Only 12 years old, Peyton Rottinghaus is still a very young football player that has plenty of time to develop into a standout quarterback. He is off to a roaring start.
Not only has Rottinghaus been playing football for seven years, he’s attended nine NFA camps since 2012. Combine his experience on the field, his NFA training and natural ability, and it adds up to a QB with a very bright future.
“Peyton is a great kid on his way to becoming a great quarterback,” NFA’s JC Boice said. “We are behind this kid!”
Playing for the Johnston (Iowa) Youth Football League Packers last season, Rottinghaus connected on 48 of 89 passes for 633 yards and 7 touchdowns while helping his team to a 3-3 record. He also played 4 all-star games.
Saving his best for last, Rottinghaus completed 11 of 16 passes for 194 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Packers’ final game of the regular season. He also rushed for another TD.
With 3 minutes left in the first half of the regular season finale, Rottinghaus drove his team 80 yards and connected on a 25-yard Hail Mary TD pass with no time left on the clock.
“It was a really good season,” Rottinghaus said. “I liked playing with my teammates, my best friends.”
As he prepares for his seventh grade season in the Johnston Youth Football League, Rottinghaus is working to improve his running game while cutting down on interceptions. Continuing to train with NFA will only help him achieve those goals.
Jimmy Rottinghaus coached his son during Peyton’s first six seasons and remembers seeing information about NFA.
“Back in 2012, my wife Emily received an email,” Jimmy recalled. “Peyton had an interest in learning how to be a quarterback and we were looking for someone to teach him. There was a camp in Lincoln and we originally though it was associated with the University of Nebraska. I had a work commitment so my wife took Peyton and she called me two hours into the camp and said, ‘This is something that is totally not what I expected.’ They’re intense camps and NFA has really helped Peyton in his development.”
Training with NFA and working one-on-one with coach Todd Espeland has had a monumental impact on the young QB.
“NFA has helped me a lot,” Peyton Rottinghaus said. “I’ve become a football player on the field and a better leader on and off the field because of all of the things I’ve learned. My confidence level is really high.”
At an NFA camp in Denver last year, Rottinghaus learned the F4 (Frame and Form, Flow and Fire) and incorporated the system into his game. It’s been a huge help.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on it,” he said. “It’s helping me a lot. It’s helped me increase the velocity on my throws, and the ball is jumping out of my hand.”
Madden Lowe was presented with two challenging tests during the 2016 season. The freshman quarterback at Riverbend High School in Fredericksburg, Virginia passed them both with flying colors.
Lowe opened the season as the starting junior varsity QB and he guided the Bears to their best record (8-2) in school history.
“It was great,” Lowe said. “We started out the season with a loss but after that we grinded. It was so fun after that. We worked really hard.”
Even though he was a freshman playing for Riverbend’s JV team, Lowe never doubted his ability to be successful.
“I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “I was trying to be as confident as possible. But I could tell some people around me were sort of surprised. They thought I wasn’t going to perform as well as I did but I was just grateful. It was a great opportunity.”
Lowe’s season was not limited to his strong showing with the junior varsity Bears.
Tony DeMarco, Riverbend’s varsity head coach, was keeping close tabs on Lowe when he was playing quarterback at Ni River Middle School.
“I’ve known Madden for a while,” DeMarco said. “Ni River is our main feeder school and they ran our offense. I would watch their games when Madden was an eighth grader and think, ‘Wow, he’s making reads and getting the ball to the right people.’ Coming into this past season, I wasn’t sure who our quarterback was going to be. There was a period of time where I told our coaches, ‘Don’t be surprised if we start a freshman this year.’ They’re like, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Madden Lowe, I’ve seen the kid play, I know who he is, I know his family. I coached his sister several years ago at our school and she was just a great athlete. He is so grounded.’”
Lowe might have opened the 2016 season as the Bears’ starting varsity quarterback, but DeMarco didn’t want to throw the then 5-foot-10, 145-pounder into a battle he wasn’t completely prepared for from a physical standpoint.
“My kid (Jordan) was our quarterback in 2015, and he was 205 pounds,” DeMarco said. “He got sacked 10 times in one game and that’s still fresh in my mind. So I’m looking at Madden and thinking his body would not take that kind of beating.”
As Lowe gained size – he’s now up to 5-foot-11, 150 pounds – he also gained experience with the JV team and practicing with the Bears’ varsity team.
“I looked at it that if he practices with us, practices against the varsity as the scout team quarterback, he’ll understand the speed of the game and know he has to get the ball out quick,” DeMarco said. “I knew by him going against our varsity defense, it would improve his game as opposed to starting Game 1 for us and just taking a beating from Game 1.”
DeMarco’s patience paid off in a big way.
