The sun has just set behind the Performing Arts building, leaving John Shepard stadium bathed in shadow.
Head coach Efrain Martinez surveys his team as they warm up before the kickoff, stalking back and forth across the field.
“It really doesn’t matter how I feel, I always feel good [about a game],” he said.
He watches two of his players, quarterbacks Exavier Johnson (#3) and Clinton Granger (#12) as they move through some warm up plays, nearly lost to the swarm of their fellow players, all dressed in uniform scarlet and white.
“This is really unique, these two quarterbacks,” he said with pride.
For the first time that anyone on the field can recall, the Brahmas are using a two-quarterback system, with Johnson and Granger as their star players.
“They’re that good. They’re both Division 1 players, they’re both really competitive,” Martinez continues, arms folded across his chest.
The two-quarterback system has never been a winning strategy in football, and for good reason. Clashing egos, discordant playing styles, and uneven levels of skill can break a team.
For Martinez, it’s his quarterbacks’ talent that makes this finicky system a logical choice.
“They complement each other, they have no animosity towards each other,” he explains.
“If one was at this level,” he holds both hands in the air, “and the other was at this level,” he brings one hand lower than the other, “it wouldn’t work. But they’re both very similar in style and in ability. They’re both strong players.”
Everyday game warm ups, whether its Johnson or Granger getting the start, the two stand at full attention on the sidelines as the first play begins to the roars of the crowd.
This is the first season that Martinez has ever used two quarterbacks, giving Pierce “the best offense in the state of California,” he said. “It may have been done before, but not with this caliber of quarterbacks.”
Throughout the game Johnson and Granger share the field evenly, one playing two series before switching off to the other.
It’s an odd dynamic, as both are as much in competition with each other as they are with the opposing team. When one is in play, the other watches attentively.
“They push each other and want the other to succeed,” said Jim Thornton, Brahma offensive coordinator for the Brahmas since 2008.
“We kind of let them play out to see if one would rise above the other, but they stayed evenly matched. If one had ended up being better, we’d only have one,” he said.
“Johnson is more flamboyant than Granger. And Granger is more patient,” he said. “They’re both leaders, but Exavier is more of a natural leader than Clinton. Clinton’s more of a quiet, reserved guy, it doesn’t come to him as naturally but he’s getting there.”
Thornton says that their different personalities complement each other.
“If they were bickering or disagreeing with each other all the time, this wouldn’t work,” he said.
“Granger and Johnson are both hoping to go as far as they can in the game,” Thornton said. “That drive doubles as their greatest strength, as well as their greatest weakness.”
“They tend to force things, because they want to make things happen. Sometimes, you have to slow down and as a quarterback and wait for things to happen,” Thornton said.
“I think we have a pretty sophisticated offense, and because it’s so complex, they’re both gonna make mistakes, but I think making mistakes makes them better players.”
When Granger throws a go-ahead touchdown pass down the field, Johnson grins and claps his hands together.
“As he goes, we go; he’s gonna be an awesome quarterback,” Johnson said later. “I’m gonna make him better just as much as he’s gonna make me better.”
The styles of the two Brahma quarterbacks are similar—both play aggressively and favor the shotgun pass—but even from the stands you can see the difference in temperament.
When Granger is in play, the deliberation in his style is visible. Every step he takes is quick and measured, searching for that opportune moment before his arm cocks back to make the pass.
While Granger’s in play, freshman Johnson stands alert, shifting his weight from side to side in anticipation for his turn.
When Johnson gets on the field, he zips back and forth almost too fast for the eye to follow, bobbing and weaving through the opposing team with kinetic energy.
Granger waits patiently, watching from the benches or practicing his throws as Johnson plays.
“Knowing they both came from Division 1 colleges, it’s been amazing, they’re both real players, real leaders,” said Brahma wide-receiver Kenny Davis.
“They taught me a lot of things, they taught me to work harder, how fast it’s like to play at that level,” he said. “Working with them has been like working with Brett Favre or Joe Montana. From the first day, it’s been amazing. Exavier is my god brother.”
During the final minutes of the fourth quarter during Pierce’s 42-38 victory over Long Beach City College Oct. 2, Granger leaped into the air to make a pass, but came down awkwardly, and his knee falls out from under him.
The players line up, and Granger watches from the bench, ice strapped to his knee as Johnson takes his position. The crowd breathes in.
“We just motivate each other,” Granger said matter-of-factly after the game. “It is what it is, it’s just two different types of players.”