For almost three years, J.C. Boice remembers hearing from John Wedin. “He kept pounding me to bring NFA to Anchorage,” said Boice, NFA’s Senior Level Quarterback Coach and Managing Director.
In June of 2014, NFA arrived in Alaska, and the results have been staggering. Under the direction of J.J. Iverson – NFA’s Lead Coach in the Last Frontier state – Alaska has been producing a bounty of impressive young quarterbacks.
“I think the offenses up here have started to open up more,” said Iverson, who also serves as the Quarterbacks Coach at state power West Anchorage High School. “Therefore, you’re going to need a good trigger man and that first camp in 2014, pretty much every starting quarterback from every high school in Alaska, not just Anchorage but Fairbanks, the Mat-Su Valley, and even Barrow, I think people realized then, especially the kids, ‘Hey, it’s pretty cool to see where I stack up against the other starting quarterbacks in the state.’ And that’s what I think drew everybody for the very next camp and the following camps, knowing this is where you get to see how you stack up against the rest of the guys in the state.”
Iverson and Boice joined forces for a January camp in Anchorage, and two more NFA training sessions are scheduled for 2017, one in March and one in June. In addition, Iverson works with NFA quarterbacks throughout the year.
“I take a lot of pride in seeing NFA take off in Alaska,” Boice said. “I think it’s a clear indicator of the three things you have to have. You have to have hungry, capable kids. You have to have a regional guy like J.J. that has a lot of skill and a commitment to the NFA methodology. And the third leg is NFA’s willingness to travel, go up there and support J.J. With the kids, I think when you get all three of those things in place, you’re going to see great results.”
Here are some of the brightest Alaskan stars that have trained with NFA:
A two-year starter at Div. I South Dakota State, which won the Missouri Valley Conference title last season, Lujan passed for 3,804 yards and 27 touchdowns as a sophomore and junior with the Jackrabbits.
A great leader, Lujan is thrilled to be associated with NFA. “NFA is the best QB camp around,” he said. “J.J. and J.C. are both great leaders of men and they know how to develop quarterback talent. I’ve been going to these camps for over eight years and I still use their terminology and self-correction methods today!”
He led West Anchorage to a state championship in 2010, and Feckley has continuied to excel at the collegiate level.
In 10 games at Div. III University of Dubuque in Iowa as a junior last season, Feckley passed for 3,129 yards and 37 touchdowns while rushing for 115 yards and 2 scores. In the Spartans’ opening game, Feckley erupted for 634 passing yards and 8 touchdowns in a win over Bethel.
Not only has he developed his own skills with NFA, Feckley has helped train other up-and-coming QBs with Iverson and Boice. “Best QB camp in Alaska, bottom line!” he said. “I still rock my NFA wristbands every day!”
He gray shirted last season at City College of San Francisco after leading West Anchorage H.S. to its third state title in six years in 2015.
The big left-hander was the quickest Alaska prep quarterback to pass for over 3,000 yards in a career, and he threw 10 TD passes in three playoff games as a senior.
“An awesome opportunity to improve QB skills,” Duffy said of training with NFA. “National Football Academies helped me out with my last two seasons of high school football and played a big part in them.”
There are even more Alaskan quarterbacks with NFA ties to keep an eye on.
- Thad Heagy – A rising star at Eagle River High School.
- Aaron Egoak Jr. – Led Bartlett H.S. to semifinal games in his two years as a starter.
- Hunter Harr – As a junior at Chugiak H.S. last year he was co-first team Railbelt all-conference and second team all-state.
- Parker Kizer – A star junior at Colony H.S. last season, he was co-first team all-conference with Harr in the Railbelt and first team all-state.
- Jake D’Agostino – He has an incredibly bright future after a standout freshman season for Colony H.S. last year.
- Ja’Sem Atonio – As only an eighth grader last season, Iverson raved Atonio “is the most talented young gun I have ever seen!” He led the Pop Warner Eastside Anchorage 49ers to an undefeated season in Alaska and also helped them win the Las Vegas Pigskin Tournament for their age group. In the process, he was also named the Offensive Player of the Year.