In the eighth game of the season, Lowe joined Riverbend’s varsity team and he made his debut in the fourth quarter. The Bears were clinging to a 14-13 lead against a solid Freedom High School team and Lowe drove them to the end zone twice in a 28-13 victory.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” Lowe said. “I was pretty nervous at first and then we drove down and got a touchdown. The sideline was wild after that. We came back and did it again to win 28-13. That was so much fun. It’s always going to be great memory.”
Lowe made more memories with the Riverbend varsity, which finished the season with an 8-4 record. In 5 games with the Bears, he completed 12 of 21 passes for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also took the majority of the snaps in Riverbend’s two playoff games and didn’t turn the ball over while helping the Bears post their first postseason victory at home in school history.
“I was just blessed to get an opportunity to play varsity football for Riverbend,” Lowe said. “I’ve been watching games there forever and I was so blessed to play in a few of them. I thought it was a lot of fun. Riverbend has a great atmosphere, a great student section. It’s just so much fun to play in those games.”
Fortunately for the Bears, Lowe has three more years of varsity eligibility.
“Madden played very well for us as a freshman,” DeMarco said. “He doesn’t have the really big arm, but the deep ball is overrated. I have linemen that can throw the football 50 yards and they’re like, ‘Hey coach, put me at quarterback.’ Being a good quarterback is being able to make the reads and get the ball to the right people at the right time. Madden is able to do that, and that makes him stand above probably any freshman I’ve ever coached. He’s already shown he knows how to move the ball around the field, and that forces the defense to have to cover the whole field.”
For as impressive as he was as a freshman, Lowe is looking to be an even better quarterback as his Riverbend varsity career progresses.
“This past season, I wasn’t really expecting anything,” he said. “My goal was to perform the best I could and see where they were going to put me. Just perform as well as possible no matter what team I was on. For next season, I think preparation is the main thing. We’ve got to prepare because the best prepared team is going to win the game. My personal goal is to be the most prepared person on the field.”
Lowe has been training with NFA for three years, and that has helped him prepare to play varsity football at such a young age.
“NFA has helped me so much, throughout personal experiences, the speeches before the game, the selflessness,” Lowe said. “And with my mechanics, NFA really got me straight. I’ve never felt more confident when I throw the ball.”
After a lengthy absence, Lincoln High School football is back.
In 2016, the Links went 5-4 during the regular season, their first winning record in 12 years. Lincoln High also made the Nebraska state playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
Not suprisingly, NFA Nation is beaming with pride over the Links’ successful showing. And there is equal pride in Cedric Case, who was Lincoln High’s starting quarterback as a sophomore, and Chad Case, who is the Links’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“The 2015 season was my first year as offensive coordinator at Lincoln High,” said Chad Case, who is also NFA’s national director of nutrition and a certified QB coach. “We went 4-5 and that was a big accomplishment because it was the most wins we had in over a decade. We had been on some pretty hard times at Lincoln High. This past season, we had graduated quite a few seniors and we knew we had a strong group of kids coming back, a lot of talent, but we were going to be really young. Thankfully, we had a strong group of seniors pick up where last year’s seniors left off. They were great leaders for us this year.”
How young was Lincoln High in 2016? The Links started a total of 11 sophomores throughout the season on both sides of the ball.
“That is a lot of sophomores, and varsity football is meant for juniors and seniors,” Chad said. “But as far as expectations, I felt very confident. That group of sophomores, a lot of them were on the Silverbacks, and 16 of them came to Lincoln High with 11 becoming varsity starters.”
Chad Case coached the Star City Silverbacks, a Lincoln select football team, to national championship wins in 2013 and ’14.
“This past season, it was surreal to watch these young men I was coaching as 7- and 8-year olds, suddenly they’re playing varsity football,” Chad said. “I felt confident that we could compete and I thought, kind of quietly to myself, a goal I had in my mind was to see if we could make a run at the playoffs.”
It wasn’t looking too promising early when the Links lost their first three games, but Chad Case never stopped believing.
“I think a lot of that was the fact that we were so young,” he said. “We just had to keep our wits about ourselves, try to find ourselves as a team. I think it took those first three games to find out out who we were and be able to play with confidence. Once we started to really believe in what we were doing, the kids started playing fast and I think we as a coaching staff got better at identifying what our strengths were and we really started rolling after that.”
Cedric Case provided a huge spark, completing an astounding 133 of 197 pass attempts for 1,880 yards and 19 touchdowns. Equally impressive, the 6-foot-0, 165-pounder was intercepted just five times.
“I’m not surprised because I had been preparing to do those sort of things,” Cedric Case said. “I’ve been putting in the work in to do it and I was surrounded by a great group of backs and receivers and a great offensive line that really stepped up. We had a pretty young o-line, an inexperienced o-line who people were worried about. But they stepped up, matured quickly and they did a great job. They made my job so much easier. I had a lot of good coaching around me, too, so I wasn’t surprised because I felt I was prepared each and every week to execute our game plan.”
