Monday, September 15, 2014

Navarro's risk taking leads to productive four-year varsity career

Nikolas Navarro at a spring Rivals! camp (photo credit
Nikolas Navarro is known at Jurupa Hills in Fontana for taking risks on the football field. He's used his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame to throw himself into a pile and halt a running back at inside linebacker, or go across the middle as a tight end and make the tough catch.

The senior plays two positions that require risk taking. But Navarro got used to making bold moves early in his prep career. His biggest gamble came in the summer of 2011, when he was an incoming freshman at the newest high school located on the town's south side.

"I told my mom I wanted to practice and lift with the varsity team and she said it was OK," Navarro said. "I had a slight step back, though, when I broke my wrist."

Navarro was demoted to the junior varsity team after sustaining the injury during one summer practice. However, he didn't shut down his hope of joining the varsity roster. His injury healed right on time for the freshman and junior varsity game.

"After I played in that game, they brought me back up to the varsity due to my superb performance," Navarro said.

Navarro's gamble of joining the varsity team as a 5-foot-10, 190-pound freshman got him to stay with the upperclassmen. He got on the field in seven games, finishing with 20 total tackles including eight solo stops. 

Since then, he's produced 199 tackles, three interceptions and two sacks in his Spartan career. He's now Jurupa's leading tackler with 32 stops and averaging 10.7 tackles per game this season. 

On the football field, Navarro is quick to locate the football, then dash like he's a dog spotting his chew toy inside his house. His vision and closing speed are two of his strongest traits. Navarro, though, said he's improved as a student of the game.

"I feel that I have a greater understanding of football and now know the importance of film," Navarro said. "I know the other teams' play before they run it now."

During his junior year, Navarro scored three defensive touchdowns, including two on interception returns. Along with his ball skills, he was an active blitzer who chased down a quarterback or blasted his shoulder into a running back, knocking him to the turf.

While Navarro said that his film study has improved, he said he thinks his speed and tackling have enhanced as well. 

"So far, two of the three teams I've played against have made schemes around me, and many plays that I make are always from my opposite side," Navarro said. "My tackling has improved too. I've lowered my pad level, making my tackles more efficient."

He's not just watching how other teams line up on offense or learn what formations they run. Navarro said he enjoys watching Luke Kuechly, an NFL All-Pro linebacker on the Carolina Panthers, to help with his own style of play at linebacker.

"For him to be so young and dominate the game the way he does just amazes me," Navarro said. "He's also an exemplary person off the field and just a monster on the field intimidating everyone."

Navarro has had to adjust to playing tight end this season. He said Jurupa sometimes lines him up as a slot receiver. He added that even though he's fine with playing tight end, he's more comfortable on defense.

"It's like clock work. I feel right at home every time I play the position," Navarro said. "I've been playing it for as long I can remember [Navarro has played since Pop Warner]. I work a lot on my hands to shed blocks and I spend around one to three-in-a-half hours in the weight room each day, whether if it's at school or the gym. Legs and shoulders are a must for me."

Despite being a four-year varsity letterman and a tackling machine for the Spartans, Navarro hasn't come home to a stack of scholarship offers. The University of Idaho of the Sun Belt Conference is his only athletic scholarship offer. Army and Vanderbilt have expressed recent interest.

Are colleges overlooking Navarro?

"I feel that I'm a big sleeper prospect, but patience is key and at the end of the day, having just one offer is a blessing," Navarro said. "No matter where I go, I'll make my mark."

He credits his early taste of the varsity level for helping him become the player that he is today. 

"Being on varsity early helped a lot. I never had to adjust to the speed from the freshman level to the varsity because I was always with everyone at the top," Navarro said. "I always learned from those games and remembered their plays because I knew I would see them again on Friday nights."


What to like: I would start with size but I'm more impressed with Navarro's other attributes. His closing speed and reaction skills make him an ideal linebacker for the next level. He won't back down from snatching a ball carrier for a huge stop on a blitz or make a game changing interception or fumble. He does a solid job of extending his hands and shedding blocks quickly for the tackle. He does a consistent job of keeping himself low to the ground and finishing his tackle. The fact that he's spending more time in the film room shows that he's willing to improve his preparation for a game.

What to build on: He said he's improved his speed, but that aspect can always improve at the next level. I've noticed that he tends to use more upper body strength than hand technique to shed his blocks. He might get away with that in high school but he'll need to improve that area down the road. I also need to see more of his ability to single cover a tight end or inside receiver.

Overall: Navarro is a hidden gem in the talent rich Inland Empire. There's no question he has a great number of skills that can make him a prototypical linebacker at the collegiate level. How he has just one offer baffles me. But I'm sure that lone offer is motivating Navarro to dominate his games on Fridays in the "I.E" and get more looks on the recruiting trail.

More on Navarro:

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