Heading into his senior season, Connor Ebeling had a good feeling about his Elkhorn South High School football team.
“Before the season started, we had a camp in Hastings,” Ebeling said. “Coming out of that camp, we knew we had a team that had a lot of talent and championship potential.”
The Storm lived up to the potential and rolled to a perfect 13-0 season while winning the Nebraska Class B state championship game this past season.
With Ebeling at quarterback, Elkhorn South roared out to a 5-0 start while averaging 47 points a game. “At the camp in Hastings before the season started, the coaches thought I was already in mid-season form,” he said. “Heading into the season, I was 100 percent ready. With NFA and all of the training I’ve done with them, it all came together. I was really confident going into the first game.”
It showed. Ebeling threw 11 touchdown passes through the first five games. In Game 2, he set a school record for most passing yards in a half with 292 against Bennington.
An NFA Blackshirt, Ebeling was one of the top passers in the state through the first five games and he was positioned to shatter even more school records.
But at some point in Game 5 – he still can’t put his finger on the specific play – Ebeling was hit and something didn’t feel right. “I didn’t really know what happened, or when it happened,” he said. “I countinued to play and finished the game. I was in a lot of pain, but I finished it.”
After the game, Ebeling was diagnosed with a partial L5 spinal fracture and a herniated disc. “No surgery,” he said. “But it was a long recovery.”
Doctors told Ebeling it would be three months for the injury to heal, meaning his banner senior season came to a screeching halt. “I was really down at first, but my good friends, teammates and my family picked me up,” Ebeling said. “It was just kind of devastating thinking that everything I worked for just pretty much came to an end.”
Losing a bulk of one season to injury is something that happens to football players on both sides of the ball. It is part of a very physical game. But Ebeling also missed much of his junior year with a concussion.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and God has a plan,” Ebeling said. “The injuries, it’s just something freaky, but it’s made me a better person. It’s made me realize that you can never take anything for granted. I cherish every moment I get playing football.”
Ebeling got back on the playing field in the state championship game. Rallying back from a 21-6 deficit against Aurora, Elkhorn South was close to wrapping up a 32-21 win when Storm head coach Guy Rosenberg sent his senior star in to take the final snap and take a knee.
“I think Connor Ebeling is the classiest player I’ve ever coached for the way that he conducted himself,” Rosenberg told the Omaha World Herald. “It was all about the team, not about him.”
Ebeling has always put his team first, and taking the last snap and being on the field for Elkhorn South’s first state title is something he’ll never forget. “That was really cool,” he said. “I’ll always remember that. It was great knowing the coaches were still thinking of me on the final play.”
While he was sidelined with injuries as a junior and senior, Ebeling is going to realize his dream and play college football. In early February, he signed to play at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.
“I’m really excited,” Ebeling said. “I’m just kind of counting down the days to when I can go play football again. I took a couple visits to Washburn. I went a week before signing day and that pretty much confirmed that I wanted to go there. It just felt right.”
Ebeling is feeling right again, and he’s playing high level flag football once a week to keep his skills sharp. He also played in the River Battle Bowl in late November, helping Team Nebraska beat Team Iowa 21-12 in the inaugural all-star game.
“It was a lot of fun to get back on the field,” Ebeling said. “On my first play, I threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Noah Fant, a tight end who is going to play college football at Iowa. It was a great experience.”
The next stop is Washburn, and Ebeling is going to red-shirt during his first year of school. “I think with red-shirting, that’s going to help me get used to game speed,” the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder said. “I can also use that time to lift and get bigger. After my red-shirt season, my goal is to go in and compete for a starting position.”
Training with NFA for the past four years has helped Ebeling get to the collegiate level, where he has a very good chance of making an impact. “NFA has really helped me a lot,” Ebeling said. “They tweaked my mechanics. My arm wasn’t getting all the way through on my passes and they helped me with that, too. That’s helped me throw the ball harder and with more accuracy.”
The next time he is under center, Ebeling’s long-time dream will become a reality. “Since I started playing tackle football in third grade, I’ve always loved the sport,” he said. “And I’ve always looked forward to playing football, and playing in college. I can’t wait to get going. I have a strong arm and I am accurate with my passes. I think I can help benefit the team, on and off the field, whether it’s playing or helping my teammates.”
At 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, Christian Williams might not quite measure up to the expected size of a prototypical big-time quarterback.
“I have to play a different type of game,” said Williams, a junior QB at Black Hills High School in Tumwater, Washington.
Heading into the season, Williams had to compete with a senior for playing time, and that’s a big part of his game. He loves to compete.
“I think the reason I wound up winning the job is I tried to work as hard as I can, I went to camps, I lifted weights and I got a lot better,” Williams said.