Saving his best for last, Cedric passed for 375 yards and 5 touchdowns in Lincoln High’s playoff game, a 55-34 loss to undefeated and eventual state champ Bellevue West.
“It was great to be a part of that, one because our school hadn’t seen that kind of success in a long time and two because my teammates really deserved it,” Cedric said. “We had been working for it all summer and it was great to see the seniors on our team finally get to the playoffs and our head coach (Mark Macke) finally get to the playoffs, Our school hadn’t done that in over a decade. I was proud of that and my teammates made it a whole lot easier on me.”
When the season was in the books, Lincoln High School ranked second in the state in passing, fourth in total yardage and fifth in scoring. In 2015, the Links ranked 20th in Nebraska in passing, 19th in total yardage and 20th in scoring.
Cedric Case broke four single-season school records in 2016 – passing yards, passing TDs, completions and completion percentage (.675).
“Obviously, as a father it’s pretty powerful to watch your son go out there and play and play so well,” Chad Case said. “The thing I’ve become so appreciative of in regards to Cedric is the way that he leads and who he is to his teammates. Those are things that are going to carry through the rest of your life. And that’s what is so wonderful about being with NFA, the men that he’s learned from. Obviously, as his father, I’d like to think I’ve had something to do with that, but it’s good to know he’s had these wonderful men in his life that are helping him to aspire to who he wants to become. It’s pretty powerful. To watch him on the field competing, it’s been one of those things where admittedly, I’ve become very accustomed to watching him perform well in pressure moments. But he just did a wonderful job and it was a lot of fun to watch.”
Chad Case is a veteran presence with NFA, and Cedric has been training with NFA since he was 9 years old.
“NFA is the base of where I learned everthing,” said Cedric, who finished fourth at the Duel among incoming sophomores last July. “Just going through that process with all the different coaches and flying around the nation and gettng to learn all these different tools, it just made me a better quarterback and a better leader and a better person.”
Both Cedric and Chad Case learned the R4 System through NFA, and the results showed this past season at Lincoln High.
“We started using the R4 at Lincoln High two years ago, my first year as the offensive coordinator,” Chad Case said. “I felt like we did a good job for Year 1, when it was all for the pass game. But I tend to be a perfectionist, and I truly want to be the best coach I can be. After that first season, I attended every R4 clinic Dub (Maddox) put on that I could get to. I traveled all over the country just so I could be a student and learn and I came back to Lincoln and started working with the coaches on the staff as far as how we were going to use it in our game-planning process. It was a game-changer. I’m actually really looking forward to going into Year 2 of using the R4 game-planning process because what I found this past season was it streamlined everything we were doing as far as game-prep, breaking down film, communication, having the same common language, being able to identify space.
“What I really liked is as the year progressed we were so much more efficient in our communication and also the players and coaches were all talking the same language,” Chad continued. “As a group, we were beginning to see the same things. It made play-calling so much easier because when we were on the sidelines and we’re making adjustments in game, and you don’t have a lot of time to do it, we were a lot more efficient.”
Cedric Case learned the R4 System during his NFA training and he also helped his teammates unleash its impressive results.
“It really helped,” Cedric said. “It helped everyone understand their position better. As a quarterback knowing the R4 system, I was able to explain to each of my receivers how they could use the R4 System, too. We started using it in the summer and we got more and more in depth into the fall. It made everything a lot easier for everybody on the team.”
JC Boice, NFA’s senior quarterbacks instructor, QB evaluations coordinator and director of business development and strategic alliances, had a strong feeling Chad and Cedric Case would make a major impact on Lincoln High’s varsity football program.
“NFA has a special relationship with Chad and Cedric Case,” Boice said. “We met them in Kansas City, Missouri when Cedric was in fifth grade. Initially, our relationship with them was our normal partnership we have with a player and his parents. It was soon very clear to us that Chad’s coaching career was going to accelerate and he showed a strong interest to incorporate NFA methodology into his coaching approach. Chad is the type of coach, and Cedric is the type of player, we love working with. They are very family-oriented, hard-working and willing to go the extra mile to do things the right way.
“It has been awesome,” Boice continued. “NFA has definitely made Cedric a better quarterback and helped assist Chad in becoming a more impacting coach while they have both made meaningful contributions that have benefited NFA and the NFA family. Chad is now our director of performance nutrition and is doing an outstanding job helping athletes develop healthy lifestyle patterns to maximize potential. Chad has also been an early adopter of NFA’s R4 System. That has helped power the incredibly explosive offense that Chad is operating at Lincoln High. I think the relationship has been a great testament to how good it can be when we can work with good people in a cooperative manner to create better opportunity in the game of football.”
