Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Top Gun | by Michael

Zach Frazer put his best foot forward - literally. It paid off in a big way.

Nearly two months ago, Frazer suffered a hairline fracture in his left foot during a Nike combine at Penn State. Just last week, his doctor cleared him to start rehabbing the foot, yet this past weekend Frazer flew to Las Vegas to participate in a regional work-out for the EA Sports Elite 11 quarterback camp. Gutsy call on his part since he risked further injury, but the Elite 11 invitation was something Frazer wanted badly:

"I had a lot of people asking me why I was even trying to do this, even players in line at the workout in Las Vegas. Everyone was saying you're already committed (to Notre Dame) and it's just a camp, but ever since my coach told me about it last year it's been something I've been working towards and trying to make."
While the injury still prevented him from participating in every drill, Frazer was impressive enough to garner an invitation, which will take place July 25-28 in southern California. (Taking cues from the Big 10, twelve quarterbacks are invited to participate in the Elite 11.)

The camp, in its seventh year, is run by noted quarterback guru and Mission Viejo High School head coach Bob Johnson, and every year, its counselors include some of the best college quarterbacks in the country. At the 2003 camp, it was John Navarre, Eli Manning, Andrew Walter and Ben Roethlisberger throwing around footballs and reading defenses with the high school juniors. The 2004 camp featured counselors like Kyle Orton, Aaron Rodgers, Derek Anderson and Heisman Trophy winner Jason White. Not too shabby.

Frazer joins fellow invitees Cody Hawkins, Isiah Williams, Neil Caudle, Pat Devlin, Mitch Mustain, Jake Locker, Kevin Riley, Josh Freeman, Jevan Snead, Matthew Stafford and Tim Tebow.

So, how exactly are the participants chosen? According to the Elite 11 site, "The high school quarterbacks are selected for the event after an exhaustive evaluation process which includes both film research, an in-person workout (whether at a NIKE Camp or EA Elite 11 Regional Workout) and a telephone interview."

If you'd like to do your own evaluation, check out Frazer's video highlights, and for an extended Frazer refresher, be sure to check out my colleague Pat's excellent write-up from earlier this year.

As most recruitniks have learned the hard way, no high school accolade can guarantee success at the next level, and an Elite 11 invitation is no exception. That said, we thought it'd be interesting to take a stroll down memory lane and examine previous Elite 11 classes to see how those quarterbacks developed. Who's been a stud? Who's been a bust? And whatever happened to...?


(The first Elite 11 camp was the only one that actually featured 11 quarterbacks. After the first year, the organizers included a twelfth quarterback to ensure that each participant had a roommate.)

There’s probably no better way to measure elite status than by comparing quarterbacks using the NFL draft. Only two quarterbacks from the inaugural camp were drafted. Although
Jeff Smoker never reached the heights predicted of him during an impressive freshman year because of a drug problem during his junior year, he was still drafted in the 6th round by the St. Louis Rams and is expected to be the back-up to Marc Bulger. And the other guy? It’s none other than Southern Cal back-up Matt Cassell, who hardly played because of the two Heisman winners in front of him. Nonetheless, the New England Patriots took a flier on him in the 7th round of April's draft. As much as I didn't want to put Cassell in this category, it's hard to argue with Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli when it comes to player personnel. I believe a third quarterback also belongs up here. Casey Clausen was a four-year starter at Tennessee and signed as a free agent with the Chiefs, where he was a back-up in 2004. However, he was recently cut from the team on June 16th. I'm sure he'll find another NFL team before long.

These guys may have had good collegiate careers but they were neither elite college quarterbacks nor certain NFL prospects.
Brock Berlin signed with Florida, transferred to Miami and never came close to approaching expectations placed upon him during recruiting. Another Sunshine State quarterback, Chris Rix, had an up-and-down career at Florida State, and he’s currently unemployed. In fact, had Adrian McPherson not gotten into so much trouble, it’s quite possible that Rix wouldn’t have even played as senior. Little-known Roman Ybarra walked-on at UCLA, eventually transferred to Idaho State and had a nice D1AA career. Matt Lovecchio (right) was the only Irish recruit invited to the Elite 11 prior to Frazer, and hopefully the similarities will end there. Lovecchio’s career at both Notre Dame and Indiana reached its peak during his freshman year run prior to the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oregon State. Ironically, for all the talk that he was cool under pressure, it seemed that whenever Lovecchio was pressed with a heavy rush or forced to make throws, he really struggled. Chance Mock had a great year in 2003 where he threw 16 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, but he lost his starting job to Vince Young at Texas. He’s been unsuccessful in his attempts to make an NFL team.