All of the effort is paying off in a very big way this season. Black Hills is off to a 7-0 start for the first time in school history, and Williams has been superb under center.
He has completed 43 of 69 passes (62.3 percent) for 1,009 yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing only 2 interceptions. Williams has also rushed for 156 yards and 2 scores.
“It’s really exciting here,” Williams said. “I had a feeling we could do really good just based on the talent alone. But we’ve all put in a lot of work. This year, we all stepped up and matured and are playing the game like men.”
After playing sparingly for the Wolves’ varsity as a sophomore, Williams split at quarterback in the first three games before taking over as the starter.
“At first, I wasn’t used to the spotlight,” he said. “Going in for a couple plays on varsity last year, I was a little scared of the spotlight. This year, I’m comfortable with everything that’s going on and I’m kind of surprised with the comfort level I’m at and how well I’m performing and reading coverages, everything like that. It feels really good to finally get recognized for all the hard work I put in and showing everybody what I can do.”
As the season has progressed, Williams has been taking his game to higher and higher level. In Black Hills’ last game, a 42-7 win, he connected on 8 of 15 passes for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns before making an early exit due to the lopsided score.
“It took a couple games for me to jell with everybody,” Williams said. “At the beginning fo the season, we were rotating but since I’ve been the starter, things have been clicking really well. I know where everybody is going to be and I’ve timed it up really well and we’re clicking.”
“Before I started working with JC Boice and NFA, I was more of an athlete playing quarterback,” Williams said. “But after working with JC, I’ve become an athletic quarterback playing quarterback. If I didn’t start working with JC and NFA, I wouldn’t be able to read coverages as well I do or know where the gaps are going to be in the defense or know how to go through my progressions. It would be more like backyard football.”
Boice has been very impressed with Williams’ steady development. “Christian is a fantastic ‘feel good’ story,” Boice said. “The kid has been relentless in his work ethic. He’s more proof that a shorter statured quarterback can be very successful if he’s willing to put in the work and dedicate himself. Christian has definitely earned the success he is presently having. And he’s not just hard-working – he’s very athletic and has a knack for making good plays out of nothing.”
Besides running the offense, reading the defense and completing passes, top flight quarterbacks have to be able to overcome adversity.
Zak Acuff is up for the challenge – again.
Two years ago, Acuff broke his collarbone in the second game of the season and was sidelined for the rest of the year.
Off to a great start this season with the Hardin Valley Hawks in Knoxville, Tennessee, Acuff suffered another collarbone injury.
The good news? X-rays revealed only a minor fracture and he can return to the field in two weeks. Still, it is a setback that needs to be handled.
“It’s Passio,” Acuff said. “I have been through this type of injury before. Last time, it made me appreciate how lucky I am to be able play football. I came back even more determined to be the best quarterback I could for my team. I will be back for our last two games and the playoffs. This is a setback, but my goals have not changed.”
Much like two years ago, Acuff is attending practices while he recovers from the injury and doing all he can to help his teammates win games.
In Hardin Valley’s first two games, the seventh grader led the Hawks back from a 2-touchdown deficit in the opener while completing 77 percent of his passes for 2 scores. He also connected on a pair of key extra-point conversions to seal the comeback.
In his second game, a 40-0 romp over the rival Central Bobcats, Acuff was a perfect 10-for-10 passing for 170 yards and 4 touchdowns while playing three quarters.
Next season, he’ll return to the Christian Academy of Knoxville Warriors, who won the Tennessee Valley Athletic Middle School Championship in 2014.
Wheh he reaches high school, Acuff is looking forward to playing in CAK’s explosive offense.
Training with NFA and being a Blackshirts member has helped Acuff continue to develop his game for tougher competition. “I practiced a lot on my accuracy in the off-season,” he said. “I’ve always been very dedicated to working on everything, rollouts, handoffs, faking handoffs, even things we don’t do. I am always working and trying to get better.”
In July, Acuff finished first at the Duel and was also the Top Shot and Fastest Man champion at NFA’s showcase eventh in Massillon, Ohio.
“Doing so well at the Duel gave me confidence that I can do good things for my teammates and I can help the team by being a more accurate passer,” he said.
Acuff has been attending NFA camps for five years in addition to being a Blackshirt.
“Every time I go to a camp, I always learn something new,” he said. “NFA has always helped me become a better quarterback so I can be better for my team.”
When he returns from the injury, Acuff looks forward to using his standout speed to make plays while remaining a dangerous passing threat.
“I like to move in and out of the pocket,” he said. “If there is a lot of pressure coming or something breaks down and there is no play there or I can’t find any open receivers, I like running the ball and I try to make something happen.”
Zak Acuff had every reason to be rusty this season. Playing quarterback for the Hardin Valley Hawks in Knoxville, Tenn., as a sixth grader in 2013, Acuff broke his collarbone in the second game and missed the rest of the year.
