Utah’s top prep QB prospect set to battle on national stage
Prep football • Cottonwood will try for its first win before a national TV audience.
Published: September 7, 2012 03:18PM
Updated: December 25, 2012 11:31PM
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Kim Raff | The Salt Lake Tribune Cottonwood High School starting quarterback Cooper Bateman runs a play during a football scrimmage at Cottonwood High School in Murray, Utah on August 10, 2012.

When ESPN set up the game between Skyline (Wash.) and Cottonwood in March, the hope was to catch a showdown between two of the top senior quarterback prospects.

Cottonwood has gone through a challenging offseason, with a turnover in staff, its numbers down and a few key injuries that sent the Colts sputtering to 0-2.

But as the two teams get ready for Friday’s 7:30 p.m. game on ESPNU, the clash between USC-committed Max Browne from Skyline and Alabama-committed Cooper Bateman will be the main draw. Die-hard Trojans and Crimson Tide fans are likely to be tuning in for a preview of two high-profile passers who are hitting the college ranks next year.

And frankly, it still could be a competitive game, Skyline coach Mat Taylor said.

“The thing is, they’ve got playmakers all over,” Taylor said. “They’re also really talented up front, probably one of the better defensive lines we’ll come up against. A bunch of them are committed to colleges, and you can tell why. I think their record isn’t indicative of how good they’ll be.”

Skyline is 1-0 this season after topping Bothell (Wash.) in its season opener. Skyline will be one of the favorites to get back to the title game again after winning the 4A state championship last year.

A big part of that puzzle is Browne, a 6-foot-5 pocket passer who threw for more than 4,000 yards each of the last two seasons to go with a combined 95 touchdowns. The Spartans pass often — as much as 80 percent of the time, Taylor said — and Browne executes as well as anyone in the country. He only threw seven picks last year, and he completed nearly 73 percent of his passes.

He gets comparisons to Skyline’s last star quarterback, former BYU starter Jake Heaps. But he might be better.

“He’s handled the pressure about as well as you can,” Taylor said. “He’s very humble, even though he’s going to break a lot of records in our state by the time he’s done. He doesn’t force things. He’s basically the whole package.”

But his coach is not the only one who sings Browne’s praises: So does the quarterback he’s going to face Friday.

Browne and Bateman started out as just names that were beside each other on lists of quarterbacks to watch. Then they met at camps and competitions. They ended up getting to know each other at The Opening in Oregon, then roomed together at Elite 11 camp in California this summer.

The two call and text each other regularly, although Bateman acknowledges communication has tapered before their nationally televised game.

“Of course we’re rivals, and we have been since we were sophomores,” Bateman said. “But we’re friends, too. It’s actually going to be refreshing to finally go out there and go full tilt this week. Everything before this has just been talk and doesn’t mean anything. We’re going to see who backs up the talk.”

Skyline’s most talent-rich group is probably its linebackers, with Peyton Pelluer committed to Washington State. Taylor also points out that the Spartans have a good mix at receiver: Nic Sblendorio led last week with 86 yards and a touchdown.

Cottonwood has a lot of talent around Bateman, starting with BYU-bound receiver Inoke Lotulelei, who long has been the offense’s lifeline. Linemen Haile Falemaka and Elijah Tupai will protect the pocket, and Gabe Hosea hopes to bounce back after a fumble-happy game. The defense held Davis to 65 yards in the second half last week.

Bateman said there was some urgency in practice this week. Nobody wants to look bad on national TV.

“I don’t want to say we’ve been looking ahead, but we’ve been excited about this game coming up,” Bateman said. “Skyline, they’ve been there and done that. This is our first opportunity to play on ESPN, and we’re ready.”

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon

Cottonwood hosts Skyline (Wash.)

P Friday, 7:30 p.m.

TV • ESPNU

The Colts (0-2) play a nationally televised contest against the Spartans (1-0), a game that features two of the top quarterback prospects in the country.