Sac State junior quarterback poses as he tosses a football in the air after practice on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. Dunniway leads the Hornets in passing yards (2051) and passing touchdowns (11) this season. (Jordan Parker)
Sac State junior quarterback poses as he tosses a football in the air after practice on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. Dunniway leads the Hornets in passing yards (2051) and passing touchdowns (11) this season.

Jordan Parker

Junior quarterback Jake Dunniway’s road to greatness at Sac State

November 19, 2021

As he dropped back to pass, Sacramento State junior quarterback Jake Dunniway looked down the field for his receiver. He pulled his arm back like a lever and released the ball toward the end zone to sophomore tight end Marshel Martin for a 34-yard touchdown pass against Cal. 

Fifteen years prior, Dunniway was just a kid playing youth football in Tracy, California. He was the only kid in town that could throw a spiral to his receivers. His mom, Kim, knew then that he was a special athlete. 

He knew where everyone was supposed to be on the field, knew every play for every player on the field,” Kim Dunniway said. “He started showing his natural leadership skills as he helped his teammates develop.”

Dunniway developed fast.

Quarterback Jake Dunniway (7) throws a pass in a game for St. Mary’s High School. Dunniway went 19-25 for 215 yards in the Hornets’ 41-9 win against the Mustangs. Photo on the left taken by Jordan Parker. Photo on the right courtesy of Jake Dunniway. Graphic created in Canva. (Jordan Parker)

By 9 years old, he led his youth team to its Pop Warner Super Bowl Championship, and from then he knew that football was a part of his life.

“Playing Pop Warner before high school was a lot of fun and I was able to make a lot of friends and for me it was an opportunity to get in tune with the game and my skills to learn what I was and wasn’t good at,” Jake Dunniway said. 

However, Jake Dunniway, who hails from Tracy, took his talents to Stockton to make his mark in his high school career. 

Dunniway played at St. Mary’s, where he played quarterback his junior and senior years, amassing 6,650 passing yards and 72 touchdowns, en-route to leading the Rams to back-to-back Tri-City Athletic League Titles and a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title his senior year.

Dunniway’s favorite target in high school was the 5-foot-5-inch receiver from Stockton: current Hornet wide receiver Dewey Cotton. Dunniway connected with Cotton for 82 receptions and 1,240 receiving yards and have now reunited again at Sac State. 

Cotton explained what it has been like to play with his friend again and how he has improved since they played in high school.

“Athletically his arm is stronger, he’s leaner, he’s faster and his hair is amazing,” Cotton said. “As a man though, I’ve seen him develop as well and he’s a great leader. Jake uses his voice. Whenever there’s pressure-situations, he calms everything down and he leads us. He lets us [receivers] know to trust him and we do.”

Dunniway received numerous honors following the 2017 season, including being named the 2017 Stockton Record Most Valuable Player and the Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame. Despite the success, Dunniway received no scholarship offers to play at the collegiate level by the time his senior season ended.

“I had some interest in going to some Ivy League schools but I wasn’t ready to take my athletic career across the country,” Jake Dunniway said. He went to UC Davis because he got a walk-on offer and liked the medical school program. 

Dunniway worked his way up the depth chart at Davis and said he loved the football program but found himself behind a starter with three years left, leading him to bet on himself to go the junior college route.

After looking for schools in Southern California Dunniway ended up at San Diego Mesa College where he threw for 2,888 yards, made 27 touchdowns and was named to the first team all-National Central League following the season. 

The quarterback said that he loved being at Mesa for three semesters where he was able to win some games and put up good stats. 

Mesa football offensive line coach Dan Ruiz worked closely with Dunniway and said witnessed up close the time and effort he put in while he was the starting quarterback.

“What I personally respected most was his mental and physical toughness,” Ruiz said. “I was responsible for the football team’s weightlifting program and Jake absolutely made the most of every workout.”

Ruiz said Dunniway’s arm strength and accuracy is something that stood out to him. He immediately gained trust from all the players around him with the way he carried himself and the confidence he exuded. 

“He [Jake] had to make hard decisions in transferring from a [Division I] university to a Junior College in Southern California, all with the ultimate goal of getting himself back to a [Division I] college where he would be able to play football, lead a team and make a difference,” Kim Dunniway said. “He’s found that at Sacramento State, and we couldn’t be more happy for him.”

Sac State junior quarterback Jake Dunniway (12) hands off to sophomore running back Marcus Fulcher (9) in the first half at California Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. Dunniway and his teammate O’Hara would share snaps throughout the game. (James Fife)

When Dunniway arrived at Sac State, Kevin Thomson was already entrenched as the Hornets’ starter. Dunniway sat behind Thomson as the backup during the Hornets 2019 season when they won a share of the Big Sky Championship. However, that would not have been possible without Jake.

Dunniway threw two touchdowns in the final two minutes of Sac State’s game against Northern Arizona to lift the Hornets to victory when Thomson went down with an injury.

Now, Dunniway finds himself at the center of a Big Sky title chase that will be decided in the Causeway Classic this weekend at UC Davis. Dunniway has thrown 1,595 of his 2,051 passing yards and nine of his 11 touchdowns against Big Sky opponents this season.

“I think it means a lot for our program,” Jake Dunnwiay said. “We want to go back-to-back Big Sky titles. It means a lot to our seniors who have gone through the whole COVID deal, and we have a good team, a good staff, a good culture, so there really is no reason we shouldn’t be going to compete for Big Sky Titles every year.”

Dunniway said that when he arrived to Sac State and was backup to Kevin Thomson, it was about learning and continuing to get better even when he departed.

“When I was behind Kevin it was really about me learning the system, being comfortable…being a good teammate and playing my role,” Jake Dunniway said. “When Kevin left, I didn’t expect them to put me in his spot, and I busted my ass throughout COVID.”

Some of Dunniway’s highlights this season include back-to-back victories against No. 5 Montana and Northern Arizona. Against the Grizzlies he threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns on 17 completions, and against the Lumberjacks he passed for 328 yards and two touchdowns on 21 completions.

He leads the Hornets in touchdown passes, completions and yards, which has helped Sac State maintain a second-place ranking in all passing statistical categories in the Big Sky, second only to Eastern Washington. 

Head coach Troy Taylor detailed his starting quarterback’s growth when asked about how he has progressed since he arrived at Sac State.

“He’s more accurate,” Taylor said. “He’s making better decisions, and he’s just continued to raise his level of preparation each year and consequently he’s gotten better.”

Dunniway has not put up the gaudy stats this year, but he has impressed with 2,051 yards and 11 touchdowns to three interceptions in a new dual-quarterback system that Taylor has employed. However, Dunniway said that there’s only one stat that matters to him: winning.

“I’ve never been an individual stat guy,” Jake Dunniway said. “I’ve never really cared about that as long as the team is winning because that’s how you’re remembered. If you’re constantly winning games and winning championships, that’s how you leave a legacy.”

As far as his career goes, Jake Dunniway says that he hopes Sac State is not the end of his football career.

“I’d love to continue past this place but I’d love to focus on now and this opportunity, but nothing is promised,” Jake Dunniway said, grinning. “My next play could be my last play…I sure hope not…so [I’m] just trying to enjoy the moment and see where it takes me.”

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Jordan Parker, editor in chief
Jordan Parker is the editor-in-chief of The State Hornet. He took the helm of one of the largest news organizations in the Sacramento region in May 2021 and leads the newsroom staff as well as all editorial content published on the website and its affiliated social media channels.

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  • Kim DunniwayNov 22, 2021 at 6:33 am

    Great article Jordan. Thank you!!!