“NFA really helped me a lot,” Acuff said. “Going on the (Boston and Philadelphia) trip with Coach (JC) Boice and other Blackshirts, and then to the Duel, that helped me get back out there and I was able to work on my mechanics after getting hurt. With all the things that weren’t right after being out, I was able to get my muscle memory back and improve my mechanics.”
Acuff played for his school – Christian Academy of Knoxville – this season, and he more than held his own against many opposing eighth graders with bigger size and more experience.
The Warriors went 6-2 and won the Tennessee Valley Athletic Conference championship. Acuff had to wait his turn behind an eighth grade quarterback at CAK, but he made the most of his opportunities while throwing for touchdowns in five of the six games he played in while completing over 70 percent of his passes.
“It was really good to be back,” Acuff said. “I learned a lot and had a lot of fun.”
Blessed with standout speed, Acuff has never hesitated to tuck the football away and take off. But as he faced tougher competition this past season, the 5-foot-4, 100-pounder concentrated on staying in the pocket more and finding open wide receivers.
Scott Acuff, Zak’s father, gives NFA a lot of credit for helping him develop as a QB. “Zak is really fast and he is a good runner,” Scott Acuff said. “But NFA has really taught him well. In addition to the mechanics and everything, his escape skills are outstanding. He’s really able to move the pocket and get out, and that helps against bigger kids. The other thing with NFA that’s really helped him, his offensive coordinator/quarterback coach said Zak had some of the best mechanics of any quarterback they have coached in middle school. I totally attribute that to what he’s learned at NFA.”
Zak Acuff is still learning, and he’s willing to work as hard as it takes to keep improving.
“Being more patient and staying in the pocket is something I’m working on,” Acuff said. “And sometimes I get a little nervous going into the game. I think too much. I just want to go in there and not really think about anything expect doing what I have to do.”
Just being healthy and getting back on the field is going to help Acuff take his game to a higher level.
“Being out last season, I missed it really, really bad,” he said. “That’s why this season, every opportunity I got to go out there, I tried to play my best. But it also helped me to watch when I was out. I learned a lot and I was also able to support my team on the sidelines. If they made a good play or if they needed any help, I would talk to them.”
All things considered, Acuff is happy to be off the sidelines and back under center. “This season, it was a bigger challenge than I’ve faced,” he said. “But I played up before when I was younger so I was kind of used it. I think it was a bigger challenge because I hadn’t played for a while. I just tried to help my team in whatever way I could. I was really happy with how I threw the football, I made good decisions, I had fast feet and I was able to make plays with the football.”
It’s hard to blame Connor Ebeling for wanting to flip the calendar 9-10 months into the future.
Poised to break out big this past season as a junior quarterback for Elkhorn South High School – a powerful program in Nebraska – Ebeling suffered a concussion in the third game. He did return at the end of the season, but Ebeling played with the junior varsity in an attempt to get back up to speed.
“I tried to do whatever I could to get back as fast as possible,” he said. “I feel a lot better now, and I’m real excited for my senior season. I almost wish it would start right now.”
Even though he was limited by an injury as a junior, Ebeling showed he has a very bright future, even beyond the high school level.
In his first game with the Elkhorn South varsity, which went on to make the playoffs and finished with a 7-3 record under Head Coach Guy Rosenberg, Ebeling threw a 21-yard touchdown pass and ran 10 yards for another score. In the second game, the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder completed 6 of 10 passes for a 13.7 yard average.
Sidelined after sustaining the concussion early in the Storm’s third game, Ebeling made it back to the field later in the season and threw 6 TD passes in 3 games for the JV team while averaging 22 yards per completion.
“After I suffered a concussion, I was really disappointed,” he said. “I thought it would probably end my season. Luckily, toward the end of the season I was cleared to play and Coach (Rosenberg) wanted me to regain my rhythm by taking snaps with our JV team. It was a fun way to end the season, but I’m already looking forward to next season.”
‘Gun for an arm’
Rosenberg is also looking forward to having Ebeling on the field for the Elkhorn South varsity.
“Connor is an athletic and hard-working QB,” Rosenberg said. “He’s a student of the game with a high football IQ. Connor has a gun for an arm. When he throws the ball, he really spins it. You can hear it cut through the air. He also has big hands, which allow him to grip the ball in rain and cold and still maintain his velocity and accuracy. He’s getting a lot stronger in the weight room. His investment is paying off there.”
The Storm offense demands a lot from the quarterback, and Ebeling’s versatility is a huge bonus. “We have dual-threat QBs here at South and Connor does an excellent job in the run game, especially the Read Option and designed QB runs,” Rosenberg said. “He’s a long-strider with good top-end speed.”
