Southward’s skills go north

Placer senior improves to become an invaluable playmaker, with his hands and feet
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Cameron Southward can laugh about it now. It was the summer of 2008 and he was trying to make it as a wide receiver on Placer High’s varsity football team. He had decent size and great hands, but his time in the 40-yard dash wasn’t something he wanted to put on his resumé. “I started out running a 5.5 (seconds) in the 40… as a receiver,” Southward said. One year later, Southward has emerged from virtual obscurity to become an all-Pioneer Valley League receiver. And his 40 time? He’s shaved off nearly a full second, becoming one of the fastest guys on a speedy Placer squad. The Hillmen were left searching for a reliable receiver after the graduation of Jordan Arndt, but Southward gladly accepted the challenge. “Every year you lose great kids and another kid jumps out and surprises you,” Placer coach Joey Montoya said. “With his competitive spirit and his work ethic, it doesn’t surprise me. But he’s probably improved more as an athlete than anyone I’ve seen in my coaching career.” The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Southward has caught a team-high 36 passes for 682 yards and seven touchdowns. Catching passes is only a small part of his contribution to Placer’s 11-1 record heading into tonight’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal contest against Sonora. As a kicker Southward has nailed 45 of 54 point-after attempts this year and has booted five field goals. Southward also averages over 34 yards on his punts and plays in the Placer secondary at safety. He’s tied for the team lead in interceptions with five. Perhaps no player on the Placer squad has gleaned more from the Hillmen coaching staff than the affable Southward. He credits junior varsity coach Rick Foley and assistant Don Packheiser for getting him started kicking, along with his nine years of soccer experience. Southward said former assistant coach John Hilton helped him dramatically improve his punting technique last season. Current assistant coach Ron Roskelley has been a big help this fall. “Coach Roskelley’s a great guy,” Southward said. “I’ve been a little shaky sometimes before field goals and he comes over and tells me, ‘Just go out there and have fun. Keep your head down and it will go where you want it to go.’” Southward’s improvement in the kicking department was a matter of refining his technique. He’s booted 50-yard field goals in practice and regularly kicks the ball into the end zone for touchbacks on his kickoffs. He would like to kick in college next year. “I feel confident in putting him out there for field goals,” Montoya said. “He’s got a strong leg and it’s made a big difference on special teams. Field position plays a big role, especially in big games.” As for his dramatic increase in speed and strength, Southward used all the resources at his disposal. He went out for the wrestling team last year to get stronger and more fit. Then he took Foley up on a challenge the track and field coach throws out regularly to athletes on the Placer campus. “I went and talked to Coach Foley and said, ‘You’ve always told me you can make me faster, so I’m here. I want to learn,’” Southward said. “I started taking track seriously last year and I got my times down a lot. I’m pretty proud of that.” In the winter, Southward finds time to work as a cashier in the rental shop at Sugar Bowl, which affords him the chance to snowboard regularly. It’s the type of tradeoff Southward has learned to embrace. He used to goof off at times when receivers coach Jim Rodarte would run drills. Now he realizes the value of each moment in practice and he’s become the perfect example of what dedication and perseverance can produce. “I admit that I do screw around sometimes – I like to have fun,” Southward said. “But there’s times you have to buckle down. The drills we do really make you focus and it helps tremendously.”