There might not be a bigger fishbowl in sports than playing college quarterback. At least they come in more developed physically and mentally and with more experiences under their belts at the professional level.
The elite college quarterback recruit, like Utah’s Jack Tuttle, steps onto a campus as a mixture of wide-eyed kid and football savant. All eyes fixate on these young signal-callers, fans gravitate to them and project hopes and expectations upon them.
These young men bring increased scrutiny and their mistakes get magnified by virtue of their sparkling track records at the prep level. Just ask Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston and Baker Mayfield, and their major transgressions came away from the field. Failure on the field is a hurdle that most also must clear.
How can you know if they’ll sink or swim? Well, you can’t. You’re forced to rely heavily on the foundation put in place before college and build upon it.
“I think going to Elite 11, The Opening, having really good competition in high school, all that stuff has prepared me for this kind of environment,” Tuttle said this spring. “When I got here, a lot of people were saying how fast the game was going to be, how quick it was. I think it’s the way you prepare yourself in high school. I think those camps and those things coaches did really helped me. They gave me some bits and pieces, and I took them, tried to apply them to my life and my game.”
Highly touted high school seniors like Tuttle now regularly graduate early and enroll to jumpstart their collegiate careers. USC’s quarterback competition this summer will include an incoming freshman who should be going into his senior year of high school after J.T. Daniels reclassified following his junior season to graduate early.
Their learning curve has been accelerated as a result of the rush to acclimate these youngsters to college football.
“Mechanics. Technique. Just football knowledge. It’s amazing where these kids are at nowadays coming in here,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “They’re already remaking protections, reading coverages, given two plays and get us in the right play. I’ll never forget J.T. Daniels being here for a 7-on-7 camp that we were having and he was calling all the plays. It’s amazing how far advanced [they are], not only from a physical nature, but the mental aspect of the game is where I think things have changed because they’re truly thinking about it year-round.”
Tuttle started working periodically with a quarterback coach for position-specific tutoring by sixth grade. By the end of his high school career, he’d begun working with biomechanics specialists/throwing coaches Tom House, John Beck (the former BYU quarterback), Taylor Kelly and Adam Dedeaux on top of his high school coaches.
Jake Browning, Washington’s starting quarterback and the Pac-12 2016 offensive player of the year, started working with Utah offensive coordinator Troy Taylor when both were in Folsom, Calif., and Browning was about 10 years old.
Private quarterback coaching has become a popular endeavor — but not to the endorsement of everyone.
“There are some guys out there [that are good], and I think there are some guys that are book coaches — they’ve read the book,” former Utah and NFL coach Jim Fassel said. “I think it’s always helpful if you’ve played the position because there’s a lot more to it than just technique. It’s how you handle things, how you do things, how you are with the team and all that stuff. If it’s not going well, you look like you’re calm. I don’t know how many guys coach that.”
Fassel, himself a former college and professional quarterback, coached at the college and professional levels for more than three decades. He coached Hall of Famer John Elway both in college and the NFL, and led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl appearance after reviving the career of quarterback Kerry Collins.
The nation’s top rising senior high school quarterbacks annually take part in the Elite 11 camp/competition headed by former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, who quarterbacked the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl victory over Fassel’s Giants.
“We take a holistic approach to the position,” Pac-12 Network analyst and Elite 11 instructor Yogi Roth said. “That’s mental, physical, spiritual, skill development, off the field development — we call it beyond the X’s and O’s, and we go hard in that regard.
“We could give three days, I think, better than anyone in the country on X’s and O’s, but we’re not going to give three days on X’s and O’s. ... It’s not just about throwing the ball. If it was, we wouldn’t have busts.”
Roth, a former USC assistant, has been involved with Elite 11 for 10 years — before Dilfer took over as coach. The Elite 11 staff gets between three and 10 days with players, depending on how far a player advances.
Players interact with former NFL and college quarterbacks, respected coaches, talent evaluators and sports psychologists. They’ve put prospects through a Marines-style training exercise, NFL combine-style interviews and brought in guest speakers who provide vivid examples of the impact of a high-profile athlete.
Of course, in their limited time, Roth acknowledges even with the years of repetition, studying, training, individual tutoring and mastering the movements and concepts, success can’t be assured.
Nobody, with any degree of certainty, can forecast whether Tuttle or Daniels or any other highly touted signal caller will turn out to have the success of Browning in college or go on to have the NFL success of former California quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“To me, the No. 1 quality of a quarterback is a great seeker,” Roth said. “They have to be seeking answers to the test. They have to be seeking how to better their life. They have to seek to be better teammate. They have to seek to find the answers to the offense. That to me is where the separation lies, but it’s hard to tell sometimes at a young age. It’s sometimes if they go to an environment that doesn’t fit their spirit or the coach changes. There’s a lot to it.”
ELITE PASSING PROSPECT
Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
High School: Mission Hills (Calif.)
Résumé: Rated a four-star recruit by 247Sports and Rivals and the No. 14 quarterback in his class by 247Sports. … One of 12 quarterbacks in the nation who took part in Elite 11 finals and The Opening. … San Diego Section player of the year, 2017 Silver Pigskin Award winner and All-CIF selection as a senior after completing 69 percent of his passes for 3,171 yards and 41 touchdowns with just four interceptions in 13 games. … Received scholarship offers from several Power 5 schools including Alabama, LSU, USC and Utah.