NFA has been instrumental in getting Ebeling’s overall game up to speed. A member of the Blackshirts program, he also attended NFA’s first OpC4 camp help in Tampa, Fla., last January and traveled to Boston ancd Philadelphia with other Blackshirts last summer before wrapping up the road trip with a stop in Massillon, Ohio, for the Duel.
“That was a lifetime experience,” Ebeling said. “I enjoyed working out with other quarterbacks from all over the country. I developed some great friendships and still stay in touch with many of them today. I like hearing about their football seasons.”
Rosenberg said NFA has given Elkhorn South’s entire football program a boost.
“Our QB Coach, Jacob Rapp, has done a great job with Connor,” Rosenberg said. “But Connor has also really benefited mechanically from his work with NFA. We use the R4 System at South, and his extra off-season work with Coaches (Dub) Maddox and (Darin) Slack has helped Connor process quickly and throw the ball on time.”
Given his impressive skills and down-time as a junior due to injury, it’s not surprising that Ebeling is looking forward to the future.
“I’m very excited for the 2015 season to get under way,” he said. “I know we will have a good team, and I need to do my part in helping the team to a state championship. The past two years we made the playoffs, and next year we have the talent to win it. If I stay focused and do what I can to help my team win next year, my football future will take care of itself.”
Well aware of the challenges that lay ahead in the 2014 season, Max Marsh made sure he was prepared to clear any hurdle.
The seventh grader prepped for his season with the West Middle School Raiders by attending NFA camps in Boston and Philadelphia with other Blackshirt athletes and JC Boice, NFA’s Senior Level, C4 Certified Coach and Director of Operations. The summer tour wrapped up with a stop in Massillon, Ohio, for NFA’s showcase event – the Duel.
“That was just a great experience,” said Shawn Marsh, Max’s father and the Head Football Coach at Grand Junction Central High School in Colorado along with being on the NFA coaching staff.
“It was really fun,” he said. “I was competing and hanging out with all the Blackshirts, making new friends. It helped me a lot. Going to the camps and competing at the Duel, it helped me compete for a position on our team.”
Playing with a mix of seventh and older eighth graders for the West Raiders, Marsh split time at quarterback with the returning incumbent eighth grade starter and helped lead West to a perfect 9-0 record capped by a Super Bowl triumph in the Mesa County Junior Youth Football League.
“It was a really good season,” he said. “There were a lot of eighth graders on the team and I was a little nervous because the other quarterback was an eighth grader. I just had to compete every day and I think that helped make me a lot better.”
Marsh also played free safety on a defense that allowed only 2 touchdowns all season.
But quarterback has always been his primary position, and Marsh is skilled enough to have made North Denver’s FBU seventh grade team. The National Tournament starts the first weekend of December, with a trip to the title game in Naples, Fla., the ultimate goal.
It’s been a four-hour drive from Grand Junction to Denver each weekend for practice, but the extra effort has been worth it.
“I actually kind of enjoy it,” Marsh said. “The drive is long, but I’ve gotten a chance to meet other players and compete on a new team. It’s exciting because you get to see kids from around the state and I get to see how I stack up against them.”
Nod to NFA
Training with NFA over the summer, competing in the Duel and playing against eighth graders for West Middle School helped Marsh prepare for his latest challenge.
“I think it really helped me become mentally tough,” he said. “And it’s having the attitude that if you get hit, get right back up. I’m hoping I can go out and play my best.”
Training with NFA since he was in fourth grade and joining the Blackshirt program has already helped Marsh become the best QB he can be.
“NFA has helped me a tremendous amount,” he said. “Reading coverages is key and they helped me with that. If you can read coverages, there’s no easy way the defense is really going to stop the route you want to throw. Our (Raiders) coach would let us check down and I don’t know how many times we scored off of checking it to a route that was open. After that, it was just a matter of getting the ball there. And as for my mechanics, I was probably throwing 25 yards when I started with NFA. In practice this season, I think I threw 40-45 yards and my ball speed really got higher.”
As a junior last season, R.J. Garza passed for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns while leading Roma High School in South Texas to its first winning record in school history.
When his senior football season opens Friday night against La Joya, Garza has even more impressive goals.
“I set them pretty high,” he said. “We’re trying to make it to the playoffs for the first time in school history, and that would really be an important accomplishment. I feel like we can make it. This season, we’re a lot more hungry and we’re not going to let anything get in our way.”
With Garza under center, the Gladiators figure to have a legitimate shot to finally make it to the playoffs. “I can’t wait for the season to start,” he said. “The team goal is winning games and making the playoffs. My goal is to get 2,500 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.”