- Zion “Bubba” Mendoza – Already a participant in NFA’s “The Duel” competition held every July, Mendoza, only a freshman, quickly became an explosive junior varsity player who eventually was moved up to the varsity to start at wide receiver.
“Even in a remote area like Alaska, you’re seeing some very effective football being played,” Boice said. “The kids are really advancing their games. I love working with them because they are hard working, focused, talented kids. They’re tough and they like working.”
In late October, Sean Duffy stood on one sideline for the West Anchorage High School Eagles. Ben Stewart stood on the other sideline for the Chugiak High Mustangs.
JJ Iverson was sitting in the stands at the Alaska High School state championship game, and he wasn’t quite sure who to root for.
“I wasn’t going to miss that one,” said Iverson, NFA’s lead coach in Alaska. “I’ve worked so closely with Sean since he was a sophomore, and I started working with Ben this summer. It’s kind of cool being the neutral coach. I was hoping for a close game, but unfortunately it was a 41-0 blowout.”
It was actually a close game at halftime, with West Anchorage clinging to a 7-0 lead. But in the second half, Duffy heated up and threw 2 of his 3 touchdown passes of the game to spark the romp and lift the Eagles to their third state title in the last six seasons.
“That was an awesome game to go out on,” said the left-handed Duffy, who connected on 14 of 26 passes for 300 yards in his final high school game. “Chugiak is a really good team. We lost to them in regular season. Prior to that game, I was like, ‘OK, let’s go out with a bang. Let’s win this thing.’ We went out there and did it.”
During the regular season, Chugiak beat West Anchorage 28-21.
It looked like another close game was in store at the half, but Duffy got hot and the Eagles’ defense turned it up against Stewart and the Eagles.
“It was just an off night for the whole team,” Stewart said. “We just had a lack of execution, Mentally, I don’t think we were in it. We had the effort and we had a lot of opportunities to do well in the game, but we just didn’t execute.”
Getting to the state championship game was a huge accomplishment for both schools, and winning or losing does not change that fact.
“High school sports are all about fun, and it was a lot of fun,” said Duffy, who was later voted Alaska’s All-State quarterback for the large-school division. “I’m really going to miss playing and hanging out with all my teammates. They were a great group of guys.”
Stewart, a three-year starter at QB for Chugiak, was All-State as a junior and second-team behind Duffy as a senior.
“I can look back on my career with a smile,” Stewart said. “I played with the same kids since the third grade and we grew up together being watched by the entire Chugiak community. I think I was a big part of turning around a program that wasn’t very good. My classmates, the other seniors, we were a really big part of it.”
The championship game was extra special because Duffy and Stewart are good friends, and they grew even closer while training together with NFA over the summer and into the season along with helping Iverson work with younger QBs in clinics.
“He’s a really good quarterback,” Duffy said of Stewart. “He’s an awesome runner and he can really throw the ball. But I still wanted to beat him. It kind of made it a little bit better, but if I lost or he lost, we were still going to be friends.”
Stewart agreed. “We’re really good friends,” he said. “After every one of his games, I’ll text him and we’re always talking during the season about how our teams are doing. We’re both captains so we got to go out before the game and shake hands. It makes it a lot more fun. Competition wise, you want to do better than him but it’s a lot of fun playing against a good friend.”
Iverson Weighs In
There is little doubt that Duffy and Stewart are both very good quarterbacks.
“I think Sean is probably the most recruit-able kid that Alaska has ever seen at the quarterback position,” Iverson said. “He passes the eyeball test – big kid, although some people might say he throws with the wrong arm. But I don’t care if you’re left-handed or right-handed, if you can put velocity on the ball and put some touch on it and make the right decisions and make plays when the defense is bearing down on you, he’s got pretty much all the boxes checked. Sean put it all together this year and really lit it up. He threw 10 touchdown passes in three playoff games and was the first quarterback in Alaska ever to throw for over 3,000 yards.
