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Leadership, winning propel Bandanza into champion at Branham

Nick Baldanza totaled 29 touchdowns in 2019. Photo courtesy of Branham Football
Nick Baldanza totaled 29 touchdowns in 2019. Photo courtesy of Branham Football

As a child, Nick Bandanza was never one of the bigger kids on the playground or on the field.

The standout senior quarterback at Branham High School wasn’t gifted with the size right from the start. He was 5’2″ in seventh grade before he grew a couple of inches in the following summer going into eighth grade, and then he added three or four inches right before high school.

“I had to fight for when I was younger to get on all star teams and so on and so forth just because I wasn’t ever too big to make that,” Bandanza said. “It comes from that, but also I’ve just always had that and I’ve always had that with me.”

That’s where Bandanza’s competitive drive comes from, those early moments when he had to scrape and claw for everything, and his competitive drive was seen since the start under Branham head coach Stephen Johnson.

During semifinals week of the CCS playoffs against Carmel last season, Johnson, along with Branham offensive coordinator Tommy McMahon and a junior college coach, were in room 66 at 6 p.m. It’s dark outside by this point with it being daylight savings time, yet guess who is there with the coaches while they are diagramming things on a whiteboard?

“Nick’s over there drawing his stuff up,” Bandanza said. “He’s telling us, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ And it’s not like he’s just like a 3-year-old, give him the whiteboard marker and say, ‘Hey, go have fun in the corner.’ No, like Nick is drawing stuff up. ‘Like no, yeah, Nick that’s a really good idea. Yeah, let’s do that for sure.’ When you have someone like that in the program who just sees a game like a coach sees it, it makes our lives so much easier.”

In those times where Bandanza is doing everything he can to win, it shows how much of a winner he is.

He’s afraid of failure. He will do whatever it takes not to lose, and the proof is in the pudding for Bandanza on the football field every Friday night and beyond.

As a junior, Bandanza was a key figure in Branham’s road to a banner season. The Bruins finished with an 11-2 overall record, shared a Santa Teresa League title and advanced all the way to the Central Coast Section Division IV championship game before falling by one point to top-seeded Milpitas in overtime.

The dual-threat Bandanza threw for 1,414 yards and 22 touchdowns compared to a mere four interceptions in 13 games, adding another 678 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

“You can’t coach that,” Johnson said. “You either got it or you don’t. He has it. Winning, drive and hunger and attitude to succeed, and he reminds me of myself and some of these other coaches where he’s afraid of failure.”

Johnson compares him to Phillip Rivers. Both want to win. Both are leaders in every aspect.

“If you’ve ever seen him mic’d up, trust me, that’s Nick,” Johnson said.

It’s like Bandanza is an extra coach on the field.

He will get on anybody. If a player needs to pick it up, he will make sure they pick it up. The same goes for coaches.

He knows what it takes to reach the highest level, and he knows what it takes to go from fighting for all-star appearances to becoming one of the top players and teams in the region.

“I think that’s the hardest thing about being a leader like a vocal leader, especially as Nick is, at the high school level,” Johnson said. “There’s a social dynamic that comes with it. And so you don’t want to strain those relationships or friendships potentially with your teammates/friends. But at the same time it’s like ‘Guys. Pick it up. Get your stuff together. Know your plays. Get on the ball. Know what you need to do. I know what I need to do. You need to know what you need to do.’ And he does it incredibly, so I think that’s what really makes him stand out from the bunch.”

Colleges have taken notice, too.

Bandanza, now at 6’2” and 200 pounds and no longer the smallest out of the bunch, has received interest from a number of schools. Johnson said some of the main ones to reach out to him about Bandanza – who currently boasts an impressive unweighted GPA of around 3.69 – are Cal Poly, Colgate, Drake, Idaho State, Rice, Sacramento State, Southern Utah and Western Colorado.

No school has sent an offer Bandanza’s way, but he is ready for that moment to come.

And he’s ready for one last deep run as a Branham Bruin, looking for a second consecutive league crown while coming out as the No. 1 squad in the CCS.

“It would mean a lot to me because I love the game so much, and I’m not looking out there,” Bandanza said. “I’m not begging. I’m not begging or anything, but it would just mean a lot for someone else to believe in me again and trust me like, ‘Hey, I want to bring this kid in and I want to give him the opportunity to play.’ That would mean everything.”

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