In a three-team scrimmage to prep for the season, Garza showed he is likely to hit his goals by completing 9 of 14 passes for 217 yards and 4 touchdowns. “I was very happy with the way the scrimmage went,” the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder said. “It makes you realize that all the hard work you put in is paying off. Playing so well gives me a lot of confidence heading into the season.”
Garza said this year’s team is “young and fast.” Roma could have some growing pains on the defensive side of the ball, but seven seniors are back on offense.
The Gladiators will have to overcome the graduation loss of running back Orly Solis, who earned Texas Class 4A all-state honors in 2013 after rushing for 2,453 yards and 29 TDs.
“He was a great running back,” Garza said. “We’re going to miss him, but we’ve got a lot of talent coming back on offense. And if I have to do more to help, I will. I love to throw the ball, but I like to run it, too.”
Garza has been preparing for his final high school football season since the day after his junior season ended.
“I went to a couple NFA camps, just to fix up my mechanics a little bit,” Garza said. “And I’ve been working out with the team and going hard and just making sure we can get to where we want to go.”
A member of the Blackshirt Academy the past three years, Garza can’t give JC Boice and the rest of the NFA coaching staff enough credit for helping him develop into an elite quarterback.
“Coach Boice and NFA, they’ve brought me a long way since my freshman season,” Garza said. “I guess I never wanted to be beat by people so they helped me work hard so I could beat them.”
This is going to be Garza’s last season at the high school level, but he is determined to keep playing football in college.
Garza started hearing from schools as a junior, but he doesn’t have a clue if he’s being recruited now.
“My coaches are taking care of that, and they don’t want to tell me yet,” Garza said. “They don’t want any distractions. But definitely, I want to play at the next level. I just want to play in college. If I can make it to the highest level possible, that would be awesome. But whatever happens, wherever I get my chance to grow, that’s where I’ll grow.”
NFA quarterbacks are accepting big-time college offers at a staggering pace these days, and there are plenty more talented athletes making their way toward signing day.
From Brandon McIlwain on the East Coast, to Tommy Stevens in the Midwest, to Quentin Dormady in the Southwest, to Morgan Mahalak on the West Coast, NFA clearly has been making a positive impact across the country.
And don’t forget about Canada.
It’s no longer hockey or bust, and Zach Dies is a prime example of the high quality of football players coming out of Canada.
Dies, who has been attending NFA camps since January of 2013 and is in the prestigious Blackshirt program, played for IDFFL Team Canada in the Midwest Elite 7v7 Tournament in late May. He led his team to an impressive third-place finish in a quality field of 18 teams.
The Midwest Elite tourney was held in Auburn Hills, Mich., and Team Canada competed against some of the top Division I prospects in the nation, including quarterback Alex Malzone, who will play his college football at Michigan.
Dies, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder, was voted third team All-Offense. He was coached by Anthony Cannon, who played in the NFL with the Detroit Lions.
“Only a sophomore at QB, this young man has the poise of an NCAA quarterback,” Coach Cannon said of Dies. “For Canadian high school football players, one of the biggest challenges of being recruited by major U.S. universities is getting them to see Canadian athletes play against top talent.”
Dies made the most of the showcase opportunity.
“Playing in the All-Midwest tournament was great, and it let me see how good I have to become to play at the next level,” Dies said. “I faced up against a junior D-1 commit (Malzone) who just played at an unbelievable speed. This is where I need to be by the end of my junior year.”
Dies will play for Admiral Farragut in St. Petersburg, Fla., this year.
“My goal for this next season is to help my new team be successful,” Dies said. “I know that I have to compete for the starter job with a senior (Dalton Collins) who is a great guy and leader on the team. I want to get out there and get some reps and learn from Dalton. Hopefully, I fit into my new school and get things rolling quickly. NFA’s values are specifically designed for my situation, when coming into a new environment you have to be passionate about the program, and everyone will follow you when you lead with passion.”
Playing in the Midwest Elite tourney at such a high level can only help Dies prepare for the new challenge at Admiral Farragut. “I feel like playing against the best high school players in America makes me that much more accountable for being the best I can be every time I step on the field,” he said.
Dies also said his experience with NFA has helped make him a better quarterback in the present and a college level talent in the future.
“I am using football as a means to get a good education; I want to get a college scholarship and if I get to do that by playing football, that will be an added bonus,” he said. “NFA has taught me how to properly throw a ball, but most importantly, how to act as proper gentleman and be a man and leader, on and off the field. My two favorite quotes from the NFA coaches are … 68 degrees and breezy and to be great on a Friday night, you need to be great every night.”
R.J. Garza a driven young man on mission
On two fronts, R.J. Garza is on a mission.
The first is getting Roma High School in South Texas to the playoffs for the first time ever – a span of 25 years. “We were 6-4 last season, and that was the first winning record my school’s ever had,” Garza said. “This season, I’m looking forward to making the playoffs.”