As he looks forward to his junior season with the Links, Cedric Case is looking to be even better than he was as a standout sophomore.
“I want to become more of a run threat,” he said. “I’m working on becoming faster and I feel like I can help my team more if I can become more mobile outside of the pocket. I think that will come as I become bigger and stronger. I also want to become more and more of a leader. As a sophomore, it can be kind of challenging to step up and lead a lot of seniors and older guys. But my coaches have challenged me to become even more of a leader than I was last season.”
Located in Columbia, Missouri, Battle High School first opened its doors in 2013. In that short time span, the Spartans’ varsity football program has already established itself as a state power.
Not surprisingly, Brevinn Tyler was Battle’s starting quarterback in each of the past four seasons.
“I think what I’m most proud of is setting a winning atmosphere at Battle,” Tyler said. “Setting that trend so people know that Battle football is a successful program and has been from the very start. It was a fun ride. I definitely enjoyed it a lot.”
Heading into his freshman year in 2013, Tyler already was determined to make an impact. “When I first heard Battle was opening, my goal was to be the starting quarterback right away,” he said. “A lot of people were like, ‘There’s no way you can do that.’ I was able to do it and I thought it was really cool.”
The Spartans were not eligible for the playoffs in their first year of existence, but they won a state championship the following season. “To go win a state championship as a sophomore, it was pretty crazy,” Tyler said. “I was just thinking about playing on my own team. I wasn’t thinking about winning a state championship and we were able to go and do that.”
With Tyler under center, Battle advanced to the state semifinals in 2015 and they made the semis again this past season. “Looking back now, I’m really happy about it,” he said. “I’m really glad that we were able to set high goals for ourselves and achieve them. I would say sophomore year I was a little bit surprised, just with our team as a whole. But I feel like we had really good leaders on that team. The senior class was very good and they set a really good example of how to practice and how to approach a different opponent week in and week out.”
Tyler grew into a tremendous leader for the Spartans, and he gives big credit to NFA. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder started training with Coach Dub Maddox, Coach Jonny Ulibarri and NFA as a sixth grader.
“Technique-wise, they did a lot for my arm speed and gave me a system where I can constantly evaluate myself,”
Tyler said. “When something was going wrong, I knew how to fix it. But I think the biggest impact on me as a young man, just growing up, was constantly hearing Coach Maddox saying, ‘It’s not about you, it’s not about you. It’s about the people around you.”
“I think I really embraced that, especially this year, the senior year. I was making sure it was not about me, it’s not about what I can do to show college coaches what I can do. It’s really about how can I put my team in the best position to win? It’s really serving your guys. NFA says that all the time, you have to serve the people around you before you can get what you want. I think that’s really the biggest thing.”
As a senior this past season, Tyler passed for 2,600 yards, rushed for 1,602 yards and accounted for 56 touchdowns while leading Battle to a 14-1 record.
The dual-threat quarterback is looking forward to taking his game to the collegiate level. “I have eight scholarship offers right now and I’ll be playing somewhere,” he said. “I definitely believe I can play in college and I’m taking this whole month for college visits. I think I have a good skill set and versatility as an athlete. If I’m not playing quarterback, I can play somewhere else.”
David Krewson arrived at his first Duel in July as a quarterback with some uncertainty in his skills. He left NFA’s international competition brimming with confidence.
“That’s really where the tide kind of turned for me,” Krewson said. “I started to realize I could really take over the job and lead the team.”
Krewson entered the Duel not quite knowing what to expect, and he exited as the fourth-place finisher among incoming high school juniors.
“My goal was just to do as well as I could,” Krewson said. “I wasn’t really expecting to make it to the finals. Obviously I was trying my hardest, but I didn’t know if I would or not since it was my first experience at a competition like that. I was really happy that I ended up making it to the finals. It definitely boosted my confidence a lot.”
Heading to his junior season at Blue Mountain High School in Schuylkill Haven, Pa., Krewson was the backup varsity quarterback. A change was made before the Eagles’ fourth game, and it changed the course of his season.
“I found out I was starting when we were going through walk throughs the day before the fourth game,” Krewson said. “Looking back, the first game was a little iffy. I was a little nervous and I wasn’t fully prepared yet. But as the weeks progressed, I got better and better and better. I became more acclimated to it and got more comfortable.”
When the season was over, Blue Mountain was 9-2 and the 2016 Class 4A Eastern Conference champions. “I was actually pretty happy,” Krewson said. “That period where we switching between quarterbacks, it was a little rough and the guys seemed a little out of it. It didn’t seem like we were all playing together as a team at that moment. But as the season went on, we really came together and finished the season off strong.”