Zac Wasserman signed with Penn State (he
beat Jeff Smoker to the punch), transferred to a JUCO in California and then apparently chose Cal over San Jose State and Hawaii in the spring of 2002. He didn’t play that year and then mysteriously disappeared from the Bears’ roster. Similarly bizarre, Jon Van Cleave was a two-year starter at Louisiana-Lafayette who abruptly quit football in 2003. John Rattay, meanwhile, is the only player I've ever heard of who transferred twice to the same school.
As a prep All-American from Phoenix, Rattay originally went to Tennessee, but after dropping to third on the depth chart, the 6-foot-3, 205 pound lefty then transferred to Arizona. Due to NCAA rules, Rattay sat out a year before backing up then-junior Jason Johnson for the Wildcats during the 2001 campaign. In limited action, Rattay completed 27 of 59 passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns.

Unhappy with his lack of playing time, he transferred again, this time to Pasadena City College in Southern California. Rattay earned the starting job at PCC, but he was ultimately sidelined after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the team's seventh game. With the quarterback race wide open once again, following Johnson's graduation, Rattay chose to come back to Arizona and will compete for a spot on the team as a walk-on. Rattay is expected to be fully recovered from the knee injury by the start of fall practice.
Unfortunately, Rattay’s injury was career-ending and he never played for Mike Stoops at Arizona.


Some of these guys are now in the NFL, and others are wrapping up their collegiate careers and getting ready for “The League.” Adrian McPherson, former Florida State quarterback, played in the Arena Football League when no school would accept the baggage that would accompany a transfer; he won the Rookie of the Year award and was drafted in the 5th round by the Saints. Matt Leinart has two national championships and a Heisman trophy. Most of college football is hoping he’ll miss Norm Chow – a lot. Derek Anderson enjoyed a solid career at Oregon State, shredded Notre Dame last year in the Insight Bowl and was drafted in the 6th round by the Ravens. Kyle Orton was a Heisman hopeful in 2005 who sliced and diced the Irish defense in 41-16 win, but his inconsistent play and rib injury down the stretch cost him a chance to seriously contend for the trophy. The Bears drafted him in the 4th round. Kellen Clemens has improved each year and 2005 will be his third year as Oregon’s starter. Although Duck quarterbacks haven’t fared too well in the NFL, Clemens isn’t a Jeff Tedford progeny.

DJ Shockley has split time the last three years with David Greene, whose departure has allowed Shockley to become the full-time starter. There's confidence in Shockley, but it'll be interesting to see how he responds to all the pressure that comes with being the starter. Remember Pitt’s narrow 41-38 win over Furman last year? Ingle Martin signed with Florida and transferred to Furman; he was a big reason why the contest was so close. Brodie Croyle looked really good last fall before a torn ACL ended his season; he started to look like he was coming into his own. If he can overcome his injury, he has the tools the NFL wants in a quarterback.

He still has a chance, but Casey Paus isn’t likely to win the Huskies’ starting position. Paus has struggled throughout his career, and some have suggested his sidearm throwing motion is to blame. Paul Troth signed with East Carolina, and his career started downhill when a new coaching staff came in and tried to install the option, which didn’t fit Troth’s skills. He transferred to Liberty and played disastrously in limited action (1 TD, 7 INTs). He was invited to rookie camps, but like Chance Mock, Troth has not been able to find a home. Billy Hart eventually quit the Southern Cal football team to focus on baseball, and the Astros recently drafted the third baseman in the 5th round. Last but not least, some Irish fans may remember Nic Costa as the recruit who complained about the on-campus binge drinking. He is now a forgotten man in the collective consciousness of college football; at Arizona he was moved to WR, moved back to QB, and then finally, he transferred to Portland State.


A quarter of this class has established itself as legitimate starters in college football: Pitt’s Tyler Palko, Michigan State’s Drew Stanton (he has to stay healthy), and finally, the Longhorns’ Heisman hopeful Vince Young.