Garza will be a senior quarterback for the Gladiators this fall, and the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder is looking to make an even bigger impact after passing for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior, his first full season as Roma’s varsity starter. “At the start of the season, the game was a little fast,” Garza said. “But as the season went on, I settled down and started playing better. I love to throw the ball, but if I have to, I’ll run it. It doesn’t matter. Whatever I have to do to help my team win games, I’ll do it.”
Garza will likely to be asked to carry a heavier load as a senior due to the graduation of running back Orly Solis, who earned Class 4A all-state honors after rushing for 2,453 yards and 29 touchdowns. “I’m just the quarterback and it’s going to take everyone to help us win,” said Garza, who also started two games at QB for the Gladiators as a sophomore. “But now that (Solis) is gone, I’ll put the weight on my shoulders and try to do even more.”
On the second front, Garza is determined to play college football after he exits Roma. He realizes it’s a difficult goal. “I’m down here in a valley of South Texas,” Garza said. “A lot of quarterbacks don’t think they have what it takes to play at the next level. But I want to play quarterback in college because I want to show people that it is possible. It doesn’t matter how big you are or how tall you are. If you have that mindset that you want play in college and you want to play, it will eventually come.”
Nod to NFA
Garza has heard from Abilene Christian University, and even more offers figure to be coming if he keeps improving his game. A member of the Blackshirt Academy, Garza has been training with NFA for two years. “NFA’s helped me a lot,” Garza said. “A lot. When I first started, I think I was doing everything wrong and Coach (JC) Boice guided me through. At the first camp I went to, I was OK. The following year, I kind of blossomed with everything they were teaching me. And it’s been going really good since then.”
Coach Boice raved about Garza’s rapid development and his strong character. “Getting to coach young men like R.J. Garza is why I love my job so much,” Boice said. “R.J. is becoming a very good quarterback, but R.J. is another one of our NFA guys that was not born a great quarterback. But somewhere in his life, he made the decision he was going to do it and that is exactly what he is done. Do it.
“There is nothing we have asked him to do that he has not enthusiastically pursued,” Boice continued. “He is blue-collar through and through and is willing to do the hidden things just as much as the things that everybody sees. And now, through his hard work in the off-season workouts and trainings, he’s built himself into a very effective quarterback. I am so excited for his senior season.”
Garza is equally excited. “I can’t wait for the season,” he said. “I really think we have a good chance to make the playoffs, and that would be something that would make my school proud. And I’m really striving to play college football. That is my goal, to play college football.”
When Loveland, Colorado got its own Pop Warner team three years ago Isaac Crane was more than ready to be its quarterback.
Isaac Crane started pretty early. His father, John Crane, a surgeon in the town of around 70,000 just south of Fort Collins and 50-miles north of Denver, had the current 12-year old seventh-grader throwing a football when he was two-years old.
“He just seemed to have a knack for it right away,” John told NFA Nation.
That knack has turned into a lot more. As Isaac’s interest and prowess continued to grow, John sought to help him fulfill his dreams and goals by getting him into NFA camps at age eight.
At his first camp Isaac cried after the Heartbreak Ridge drill when NFA Founder and President (Darin) Slack got on him about getting outside the lines.
“I leaned from that experience that the coaches were trying to help me and not make me feel bad, and that’s one of the ways you do it,” Isaac said.
A budding star
Isaac continued with NFA and also played Little League football until he was 10, and then the Loveland Titans came to be, and “Zick” as his family and friends call him, found his niche.
The first year as a junior pee wee Isaac played quarterback, or center, and defensive end. The team made it all the way to the Regional finals (Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Louisiana and Arkansas) at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, where they lost 6-0 in the last minute.
The following year as a pee wee, Zick led his team to victory at the Cotton Bowl, thus earning a spot at the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Kissimmee, Florida. The Titans won their first game and then lost but finished fourth in the country.
Last year as a junior midget, Isaac and his Titans team went back to the Super Bowl but lost their first two games.
Named a Blackshirt
With his Pop Warner success, plus having attended NFA Camps, Zick was invited to the Dual of the Dozens in 2012 where he eventually placed third when the scores were recounted, after leaving the event thinking he was fourth.
Last year he was named a Blackshirt and began working with NFA Senior Certified Quarterback Instructor and Lead Camp Coach JC Boice.
In January, Boice invited Isaac to Seattle for a 7/7 camp with around 20 QBs from around the nation.
As a result of his showing in Washington, the 5-foot-6, 126-pounder that can throw it on a rope from 20-30 yards, and has topped out at 43-yards in distance, will be doing a lot more private work with Boice this summer.
To get the kind of attention Boice has and will be giving him, means Isaac must be really adapting to the NFA approach.