“Ben is cut from a different cloth,” Iverson added. “His school runs a veer/triple option offense and it is definitely more of a running game. But I think that helps in terms of leadership. When your teammates see you running the ball and taking hits, they develop more respect. They know you’re going to stick in there.”
Iverson is immensely proud of the development Duffy and Stewart have displayed. “It’s kind of cool how the NFA brotherhood bond forms,” Iverson said. “They really took to it and performed at a pretty high level.”
Playing in Alaska does present challenges, particularly for quality players like Duffy, who stands just over 6-foot-3 and weights 205 pounds, and the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Stewart.
“The competition is probably not as good as it is down in the States, and being recruited is harder,” said Duffy, who enrolled at West Anchorage as a sophomore after moving from the small Alaska town of Valdez. “But coming to a bigger school, the competition really increased. We still have really good talent here but maybe just not as much as there is in the States.”
Said Iverson: “Sean and Ben are definitely good enough to play in college. Kind of the drawback of being an Alaskan quarterback or Alaskan athlete, we just don’t get the exposure. Who’s going to fly a recruiter up here to check out one or two guys? And everybody always says, ‘What kind of competition are they playing against up there?’ I think they’d be surprised.”
Duffy has already heard from interested schools like Fort Hayes State, Western State in Colorado, the College of Idaho, Valley City State in North Dakota and the University of Dubuque.
“I think I have the skill level, the arm and the ability to play in college,” Duffy said. “I also play baseball and would like to play in college if I can.”
Stewart is also a standout baseball player and might play both sports in college. “There’s no doubt, I believe I can play at the next level,” he said. “I have a couple schools that have been talking to me, Louisiana-Monroe, some JC and lower level schools. I haven’t decided what route to go. I’m just looking for the right fit.”
On the football side, Duffy and Stewart give Iverson, Coach JC Boice and NFA big credit for helping them become the best quarterbacks possible.
“They gave me so much knowledge to become a better quarterback,” Duffy said. “They helped me with my throwing mechanics, reading defenses and they helped me become a leader.”
“NFA honestly helped my game a lot,” Stewart said. “I didn’t play quarterback until my freshman year. I was just the biggest kid so the coaches decided to play me at quarterback. My game got tremendously better just from that camp in the summer. My footwork and everything else, it made a big difference.”
NFA pumped for Alaska debut
NFA is headed to the Last Frontier. John Wedin, among others, could not be more thrilled that NFA Director and Senior Certified Coach JC Boice and crew are going to be at West High School in Anchorage on June 28-29. Click here for details.
This is NFA’s first foray into the great state of Alaska. “It’s huge,” Wedin said. “We’ve got quite a few players in the NFL out of Alaska. We’ve got a lot of lot of kids, even last year, that are playing Division I football, a lot of D-II and a ton of D-III, but this is a tough, tough road for these kids. We play in a virtual vacuum. We might be playing football in a broom closet up here because there is no football college program at any level in Alaska. Nobody sees us.”
Coach Boice sees a tremendous opportunity to provide talented QBs in Alaska the complete experience – intense instructional training built on NFA’s proven development model that accelerates understanding and execution of a quarterback’s primary movements (mechanics for throwing motion and footwork) along with developing the ability to self-correct, not self-destruct, under pressure.
“NFA is very excited to be coming to Anchorage to serve Alaska quarterbacks,” Coach Boice said. “We have noticed a steady increase of athletes flying in and participating in our West Coast camps and trainings. It is obvious these young men and their families are committed to becoming the best they can be.”
Wedin knows all about the Alaskan commitment to football. His son, Sam, is a standout quarterback at West H.S., and under rising young Head Coach Tim Davis, the Eagles have won two state championships in the Large School Division over the last four seasons, including 2013.
But in past years, Alaskan families with skilled young quarterbacks were faced with the expensive challenge of traveling down to the lower 48 for quality training.