Krewson, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder, finished his junior campaign with 40 completions on 82 attempts for 782 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also rushed for 87 yards and 2 TDs.
“I was surprised a little bit,” Krewson said of his performance. “I was a little nervous at first and I wasn’t really expecting anything big. But when I got comfortable and my mechanics kept coming – and with everything I learned from NFA – it just came naturally and everything worked really well. Each week, I progressively got better and better. The more experience I got and the more time I got to practice with the guys and work on my mechanics, it got better and better each week.”
Training with NFA and Coach James Martinez for nearly two years has been huge for Krewson. “NFA has definitely helped me,” he said. “Pretty much everything I’ve learned as far as quarterbacking goes and developing my skills has come from NFA.”
Krewson is already training for next year with the Eagles, and he’s shown his leadership by helping organize winter workout sessions for the rest of the team.
“Right now, I’m fully dedicated for my senior season,” Krewson said. “I’m working on getting all the guys into the weight room that I can and have everybody be dedicated to the team. I’m really pumped for next season.”
Payton Falk showed what he can do as a quarterback in July. After receiving an invite to the Duel, the eighth grader from Manitoba, Canada, journeyed to NFA’s international competition with some understandable trepidation.
“I was expecting a lot of competition,” he said.
Falk’s expectations were certainly realized, but his own competitive juices kicked in and he finished fifth in his grade group. “It made me feel pretty good,” Falk said. “I really wasn’t expecting to finish in the Top 5. To go there and do so well, it really helped my confidence a lot. It made me feel like I was able to be versatile and could compete at quarterback.”
Heading into his season with the Eastman Raiders in Manitoba, Falk was looking forward to playing quarterback for the third straight year.
Instead, he got caught up in a numbers game and primarily played slot for the Raiders.
“It was something I just had to deal with,” Falk said. “I just tried to do the best I could at the position I was playing.”
Falk played exceptionally well at slot back, scoring a whopping 20 touchdowns while leading the Raiders in receptions and receiving yards. “I think having played quarterback helped me play the slot,” he said. “I was able to read the defenses and understand what they were trying to do.”
With Falk helping the offense pile up points, the Raiders went 6-2 during the regular season before bowing out in the semifinals of the playoffs. “I felt it was very important that we played so well as a team and had a good season,” he said. “Where we play, we’re a rural team outside of the city (Winnipeg). We’re considered an underdog so to have a good season, it meant a lot to us.”
Next year, Falk will be a freshman at St. Paul’s High School and he’s looking forward to changing positions. “My goal is to play quarterback,” Falk said. “I like being in charge of the team and leading the offense and getting wins.”
St. Paul’s is a football powerhouse, and the Crusaders won the Winnipeg High School Football League championship this past season.
At St. Paul’s, many freshmen play on the junior varsity football team. The next step up is the AA team, with the AAA team providing the top level of competition.
“In Grade 9, I want to play on the AA team,” Falk said. “And I want to play quarterback next year. I’m really looking forward to playing quarterback and leading the team.”
Training with NFA the past year has helped Falk develop his QB skills, and he’s looking to improve even more before advancing to the high school level.
“NFA has helped me a lot,” Falk said. “My first camp was in Minneapolis and I was able to throw about 5 yards farther after they corrected my form. My release was faster and my accuracy was better. They really helped me a lot.”
In football, individual statistics don’t always add up. Numbers can be very deceiving.
Meet Justin Tibbels. As the starting quarterback for Danbury High School in Lakeside, Ohio as a sophomore, he passed for almost 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns.
As the starting QB for Danbury as a junior this season, Tibbels’ passing stats were way down, but not because he had an off year.
The Lakers headed into the season with only 18 players on the varsity roster, and six were freshman. They were vulnerable at wide receiver due to graduation losses.
Rather than run a spread offense that would have exploited Tibbels’ passing skills, Danbury switched to the Wing-T and primarily kept the ball on the ground.
“A spread offense is better for my stats, but I like winning football games, too,” Tibbels said. “The Wing-T helped us win all of our games this year. Some games, we passed the ball maybe one time. I was more handing it off and running the ball, but that’s what we needed to do to be successful.”
While rushing for 9 touchdowns and passing for 5 more, Tibbels guided the Lakers to a 7-4 record. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Danbury also advanced to the playoffs for the first time in school history.
“Before the season, the goal was to have a winning record and get to the playoffs and try to go as far as possible,” Tibbels said. “We just took it one game at a time, didn’t really try to do too much or look too far ahead. Just play one game at a time.”
After the Lakers bowed out in the first round of the playoffs, the stunning accomplishment of making it to the postseason really sunk in for Tibbels.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had,” he said. “It made me feel very proud. The community came together and it was something like I’ve never experienced before.”
