Finding a Quarterback – 5 Criteria for Identifying your next passerErick Streelman
It is no secret that the Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports. The Quarterback is so important that the entire offensive system is designed around his skill set (or lack of skill set in some cases). Despite the fact that this position is so important, it so often undercoached, especially at the high school level. I think that there is a propensity to believe that position is somehow inherent and, therefore, coaches do not trust themselves to build a Quarterback. But, think of some of the great passing teams in the last 15 years in college football. I think of the Hawaii teams under June Jones or the Texas Tech teams under Mike Leach or the Kentucky teams under Hal Mumme. What did they all have in common? Under recruited quarterbacks that consistently led the nation in passing. If you look at some of the names on that list…Timmy Chang, Tim Couch, Kliff Kingsbury, Graham Harrell, Colt Brennan…they were all smart kids that could throw. If you are a high school coach, I would guess that you are operating under a similar premise. You probably don’t have the best youth league quarterback in the state walking through the locker room door every year when you meet your new freshman class. So, there are two options. We can either accept the fact that our quarterback talent is sub par and resort to running the Wing T, or we we can learn something from the college programs that were able to elevate their offensive production based on outstanding quarterback play. We can decide to build a quarterback. I bet you can find a smart kid that can throw. I bet you have a quarterback walking your halls that just needs to be identified. You can consistently build successful quarterbacks if you know what to look for.
Let’s start with a little depth chart strategy. I like to build my QB pen like a pyramid. In a perfect world I would have 3-4 freshman QB’s, 2 sophomores, 1 junior and 1 senior. Again, in a perfect world, the senior would always be the clear starter, but this doesn’t always happen and you need to play the QB that gives you the best chance to win. But, if you have one QB per class that has been trained and had meaningful reps, you should be covered in case of injury, transfer, ineligibility, etc. By the time your QB is a junior you should have ample time to evaluate whether or not he is actually a QB and whether he should keep getting reps at that position.
As we all know, everyone sees and marvels at the apex of the pyramid, but the base and the foundation are most important. So, let’s focus on how to ensure you pick the right freshmen to groom.
First, If you are a varsity head coach or offensive coordinator, you need to have an active role in the Freshmen program. Hopefully it doesn’t start when they are freshman. Hopefully you have identified talent much earlier than that, in a middle school camp or youth league. But, I have seen varsity coaches that don’t even know the names of the freshmen let alone take any ownership over the program. This is a recipe for disaster. Remember, that for a lot of these kids, their freshman year represents 1/4 of all the football that they will play in their entire life. You have to identify your players and, especially, your quarterbacks. For me, the summer was the best time to investigate. We used to run an 8 week camp in June and July before the start of every season. I worked with the varsity for about an hour each day, but I spent most of my time with the incoming Freshmen. I knew that once the season started, I would be consumed with the varsity and would have very little time to focus on the Freshmen. But, during the summer I could spend time teaching fundamentals, installing the system, and searching for my next quarterback. I tried to identify a QB as early as possible. The sooner I saw one, the more reps he could get.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking, “How in the world can I choose my QB for the next four years based on their freshman summer? I don’t know how they are going to develop, how they are going to grow, how they are going to progress, etc.”
Well, you are exactly right. You can’t simply choose the ONE that is going to take you to the state championship game. But, you can establish a simple set of criteria that will make it much easier to find that future 17 year-old to whom you are going to hand over the keys to your program. Remember, this is the guy that is going to chuck it around the yard 40 times a game for you in 3 years. You need to identify the coach on the field that you will trust implicitly in all situations. Here is the process for choosing your next guy.
1) Pick your best 5 athletes. This should not be very difficult. It will probably take about 5 minutes of agility drills to see which of your freshmen are actually athletes. You are not necessarily looking for the fastest guy, but you are looking for guys that can move, that are strong, that have good balance and coordination. If you want validation, one day after practice, let the kids pick teams for a pick up game and see who gets picked first. That will tell you who the athletes are.
I always want my best athletes to start out at QB. I do not want to lose because I am not getting the ball to my best players. If you have a great athlete, HE NEEDS TO TOUCH THE BALL. Put him at QB where he touches it every play. I’ve never heard a coach say, “Man, we get the ball to our athletes too often. We should try to find someone less talented to touch the ball.” Start with your best 5 athletes and try to look 4 years down the road and project. (On a side note, it is not a bad idea to look at the kids’ parents. Sometimes the biggest and strongest has already hit his physical peak, if one kid’s dad is 5’6” and another’s dad is 6’6” you should probably take that into consideration).
2) Once you have found your 5 best athletes, see who can throw. I know it seems obvious, but If you are going to have a passing game, you need someone that can throw. If you have a freshman that can throw the ball with some authority and can move, you can build a QB. This is where a lot of coaches screw up. There is usually someone in your program that has played QB on an 8th grade team or in youth ball and sometimes they will be ahead of another kid simply because of experience. Try to look past that and see talent instead of polish. You have four years to create polish. You just need to find an accurate and strong arm. If they can throw, you can teach them how to play the position.
3) Take all the athletes that can throw and get them reps. The top 5 athletes on the team can always transition back to receiver or running back or find a home on defense, but quarterback reps are priceless. If you have 4 freshman that can all move and can all throw, you need to train them all. Build drills and practice plans that give each guy 50-100 throws a day. Let them throw it all over the field. Eventually, there will be one or two that separate themselves. Even then, let all four of them throw as much as possible and keep getting practice reps at QB. It will never hurt your program if one of your best athletes knows how to play quarterback. He will understand the system better. He will become a better receiver or running back because he sees the whole picture. Don’t be afraid that quarterback reps are costing your 3rd string kid reps at his other position. First of all, if he is one of your best 5 athletes, he can overcome that Second, his reps are going to a kid that really needs them just to get himself ready to have any contribution. It is a win-win scenario. As I stated earlier, I do think that eventually, you will have to settle on 1 or 2 QB’s per class, but at the start, train them all.
These next two criteria may be a little more difficult to see right away and may take a little more time. But, eventually, if you know your kids, you will figure this out.
4) Find out who is competitive and who is a leader. We all know that these are incredibly important traits for a quarterback, but for some reason we undervalue them when we are choosing our quarterback. Try to find out which of your kids stays after practice to get extra reps. Find the one that goes to the park to play pick up basketball instead of spending 4 hours playing video games. Find the one that leads at church or in the community. If you have a kid that can throw, and move, plays on a competitive baseball team, and serves on the student government, that is your quarterback.
5) Check their GPAs. I am not necessarily talking about intelligence here, although that helps. If you understand the high school curriculum, you know that GPA is really a sign of work ethic more than intelligence. Everyone has differing academic abilities and some kids have great football intelligence even though they struggle with math or reading. But, if he is not willing to work in the classroom, he is not built to be a quarterback. I once had a kid in my program that was convinced that he was a quarterback and could not understand why I did not agree. He threw the ball well and was pretty quick. He read the defense well and knew his progressions. But, so much of my view was based on the fact that he squeezed by with a D- in my history class the semester before. He didn’t turn in his homework. He never raised his hand. He was not a leader in group activities or projects. I loved the kid, but he was not a quarterback. A real QB can’t turn it off. He always leads, always competes, always gives effort.