“A lot of these families can’t afford that, so this a chance to get a nationally recognized, top echelon quarterback camp, and their kid can go to this camp for a lot less,” Wedin said. “They are absolutely thrilled. NFA coming here, this puts us on the map. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, but a lot of people up here resent the fact of how we’re kind of treated when it comes to football. And hockey is king in Alaska, even though there are so many good football players.”
Conor Feckley, a former West star and Alaska’s all-time high school passing leader with over 7,000 yards, signed with Colorado Mesa University High School and is still playing college football. Zach Lujan, an Anchorage South High School product, starred at Chabot College in California last season and has moved up to South Dakota State.
Both QBs attended NFA camps while overcoming the inherent challenges of playing prep football in Alaska. “The Alaska QBs are very coachable and they work very hard,” Coach Boice said. “They are a pleasure to work with and always improve so much when we work with them. Bringing a camp to them only makes sense. I cannot wait to get up there and train these kids, and I foresee many more Alaska quarterbacks getting the opportunity to compete at the next level with the utilization of the NFA system that is now local for them.”
John Wedin can attest to the improvement factor. His son Sam is a perfect example.
“When he was 9, 10 years old, I wanted to send Sam to a camp,” John said. “It would be 10 below in middle of January and the street was covered with two inches of ice and he wanted to throw. That’s how he’s wired. Because of all his hard work and love of the sport, I wanted to send him to a QB camp. I looked at the Manning camp, various camps, but when I saw NFA and talked to a couple of people I really respect, it seemed hand’s down the perfect camp for Sam. He’s always had a good arm.”
Feckley, who broke Alaska’s all-time passing record in 2012 after attending an NFA camp in Northern California, benefited tremendously from the experience. Before that, Feckley’s natural talent enabled him to sling the ball 55, 58 yards, but his mechanics and accuracy were inconsistent. NFA took all of his raw, natural talent, refined it and helped Feckley develop into the outstanding quarterback he is today.
For over 20 years, the state has had an excellent football camp – founded by Randy Klingenmeyer, an Alaskan institution. The All-Alaska Football Camp will continue to thrive and help get players from around the Last Frontier college scholarships, and NFA can only reinforce the growing football frenzy up north.
“I really think AFC and NFA can cooperate and work together,” John Wedin said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to help and feed each other. With NFA, they are checking out Alaska and a lot of people want to see them. It’s a small beginning but I think the potential for NFA to be a real big deal up here is tremendous.”
Chabot College Offensive Coordinator Nick Goulet with NFA trained Chabot star quarterback Nick Goulet (photo by Harold Abend)
NFA Northern California Off-Season Development Camp April 25-27 at Chabot College in Hayward for sixth year
The reality is not all NFA trained quarterbacks, and the preponderance of talented high school players at all positions, receive a scholarship offer from a Division I college.
In fact, depending on the area of the country, well under 3-pecent of quarterbacks receive any kind of a Division I-level offer.
There are a variety of reasons why some players that appear to have the tools don’t get offered.
For those players that want to continue to play and work their way into a four-year school, they can choose the junior college level program, and nowhere is the Juco scene hotter than in California.
“Basically, everyone that ends up playing at a JC goes there for a different reason,” said Chabot College (Hayward) Offensive Coordinator Nick Goulet.
“For some its grades, others were passed over because they were too small, and for some it was their level of high school competition,” remarked the Livermore (Livermore, Calif.) graduate who’s been the Chabot offensive coordinator since 2007 under head coach Danny Calcagno.
Goulet, who also teaches health and physical education at nearby San Leandro High continued – “At the junior college level we give a player an opportunity to earn a scholarship by overcoming obstacles, get grades right, and drive themselves so they show they can play at a higher level. There are so many football programs there’s a spot for almost everyone.”
Success at Chabot
Even so, just going to a JC doesn’t guarantee a shot for a scholarship to a four-year school.
If a student-athlete had the tools but lacked the grades they still have to continue to improve both to move on to the next level.