Another one-third of this class is on two teams; these quarterbacks are battling for starting jobs. Drew Olson will duke it out with Ben Olson for the UCLA starting spot when he returns from injury later this summer. Meanwhile, Ohio State hasn’t determined a starter between Justin Zwick and Troy Smith; both played well this spring although Smith should have the upper hand based on how he played down the stretch last year. Finally, Walt Harris hasn’t named a starter in Palo Alto yet, and two-year starter Trent Edwards is trying to hold off T.C. Ostrander.

Michigan's Matt Gutierrez may have become the next Wally Pipp after his shoulder injury allowed Chad Henne the opportunity to start last fall. Anthony Martinez quit football to play baseball at Virginia, and after being suspended for academic reasons, he is currently hoping to rejoin the team. Ryan O’Hara quit football and dropped out of Arizona in order to take care of his ailing brother. Gavin Dickey is still playing quarterback for the Gators but considering his baseball career as well as the fact that he’s fighting for a back-up spot with Josh Portis and Cornelius Ingram, I think Dickey is fighting an uphill battle. Either his days at as a signal-caller are numbered, or he may turn to baseball full-time.


As we reach the younger classes, there are obviously fewer players in contributing roles...of course, Florida’s Chris Leak bucks that trend. How Urban Meyer adapts to Leak’s skills, and how Leak adapts to Meyer’s offense will be one of the most-watched storylines of 2005.

Ready for Prime Time
Familiarize yourself with three young QBs who are certain to make an impact this year: Miami’s Kyle Wright (who had a strong spring throwing to a talented ‘Cane WR corps), Kentucky’s Andre Woodson (already drawing comparisons to Tim Couch and Jared Lorenzen), and South Carolina’s Blake Mitchell (Spurrier’s next gunslinger). All three are expected to start for their respective teams in 2005.

Some great QB battles were waged this past spring, and some of these kids may win the starting job while others may still be a year away. JaMarcus Russell is trying to hold off Matt Flynn and an incoming Ryan Perrilloux at LSU. Mike Affleck is competing for a back-up role at BYU. Dennis Dixon has earned high marks at Oregon but he’s a year away with Kellen Clemens' return. Tommy Grady is battling Paul Thompson and Rhett Bomar for the spot vacated by Jason White, although Grady's reported lack of foot speed may hurt his chances. As mentioned above, TC Ostrander has a chance to beat out Edwards and become Walt Harris’s next pupil. Ole Miss QB Robert Lane missed the spring with a shoulder injury but, more importantly, he missed an opportunity to impress new head coach Ed Orgeron.

Justin Midget transferred from Florida to Eastern Illinois, then quit the team because he was tired of school and simply wanted to play football. He tried out unsuccessfully for the Arena Football League but failed to make the Florida Firecats. Michigan's Clayton Richard is another baseball player who decided football wasn't for him, and now Lloyd Carr is vowing never to recruit another quarterback/pitcher.


John David Booty got a head start on the rest of this class by skipping his senior year of high school to enroll at Southern Cal. It was done with the idea in mind that when Carson Palmer graduated, Booty would be able to win the starting job in 2003. Of course, they forgot to plan for Matt Leinart. Booty had a dynamite spring for the Trojans and should get plenty of mop-up time this fall before taking over next year...of course, Mark Sanchez has something to say about that. Rhett Bomar has a very good shot to beat Tommy Grady and Paul Thompson to become Jason White's replacement at Oklahoma. Putting him at this level may be premature but I do believe that Bomar will end up getting the majority of the snaps in Norman this fall, even if Stoops is talking about playing two quarterbacks.

Anthony Morelli spurned Walt Harris when the Big East looked like it would crumble, and he ended up at Penn State. He played sparingly as a freshman but this spring he couldn’t beat out Michael Robinson, who in my opinion, is a better wide receiver or running back than quarterback. Unless the Nittany Lions sign someone better this year, the starting job should be Morelli’s in the fall of 2006…if Robinson doesn’t struggle sooner. Kirby Freeman lost the starting job to Kyle Wright this spring, and now he’s stuck at #2 for the next few years. Chase Patton is competing for a back-up role to Brad Smith at Missouri, and right now he hasn’t cemented himself as the #2 guy. Nate Longshore signed with Cal and is battling JUCO Joseph Ayoob to become the next stud quarterback under Jeff Tedford. Cornelius Ingram is literally in limbo, battling for the #2 spot while waiting for Chris Leak to graduate or leave early for the NFL. Of course, who knows whom else Urban Meyer will sign in the meantime. Drew Weatherford is in the mix for the starting job at Florida State, although God could be tough to beat out if He returns from his drug problem. Bobby Reid suffered an injury last year that prevented him from contributing as a true freshman. Right now he is battling returning starter Donovan Woods at Oklahoma State; head coach Mike Gundy has not named a winner yet.

