Maranatha’s Christian Cortes threw for 2,198 yards and 23 TDs last season as the Eagles compiled a 7-3 record.
When Christian Cortes went to the DMV for his learner’s permit, he thought he could fake his way through just as he had during the high school football season last fall.
As soon as the clerk told him to cover his left eye and read the eye chart, he failed.
“I couldn’t see a thing,” said the 5-foot-11, 165-pound junior quarterback from Maranatha Christian.
Up to that point, Cortes had hidden how bad his eyesight had become. Under the best circumstances, vision in his right eye was poor. But a sty that formed on the lower eyelid of his left eye eventually robbed him of any clear vision he still had.
Instead of taking himself out, Cortes kept playing.
The thought of coming off the field injured was unacceptable. So, with his eyesight beyond about 12 yards just a blur, Cortes banked on his thorough knowledge of the Eagles’ playbook and knowing where his receivers should be on every pattern.
It ended up being an all-league season as Cortes directed Maranatha to a 7-3 record and the Ocean League championship.
“I just trusted where I was throwing the ball a lot,” said Cortes. “My teammates could see how bad my left eye looked, but they had no idea how bad my right eye was.”
Maranatha coach Michael Cole did not fully understand the gravity of the situation, either.
“He would overthrow or underthrow wide open receivers and I’d yell at him all the time,” Cole said. “I’d ask him if he was blind because his guy was open. Turns out he was.”
Added Cortes: “Coach asked me if I was blind about 10 times last year.”
With a new football season under way, Cortes is back at quarterback. His eyesight, thanks to two surgeries on the left eye and corrective lenses, is once again 20/20.
The first surgery last spring did not fully remove the sty, which is caused by a bacteria. A second procedure was necessary.
“I couldn’t get my teammates to stop looking at my left eye last season,” said Cortes, laughing. “The doctor cut the eyelid the second time to get every bit of the sty out.
“I asked him to numb it twice on the first surgery and I got even more stuff to numb it the second time. I was awake for the whole thing.”
For Cortes to request additional numbing medication goes against his nature.
Unlike most quarterbacks who despise being hit, Cortes relishes contact.
“I love getting hit,” he said. “Sometimes, I get the ‘wake me in the middle of the night hit’ and I’ll tell the guy it was a good hit. Most times they look at me like I’m crazy.
“The best hit was the La Jolla Country Day game last year. I got annihilated on the play. I laid there for a few seconds, but I got up. Those guys gave me props for getting up.”
Cortes took over the quarterbacking duties halfway through his freshman year when the starter was moved to halfback. He passed for 1,251 yards and six touchdowns but threw seven interceptions. His completion percentage was a respectable 48.4 percent.
Last year, despite his limited eyesight, Cortes was 134-for-216 passing — 62 percent — for 2,198 yards, 23 TDs and 12 interceptions.
“He would throw to a spot and our receivers would go get it,” said Cole, whose team was scheduled to open the season Friday against Las Vegas Calvary Chapel. “Then when I’d ask him what he saw on the play he’d tell me what he thought I wanted to hear.
“That worked pretty well for him last year, but when he showed up with an eye patch after the first surgery I thought people were joking with me. I must have been really oblivious.”
Cortes’ best game last season was a 20-for-25 performance for 364 yards, five TDs and no interceptions in a 61-7 win over The Rock Academy.
He also had a 316-yard passing game in a 34-0 win over Foothills Christian.
“Coach always said I had to know the offense so well I could find my receivers even if I was blind,” said Cortes, who noted the coaches call him the Mexican Russell Wilson because of his size. “Now that I can see the whole field, all the players and even reading defenses now, I have great expectations for me and my team.
“Coach would have had to do something drastic to get me off the field last year. I found out I needed other people to succeed last year.”
He also passed his driver’s license test, including the eye exam.