Danbury’s small roster forced Tibbels to stay on the field the entire game. He was the quarterback on offense, free safety on defense and long snapper on special teams. A knee injury forced Tibbels to miss parts of two games, but he enjoyed the heavy workload.
“I loved it,” Tibbels said. “There’s nothing better than being on the field for every single down.”
Tibbels also loves winning, and that’s why he adapted so well to the Wing-T this season. He also played wide receiver as a freshman at Danbury, but the 6-foot, 185-pounder has been a QB since he started playing the game in flag football.
“I like the pressure that comes with playing quarterback,” Tibbels said. “I like just being able to work out of the pressure and make things happen.”
Before the season, Tibbels made his first trip to the Duel and he finished first at NFA’s international quarterback competition among incoming juniors.
“I had no clue,” Tibbels said of the Duel. “I didn’t know what to expect. But I was really happy because I was not expecting to go in there and win it. I was expecting to have a good experience and learn some things. When I won the Duel I was really happy and it made me feel more confident. But I understand that I can’t be overconfident. I still needed to work hard and do other things to get better. You can always get better.”
Tibbels hooked up with NFA a year ago and he said the training has helped make him a better quarterback.
“I like the throwing techniques that they taught me at the camps,” he said. “I would do most of the NFA drills, throw between the goal posts, under, I did that in my pregame. And I used the R4. We didn’t pass that much but I’d still use it.”
Grant Allen is still enjoying great success playing quarterback at Har-Ber High School in Springdale, Arkansas. But at this late stage of the season, the talented sophomore is making his mark with the varsity football team.
Opening the year as the starting JV quarterback, Allen helped his team go 7-1 before being elevated to the varsity.
“I was a little surprised at first,” he said of the promotion. “But at the same time, I was kind of expecting it because I had a really good season with the JV team and the coaches really liked what I was doing.”
The Har-Ber varsity coaches have to be thrilled with Allen’s performance in his first two games with the Wildcats. While sparking a pair of lopsided wins, Allen has completed 19 of 23 passes for 331 yards. The 6-foot, 170-pounder has also thrown 4 touchdown passes and has not been intercepted.
“I just have confidence in myself,” Allen said. “When the coach called my name, I’ve just tried to lead the team the best I could.”
He had the same mindset before being moved up to varsity. “Playing JV, I was fine with that because there were older guys ahead of me and they deserved to play varsity,” Allen said. “But as the season went on, I got a lot better and kept fighting and they finally called my name.”
Har-Ber is one of the best teams in Arkansas and with an 8-2 record, the Wildcats are highly ranked in the state’s largest school (7-A) division. With Allen now under center, they look to be even better.
“I’m just working hard and doing the best job I can,” Allen said. “It’s a lot different. Varsity is a lot faster and the decision making has to be a lot quicker. Everyone’s bigger. It’s different, but I’m having a lot of fun.”
Har-Ber is enjoying a first-round playoff bye, and Allen has only one goal when the Wildcats get back on the field in the second round. “Get to state and hopefully win,” he said.
Before he was tabbed to run Har-Ber’s offense, Allen was the Wildcats’ varsity punter. Playing quarterback is where he really wants to be.
“Just the leadership role, the decision making, those are things I really like to do,” Allen said.
Prior to the season, Allen received his first Duel invite and finished second among incoming sophomores at NFA’s international competition in Massillon, Ohio.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to expect at the Duel, but after finishing second it kind of propelled me into the season. I kept working hard and here I am now starting for the varsity.”
Allen started training with NFA in the eighth grade. “They’ve taught me a lot through all the drills and all the leadership teaching,” he said. “Knowing how to self correct, it’s really helped me a lot to improve as a quarterback.”
Wiley Cain has a knack for overcoming obstacles.
The first one came at the start of the season at Pulaski County High School in Somerset, Kentucky.
Only a sophomore, Cain was the Maroons’ starting varsity quarterback in the first game of the season. He had the challenging task of taking over for Riley Hall, a prolific high school performer who is now playing football at Georgetown College.
“Riley was definitely the best quarterback that ever played at our school, and he’s probably one of the best that ever played in the state,” Cain said. “I learned a lot from him.”
In Pulaski County’s first game of the season, Cain was hit in the third quarter and he suffered a broken collarbone. “I went to Alabama and had surgery,” Cain said. “It was six week of recovery.”
Injuries are part of football, and Cain understands that. But that didn’t make the recovery process any easier.
“It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve gone through,” he said. “I would stand there on the sidelines every week, and it got harder several weeks in because about three weeks into the recovery process, I didn’t have to wear my sling anymore. I could move my arm and felt pretty good but wasn’t able to play. It was really, really hard to stand there and watch as your team goes out there and plays without you when you feel like you can do it.”
