PROVO — It's been 13 days since La Habra High School running back Joshua Quezada sacrificed his black locks, his signature calling card reminiscent of the long curls of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
This long mane flowing out the back of his helmet was iconic as Quezada terrorized defenses last fall in Orange County en route to the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Division championship, a senior year in which he rushed for 2,114 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Today, Quezada is attending classes at BYU and working out with the Cougars, having qualified for early graduation. He's sure to be one of the more interesting stories in coach Bronco Mendenhall's highly touted recruiting class of 2010.
In a sense, Quezada, who is not LDS but quickly jumped to embrace BYU's strict honor code, is a textbook example of the talent Mendenhall hoped he could attract to his program when he took over in 2005.
"The first time BYU talked to Josh, coach Steve Kaufusi sat him down and explained the honor code," said La Habra coach Frank Mazzotta this week. "Josh then told me, that's the thing he liked the most about BYU is the guys on the team would be similar to him."
Quezada is one of the more highly recruited running backs the Cougars have pursued over the years. A two-time All-County star, Quezeda received two Pac-10 offers in one day (Stanford, Washington) last May and later narrowed his choices to BYU, Utah, Hawaii and Washington.
After missing 2-1/2 games this fall due to a viral infection that hospitalized him for a day, Quezada gained 815 yards in the last four games of his high school career. He averaged 7.6 yards per carry and 162.6 yards per game.
The most impressive, said Mazzotta, was a 300-yard, five-touchdown effort against Cypress in the CIF semifinals. "They were 12-1 and we were 12-1. We were both league champions. This was the best competition you can get and Josh just outlasted everyone. In our league championship against Fullerton, we were both 8-1 and he rushed for 251 yards. Thing is, he shows up in big games and carries everybody."
Mazzotta, whose brother Casey played defensive back for the Cougars in 1992-93, said with Quezada, it all starts with his maturity.
"And that translates into an outstanding work ethic, pretty much like nobody else. He's a very mature, committed young man. On the field, he's tremendous. He's very fast, but is also very physical and tough. He has great vision, speed of a small guy but strength as in 208 pounds of solid muscle."
After the holidays, Mendenhall told reporters his first home visit to see Quezada came in unusual circumstances. The meeting got moved to the home of a friend of Quezada because the Quezada house was damaged by a fire the night before Thanksgiving.
Quezada walked into the house, which doubled as a day care with children running all around and he picked up a kid and went right to work. "He knows a lot about responsibility, he knows a lot about caring, he knows a lot about being unselfish. He knows a lot about really, really strong core values. He seemed a perfect fit for BYU."
Mendenhall asked Quezada in his first phone call why he was interested in BYU. "The standards," he said. "I'll never forget it," said Mendenhall.
The hair cut wasn't an easy sacrifice, but Quezada put it on the altar.
BYU policies prohibit interviewing a freshman until after his first game, but Brandon Gurney of Total Blue Sports.com had an extensive interview with Quezada when he committed to BYU on Dec. 19. The hair deal was a focus of the discussion because it got huge play in the Orange County Register and was required before admittance to BYU.
Quezada told Gurney that BYU running back coach Lance Reynolds had a big impact on his decision to attend BYU and he liked how he addressed the hair.
"Coach Reynolds sat down and told me to imagine looking back at my decision 10 years from now and thinking that I made it due to my hair, and that really stuck with me," he said.
"He told me how silly and tragic it would be that I didn't allow myself to have the great opportunities I'd have at BYU just due to my hair. It went along well with what my head coach here at La Habra (Mazzota), asked me. He asked me if it was my hair that made me who I was or that I make myself who I was. I thought about that a long time and at the end of the day, they're both right. It's not my hair that defines me, I define myself."
Like all recruits, it remains to be seen what impact Quezada has as a Cougar. He made his decision to sign at BYU before Harvey Unga decided to return for his senior year.
"I will tell you this," said Mazzotta, "Nobody will outwork Joshua. Nobody."