What Zick has learned from the NFA and Boice
“When I first started going to NFA camps the most important thing was mechanics. Now that I have mechanics it’s about the NFA system and engaging it in game-like situations.”
“I really like working with Coach Boice a lot. It’s different than the regular camps.” JC expects you to know the mechanics so it’s about applying them.”
“Isaac has an approach to the game way beyond his years,” Boice said. “Not only his maturity in terms of processing the game as a quarterback, but also in his work ethic, and most importantly his leadership.”
“There’s something about being the quarterback that I really like,” Isaac remarked. “The feeling of being in charge, and the guys look up to you. It’s a really good feeling.”
“Physically, Isaac has all the tools. He’s big and strong, and even though he’s growing a ton right now, he’s still very smooth and coordinated, and he really loves to compete.”
“Football should be fun,” Isaac noted.” That’s why you play, but it’s also about competitiveness. You want to win.”
Baby of the family thinks big
Zick, as his brothers Nathan and Dawson originally named him, might be growing a lot, but he’s still the baby of the family. John and his wife Suzy Crane, also a physician, have three boys.
Nathan, a 17-year old senior at Loveland High, only made it as a back-up quarterback but still has been very encouraging to Zick and someone he looks up to. Dawson, a 15-year old sophomore at Loveland, is a basketball player.
“My dad is really busy as a doctor but he’s given me every single opportunity that we can find a way to do it, to achieve my goals.”
Despite straight A’s at the academically difficult St. John’s Catholic School in Loveland, Isaac, who’s favorite subject is social studies, doesn’t see himself following in his mother and father’s footsteps and becoming a doctor, although he would like to follow his family in choice of college.
“I’d very much like to go D1 in college but we’ll have to see what the world’s plan is for me. Most of my family went to Oklahoma State and I like it too. I’d love to go there.”
And what about after that?
“I don’t want to become a doctor. I see myself as a quarterback, maybe the NFL, but it’s a long way to thing ahead,” remarked Isaac, who tells NFA Nation his hero and favorite quarterback is Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos.
If Isaac “Zick” Crane continues to impress the NFA coaches and apply the NFA principles into his game plan, and maintains the competitiveness that made such an impression on Boice, the sky is the limit.
Isaac “Zick” Crane has all the tools and the right amount of competitiveness according to NFA Senior Certified Quarterback Instructor and Lead Camp Coach JC Boice
Max Marsh has been playing quarterback the past two years for the West Raiders in Grand Junction, Colo. In both seasons, he’s led his team to the league Super Bowl.
“That’s the biggest goal, getting to the Super Bowl and winning the championship,” Marsh said. “We’ve played in it twice. Two years ago we got there and won. This year we lost, but I still think it was a really good season.”
The numbers back up that statement. Not only were the Raiders 8-1, Marsh completed 70 percent (53 of 78) of his passes for 1,040 yards and 20 touchdowns. He threw only 2 interceptions.
“I’m really happy with my improvement, from how the season started to how it ended,” Marsh said. “By the end of the season, I could read coverages a lot better, I got faster and I was able to throw the football farther.”
Before moving to quarterback as a fifth grader, and stepping back under center this past season, Marsh played on the offensive line. It sure looks like he’s landed in the right position.
“Playing quarterback, being the leader and speaking up in the huddle are some of the things I like to do,” Marsh said. “And leading the offense, throwing the ball and just having fun. We run the spread offense, and that’s another thing I like about being at quarterback.”
Looking to enhance his overall game at QB, Marsh has been attending NFA camps the past two years, and he’s also a Blackshirt. “The Blackshirt Program is a fully comprehensive program that accelerates an athlete’s maturation, increases milestone progress awareness and leaps the athlete years ahead of his chronological age,” said NFA Founder and President Darin Slack. “Created for students dedicated to the sport, wearing the black shirt means committing to exceeding his potential in play, leadership and life investment.”
Shawn Marsh, Max’s father, is the Head Coach at Central High School in Grand Junction, and he first became familiar with Coach Slack and NFA while attending a coaching clinic. “I heard Coach Slack speak about the R4,” Shawn Marsh said. “I did research on NFA and the thing I like about it, the reason we have Max in the Blackshirt program, they don’t make any promises that the kid is going to be a Division I player. The thing that they said is, ‘We’re going to work so that your kid can play two grade levels above where they’re at.’ I like that and that’s a very good goal and mission with the kids. It’s been a great thing and it’s also been nice working with Coach (JC) Boice. It helps to drive Max. He’s very focused on what he’s doing and he’s getting better.”
Max Marsh is staying in shape during the off-season by participating in wrestling. But even with all the snow on the ground, football remains the No. 1 priority.