Back in business
Cain was facing an obstacle, no doubt about it, but he was able to rise above it.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder is healthy now, returning to the Maroons’ huddle on Oct. 8. In his first game back, Cain passed for 218 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 60-31 win over Lincoln County High School.
“I felt pretty good the first game back,” he said. “The offensive line did a great job giving me time to throw and protecting me.”
Even after missing six weeks with the collarbone injury, Cain never missed a beat when it came to running the Pulaski County offense.
Not only has he been training with NFA for almost nine years, he comes from a respected football family. His father, Johnny Cain, was a standout high school quarterback who was recruited by Ivy League schools. He wound up accepting a golf scholarship from the University of Kentucy.
Wiley’s grandfather, John Cain, was a legendary football coach at Somerset High School and he guided his team to four state championship games.
“It’s great,” Wiley Cain said. “I grew up around football. I have pictures when I was around five years old wearing a little helmet with my dad coaching me. And my granddad always has those litle tidbits of advice. Sometimes, being a teenager, I might not pay as much attention as I should, but I try to listen to what both of them tell me. My dad and my granddad might be two of the smartest football minds I’ve ever met.”
An extended stretch of training with NFA has also helped Cain become a smart, talented young quarterback.
“NFA has helped me tremendously,” he said. “All of the mechanical problems that might come up, I know how to fix them now. Learning to read coverages has helped me a lot. And I jump right in with my coaches and I’m 10 steps ahead of where they think I am all the time because of the things I’ve learned from NFA.”
Attending his first Duel in July, Cain finished third among incoming 10th graders. “I was really surprised, but not because I didn’t think I could do it,” he said. “The first day there, I did not do very well. My dad said, ‘Go out tomorrow and do what you do.’ I went out and performed really well and I was really happy about it.”
Tristan Szabo is a talented young quarterback, there is no doubt about it.
The eighth grader from Sparks, Nevada, got his second invitation to the Duel in July and finished first among incoming eighth graders in NFA’s national competition.
“It was huge,” Szabo said of his Duel triumph. “You’re going against the best of the best there and to come out of it with a win, that was really good for me.”
Heading into his current season with the Spanish Springs Cougars in the Sierra Youth Football League, Szabo’s confidence was understandably high.
“Knowing you just won this national competition and then going into your season, it’s like, wow,” he said. “I got to show what I can do and that was really big for my confidence.”
Through no fault of his own, Szabo didn’t get a great chance to show his talent in the Cougars’ first six games of the season. They won them all while outscoring the opposition by a staggering 315-41.
The SYFL mercy rule dicates that offensive starters have to come off the field in blowouts, so Szabo averaged less than two quarters of play at QB in his team’s first six games.
“It’s been super frustrating,” he said. “When you get taken out, you’re not allowed to play any other offensive position. But I’ve been really happy with the way the team’s been playing. Our team goal is to make it to Las Vegas and win state.”
With Szabo under center, that goal has a very good chance of becoming reality. In their seventh game of the season, the Cougars dropped a tough 30-27 decision, but Szabo delivered an impressive performance with 3 touchdown passes and another rushing TD. For the season, he’s connected on 31 of 52 passes and thrown 14 touchdowns while rushing for 427 yards and 6 scores.
“I’m super happy,” Szabo said. “I feel like I’m accomplishing what my coaches need from me and I believe I’m doing what everybody said I couldn’t.”
When he has been on the field, Szabo has thrived in Spanish Springs’ shotgun offense. “I think it’s the best offense to be in,” he said. “Honestly, you get to choose what you want to do. I always have a release route, but I like to tuck it because I like to run the football.”
When his QB play was limited during the Cougar’s first six games, Szabo was allowed to play defense and he made a big impact in the secondary with 3 interceptions. “Being a quarterback playing cornerback or safety, you can tell what the other offense is going to do because you know what your receivers are going to do,” he said. “And it’s easier to read the other quarterback’s eyes and get a good break on the ball.”
Szabo is a standout defender, but he is much more at home on the other side of the ball at quarterback. “I’ve been playing quarterback my whole career, since I was seven years old,” the 13-year-old QB said. “I love getting the chance to run the team. You’re telling everybody else what to do, but you have to be on the same page with your coaches and decide what to do. You’re the leader of the team and you have a lot of responsibility. That motivates me.”
Training with NFA the last three years has helped Szabo become one of the top eighth grade quarterbacks in the nation. “NFA has really helped me with my arm, my throwing motion,” he said. “I used to kind of throw the football like a baseball. They’ve also helped me with my overall mechanics, looking off the safety, recognizing coverages. They’ve helped me more than I can explain.”
Michael Kern is on a serious roll. No matter what time of the year it is, he always seems to be having success as a quarterback.
In July, Kern was back at the Duel and he finished first among incoming sophomores. He has now finished first in his age group three straight years at NFA’s premier competition.