Alonzo "A.J." Bryant was moved by Georgia’s Mark Richt to WR and actually contributed as a freshman. Matt Tuiasosopo quit the Washington team to pursue a baseball career. Batting .469 as of late April, it’s doubtful that Ty Willingham will be able to get him back in a Husky uniform. Brian Hildebrand didn’t last very long; he is transferring from Oregon State, though the destination is currently unknown. Some have suggested Colorado. A couple of sidenotes; Hildebrand is not related to the famous wrestling referee namesake, and his transfer has nothing to do with the sheep incident from what I can gather.


Ryan Perrilloux definitely belongs at the top of the list. After verballing to Mack Brown and the Longhorns, Perrilloux had a change of heart and signed with LSU. There is a chance he could win the starting job this fall. Nebraska's Harrison Beck likely won't redshirt, according to head coach Bill Callahan. "Right now, I want him to compete for the spot. If he’s ready, he’s ready." Finally, Willie Tuitama has a shot at winning the Arizona starting job this fall. "We'd like to save him, but if Willie can help us win, he'll play," said head coach Mike Stoops.

Since Brent Schaeffer was kicked off the team, if Jonathan Crompton can beat out Rick Clausen he might end up as Erik Ainge's back-up for Tennessee.

Waiting Game
Jeff Tedford has quietly restocked the quarterback depth chart at Cal, and Kyle Reed will come in this fall and learn the system. It's very likely he'll be redshirted, as will Jake Christensen at Iowa. Christensen was recently drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, and it appears he'd like to play both sports in college. Two-sport Elite 11 campers haven't done too well by my count. Ohio State's Rob Schoenhoft played well recently in the Ohio North-South All Star game, and he's a likely redshirt candidate. Mark Sanchez is already being touted as the next great Southern Cal quarterback, but John David Booty will stand in his way next spring. His high school coach was Elite 11 instructor Bob Johnson. Jonathan Garner was sent packing when Urban Meyer took over Florida, but Georgia Tech picked up his signature. Garner will likely redshirt. Bill Doba has done a great job since taking over for Mike Price at Washington State, and this past year they signed their first Elite 11 camper, Arkelon Hall. He's expected to redshirt, as is Georgia's Joe Cox. There are two Elite 11 quarterbacks named Chase at Missouri, and Chase Daniel is the second. He's expected to redshirt, although there is some speculation that because his high school offense is similar to what head coach Gary Pinkel runs, he'll have a shot at winning a back-up job.

Overall, it's pretty obvious that having the Elite 11 camp on your resume won't make or break your career. Additionally, it's important to note that the campers aren't always the best twelve quarterbacks in the country. Two summers ago neither Chad Henne nor Brian Brohm participated (neither worked out in order to become eligible), yet both these guys showed on the field last year for Michigan and Louisville, respectively, that they are two rising stars among college quarterbacks.

So how should the Elite 11 be viewed? It's up to the individual fan; as with recruiting rankings there are certain to be biases, and the fact that neither Brohm nor Henne participated demonstrates it's an imperfect system.

However, I see two positives. First, it's a harmless, yearly ritual that's fun for recruitniks to follow, and like the Nike combines and National Signing Day, it's become part of recruiting culture and its vernacular. Second, it's a great opportunity for some recruits to gain greater exposure. Landing an Elite 11 quarterback may not guarantee on-field success but it can certainly generate some momentum in recruiting. Generally speaking, the best high school wide receivers want to play in passing offenses with great quarterbacks, and having an Elite 11 quarterback in the fold certainly adds some punch to the recruiting pitch...especially if the quarterback is recruiting some players personally, as Zach Frazer has been doing for Notre Dame.