It also helps to have good coaching. Although it took a few years, Chabot, with Calcagno at the helm and Goulet drawing up plays from a spread option offense, has won three-straight Golden Gate Conference Central Division championships for the first time in school history.
“We’ve had more talented teams but this team got better each week,” Goulet remarked. “It’s a testament to having a great group of kids.”
Prior to the NFA Northern California Off-Season Development Camp April 25-27 at Chabot, NFA Nation made a trek to an afternoon practice in Hayward to watch Goulet put the Gladiator offense through its paces.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Go again. You should always be here,” Goulet tells the quarterback as he points to where he wants him.
“Good, better, better. Stay square,” he tells the tailback about turning the corner.”
The way Goulet interacts with the players is visibly different than the approach to coaching boys. He has to talk to and treat them as men even as he barks out directions while putting them through the drills.
“It’s different than high school where you get them as freshmen,” Goulet told NFA Nation. “You’ve got to treat them as men. That’s what it’s all about.”
“Sometime it’s really difficult with quarterbacks. You get four different quarterbacks from four different systems. You have to break them down and build them back up and teach the way you want them to play.”
So Coach Goulet what has been the key to the recent success at Chabot?
“First off, we’re in a hotbed of JC football here in Northern California and the Bay Area, but some of the reasons our program is better than others is we develop our guys, help them get stronger in the weight room and we stress grades. The grades are a bigger piece of the puzzle than anything else.”
Players move on
The resulting fruits of the recipe used by the coaching staff at Chabot is sending eight players on to a Division I school next fall and around 12-15 will move on somewhere at the next level.
According to Goulet, over the past three years, close to 50 young men have moved on to complete their careers and education at a four-year school.
The eight D1 players this year are:
OL – Will Fukofuka (Midwestern State), WR T.J. Hightower (Florida Tech), DB – Eddie Horn (Northern Arizona), LB – Josh Jacinin (South Dakota Mines), QB – Zach Lujan (South Dakota State), WR – Stefon Martin (Incarnate Word), LB – Mia Pola (Northern Michigan), DB – Michael Thomas (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo).
Poster child Lujan becomes a man
For NFA and for Chabot as well, a huge success is quarterback Lujan.
When he arrived at Chabot from South Anchorage (Alaska) last year Lujan was a perfect example of all the reasons why he was not offered D1, despite the fact he had been working with NFA Director of Player Development Will Hewlett, and attending NFA camps for a while.
Zach was 6-foot, 175-pounds and he was from Alaska, where South Anchorage is pretty good but there was a question of the level of competition.
“Zach really needed a year of junior college to grow and mature,” Hewlett said. “He’s very intelligent with Ivy League like academics. After his junior year in high school we tried to use his film and grades to get him an opportunity at a high level, but it ended up out of high school he was projected as D2, so he had an opportunity to go to Juco where he really raised his level.”
He also grew two inches and after the Chabot weight training and fitness regimen headed by coach Eric Fanane he’s going on to South Dakota State after leading the Gladiators to that third-straight title, at 6-2, 195, an obvious sign as Hewlett remarks “the experience allowed him to mature physically and mentally. He stepped in and took the bull by the horns.”
“While I was working with Will he suggested I consider Juco, and I was attending the NFA Off-Season Development Camp at Chabot, and I did like it at Chabot, but it didn’t key in,” Lujan told NFA Nation.
“My dad talked to coach Goulet, and then later when Chabot came up again I put two-and-two together.”
“Zach contacted us to find out what we do,” Goulet said.
After he found out, and knowing how the spread offense at Chabot would fit his style Zach made the move.
His capacity to escape in the pocket and play making abilities was a big part of the Gladiators title streak continuing.
NFA and Hewlett/Lujan connection
“I started looking for quarterback camps in 2012 and in my research NFA kept coming up,” Lujan said. “There was a camp in Seattle and that was the closest to Alaska so I went and Will was running the camp. I could see he was a great coach and we caught on instantly.”
With his coming to Chabot, which is about a half-hour drive from The Range training facility in Livermore where Hewlett is headquartered, has meant Lujan has been able to continue working with Hewlett the entire time he’s been in Northern California.