“I’ve been working out every Tuesday and Thursday, and I throw the football every day of the week,” Marsh said. “There’s also wrestling and conditioning, so every day I’m doing something to get ready for next season.”
Zak Acuff leads on, off field
Quarterbacks always seem to be measured by passing and rushing yards and touchdowns. But there is so much more that comes with playing the key position, and Zak Acuff is a prime example on how to do it right.
Playing QB for the Hardin Valley Hawks in Knoxville, Tenn., this past season, Acuff picked up right where he left off in 2012, when he passed for 716 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 325 yards and 5 more scores while guiding his team to a 7-1 record.
In the Hawks’ first game in 2013, the sixth grader connected on 6-of-8 passes and a touchdown and he ran for 53 yards in a 28-6 win over Olive Springs. But in the second game, Acuff broke his collarbone and was sidelined the rest of the season.
Rather than pack it in and wait for next season, Acuff showed he’s a true leader on and off the field. “After the season-ending injury in only our second game, I made sure that my coaches and teammates knew that even though I could not play I was not going to quit on them,” he said. “I did everything I could to help our other QB step in and lead the team throughout the season. I made sure I came to every practice and game to support the team – rain or shine. Like (NFA) Coach (Darin) Slack teaches, I wanted everyone to know that it wasn’t about me.”
Some players are able to handle the adversity that always seems to be waiting around the corner in football, and some players are not. Acuff showed which side he is on, and now he’s healthy and getting ready to go for next season.
“Now that my collarbone has healed, I am doing everything I can to get as much game experience as possible to prepare for spring practice,” Acuff said. “I need to continue working on my mechanics and seeing the field in game situations so that I can make the good decisions. We just finished the winter season of 7-on-7 and I was relieved that my arm had not weakened too much from being out of commission during the fall. My team won the JLTA 12U Championship. It felt great to be moving the chains again!”
Looking ahead, Acuff can’t wait to get back on the field next season. “I will be moving up to middle school competition next year, where the players are bigger, stronger and faster,” he said. “Moving to a new team with a new coaching staff will be a new challenge. My primary goal is to earn the starting QB position in spring practice. From there, I want to spend the summer training, learning the offense and preparing to lead my team to a championship.”
Acuff has been going to NFA camps the past three years, and he is in the Blackshirt program. He’s also competed in the last two Duels, finishing second in his age group this past summer.
“I try to attend 2-3 OSD camps each summer,” Acuff said. “What I have learned in these camps and from Coach D (Slack), Coach (JC) Boice and Coach (Kraig) Campbell has really helped me be a better QB and teammate. I now understand proper throwing mechanics and can self correct when my throws aren’t accurate in a game. I am much better at getting away from the rush and reading coverages that helps me make plays. Most of all, I have learned that being a QB is not about getting all the glory, it’s about helping those around you be the best they can be.”
Monroe, Louisiana— Steven Fitzhugh, head coach at Ouacita Christian School, adopted QBA’s C4 mechanics last year, and the quarterbacks in his system are producing eye-catching numbers and victories as a result.
As an experienced head coach (12 years at Ouachita Christian) and former college player (linebacker at Harding University), Fitzhugh knows football. His experience allowed him to see value in Darin Slack’s 2009 clinic presentation in Houston, Texas.
Fitzhugh returned to Louisiana and promptly committed all the QB’s in his program to C4 mechanics. “We took six kids ranging from age 11 to 17 and they all came away from the camp
with a greater understanding of the mechanics of throwing the football as well as a better understanding of the game. I was extremely pleased” Fitzhugh said.
Last year, the quarterbacks at Ouachita Christian validated Fitzhugh’s perspective:
Junior Paul Michael Garner earned 1st team All State honors, throwing for over 2,200 yards and 27 TD’s.
Freshman Braden Bristo produced over 120 yards of total offense and 2 TD’s per game, guiding Ouachita Christian to their first undefeated JV season in over a decade.
8th grader Quinn Graves led his team to a 9-1 record, throwing for 1,349 yards and 18 TD’s. His outstanding play resulted in an invitation to the FBU 8th Grade Youth All-American game in San Antonio.
7th grader John Randall Bennett set records for passing yards and touchdowns. He threw for 1,710 yards and 17 TD’s in 10 games leading his team to an 8-2 record.
5th grader Grant Fitzhugh’s team went undefeated and lost in Super Bowl.
These gaudy numbers have helped other team members receive recognition:
Sophomore wide receiver Mark Laird earned 1st team All-State honors. His 54 receptions resulted in 1,117 yards and 14 TD’s.
Fitzhugh believes in the value of QBA’s system. “[The] self-correction tips diffuse the frustration between QB’s and their coaches and allow them to talk about the correction and make proper adjustments” he said. “We plan on being involved with QBA for years to come”.