"He made everyone else around him better," said East coach Brandon Matich, whose team was eliminated by Kuresa and the Mustangs in the 4A quarterfinals. "Kuresa never takes his eyes off downfield. Even when he scrambles, he finds open guys. His guys know he's going to get the ball to them. He's a heck of a player, and a heck of a kid. He deserves to be Mr. Football."
Wootton said the time Kuresa spent working with his teammates was one of the best things he did at Mountain Crest.
"He didn't just tell kids to get ready — he went and got them and made sure they got ready," Wootton said. "I think that reflected a lot in the way we played. He was a great leader that way."
A great leader, passer, scrambler, future BYU quarterback and now Mr. Football. It's been a remarkable four years for Kuresa.
"I've just been playing ball," Kuresa said. "I didn't know coming into this year that I was that close to any records. To have those now is a great accomplishment. To know that I'm going to be written down in those books and people will see me there means a lot."