The weekend after the practice NFA attended Lujan went home to Anchorage and the interview for this story came via cell phone from Alaska. Shortly after it concluded the phone rank again and it was Zach with one final word.
“I wanted to be sure and get in the story that I’m still training with Will and I just want to let him know how grateful I am for everything he’s done for me.”
Hewlett/Goulet and the NFA Off-Season Development Camp connection
“I met Will through the clinic circuit and became interested in what they teach,” Goulet remarked. “I like how they teach and it makes sense to me. It sends a clear message to the players, makes expectations clear, and eliminates the gray area. I like black and white.”
“I met Nick at a Glazier Clinic and he was inquiring about the R4 and C4 systems we use,” Hewlett said. “As I was talking to him about the systems I said to him ‘you’re local, would you like to host our camp?”
This year over 100 players will gather for the 3-day developmental camp at Chabot starting Friday, April 25 and concluding on Sunday.
“After NFA started holding the camps at Chabot I became football buddies with Will,” Goulet said.
“We’d meet and talk about how we coach quarterbacks, the techniques we use and how they could implement them into their system at Chabot,” said Hewlett.
Goulet still treks out to The Range on occasion to shoot the breeze with Hewlett, watch film and diagram plays on the big board.
“Nick has done about as good a job as anyone I’ve seen at implementing some of our techniques,” Hewlett remarked. “He’s a gifted and bright, young offensive coordinator, a rising star in the Juco ranks. He’s a football coach that’s going to coach at a higher level. Nick is going places.”
Not only can the Juco road lead to golden opportunities for players, but possibly for coaches as well.
South Anchorage (AK) senior QB Zach Lujan is entering his third year of varsity football in the Cook Inlet League, arguably the toughest in the state. The Wolverines finished last season ranked second in Alaska, and only two losses to top-ranked Service stood in their way of a state title.
Regarding the cross-town Cougars, Lujan told me, “Service are our main rivals, and actually I hate that team and I can’t wait to play them again.”
Listed at 6’2 and 180 pounds, Lujan describes himself as primarily a pro-style QB. The video below displays his comfort firing passes across multiple routes, and Ivy League schools including Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton have him on their radars.
During our interview, he filled me in on some of the special circumstances faced by Alaskan football players as a result of their geographical positioning. “We start our season much earlier in August, because the snow starts falling towards the end of October. We’ll play three games before most other schools play their first.”
As the thermometer drops up north this season, the Wolverines will travel south for a game against Vista Murrieta in California’s Riverside County. The Broncos are one of California’s top teams but were left out of the state bowl picture in 2011, likely a result of having to forfeit five non-league wins due to a roster violation.
For Lujan and the Wolverines, it’s a trip they are ready for.
Last season, they flew down to play Placer (CA) and struggled with a 36-8 halftime deficit. As Lujan put it, “We were nervous at first and wanted to see what kind of style we’d be dealing with. But then we had a strong second half and made a comeback.” Despite the 65-40 loss, Lujan engineered that comeback with 233 yards, two touchdowns and one interception as the Wolverines returned with 32 second-half points.
The bounce back was indicative of the adversity this young man had to rise above for a second straight season. He played all of 2011 on a fractured hip sustained on the first play of the season, but that didn’t stop him from throwing for 1,517 yards with 17 passing touchdowns and five rushing.
In 2010, hand surgery kept Lujan out of action to start the season but he still finished with 577 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions in four games of action.
Now back on track for a healthy senior season, Lujan is taking advantage of the training he’s received from NFA. “I first met Coach Will (Hewlett) at a camp in Seattle in the Spring of my sophomore year. He’s been working on my throw and has me on a special meal plan.”
His typical five-meal day consists of foods rich in protein and carbohydrates, and one stands out above the rest: reindeer sausage. With enough snacks like that and a focus on winning that was truly evident over the phone, expect Lujan to lead the sleigh successfully over the course of a full season.