“On one end, you go into it having some confidence, ‘OK I know I can do this from past experience,’” Kern said. “On the other hand, I have to try to do the best I can to do that again. You know the guys coming in are great quarterbacks that have great arms and great minds. It’s quite a competition, and wanting to keep the streak going can give you some nerves heading into it.”
As usual, Kern proved to be a steady hand at the Duel, and he came out on top. But while he is as intense of a competitor as you’ll find, winning the Duel wasn’t Kern’s one and only goal.
“Just being able to go up there to the Duel and compete with everyone, it’s such a great experience that I look forward to,” Kern said. “Being able to win it, that obviously can enhance the enjoyment. But being able to go out there with the guys and see them all throw and build relationships there, it’s really fun. Win or lose, it’s just a fun competition that I look forward to every year. It’s a good time.”
Heading into his fall football season at Lake Nona High School in Orlando, Fla., the 16-year-old QB continues having spectacular success. While helping the Lions roll out to a 3-0 start, Kern has completed 74 of 113 passes (65 percent) for 1,116 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception and has also rushed for a TD.
“I’m really excited being with all the guys I’m out there playing with,” Kern said. “The whole goal for us is to prepare for varsity and be ready. The stats are fun to count and look back at, but every rep, I’m kind of taking it as preparing myself for varsity, when it really matters. The guys I’m out there with, I keep relaying that message to them and they’re really getting it. The guys I’m growing up with and I’m going to be with on varsity, we’re building that connection now. We’re all just getting that mindset of we’re getting ready to go to the big show, let’s be ready. So every rep, we kind of have that mentality rather than, ‘Let’s try to do good for ourselves.’ We’re trying to get that team mentality and get ready to win some ballgames up on the varsity level.”
With the upbeat Kern in the program, the Lake Nona varsity football team has an extremely bright future. The 6-foot, 150-pounder got an early feel for what’s to come when he played in a varsity scrimmage before the season.
“Just to get in, I was very excited,” Kern said. “It’s kind of funny, I only got in for two drives but just being able to be in the game and see the change of pace, it was awesome. I was so excited when they told me I was going in. There were nerves, but at the same time I was very excited to see how it is, how it goes. I think it was good to get a lot of the jitters out. Going into next year, I should be ready just because I had a taste of it.”
Jake Dilcher is back on the football field this season and in a word, he’s thrilled.
As the varsity quarterback at Kennett High School in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, last year, Dilcher started the first two games of the season as a sophomore before suffering a broken foot that knocked him out the rest of the year.
Now a junior, he is back guiding the Blue Demons’ offense. “I was very anxious to return,” Dilcher said. “It was almost like I missed the entire season last year because the injury happened so early. With the amount of time needed to recover, I couldn’t make it back in time. I really missed playing.”
Dilcher’s broken foot did heal, and he was able to start preparing for the current season last Christmas.
While admitting he felt a little rusty early this season, Dilcher is off to a fabulous start as a junior. “I’m pretty happy,” he said. “There are a lot of things you can always improve on. There have been some ill-advised throws, some bad decisions. But nothing is ever perfect, so I’ve been pretty satisfied overall.”
Kennett High School is off to a 3-2 start, and Dilcher has completed 63 of 111 passes for 1,006 yards and 8 touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 165-pounder had also rushed for 221 yards and another score.
“It’s been pretty good, but you can always get better,” Dilcher said. “I’ve been working on staying in the pocket more. Don’t get out of the pocket so quick. Just try to move in the pocket instead of getting out and trying to just run.”
Dilcher has been very effective running the Blue Demons’ offense so far, and that’s a big reason why they have a winning record. The school has never made it to the playoffs.
“Last year, we went 2-8 for the season, so this year’s already been a whole lot better,” Dilcher said. “I think coming into the season, out expectations were higher. We’re a year older, the line is older as well. Almost all of the guys on the line are juniors and seniors. Also, they reclassified schools in Pennsylvania and we’re 5-A this season. It’s a division lower than where we were, based on enrollment, so it could be easier to make the playoffs. A 6-4 record might make the playoffs, and that’s what we’re hoping to accomplish as a team.”
Thanks to Dilcher’s solid early showing, Kennett H.S. is definitely playing like a team that has serious playoff ambitions.
Over the summer, Dilcher appeared in his third Duel and placed second among incoming juniors at NFA’s popular competition. “It really boosted my confidence,” he said. “Those are some really good quarterbacks from all over the country that go to the Duel. Going there and finishing second among the 25 or so quarterbacks in your grade, it definitely shows something.”
Dilcher has been training with NFA the last five years and says that’s a big reason why he’s been able to improve as a quarterback. “I started with NFA in middle school,” Dilcher said. “Right from the jump, they were helping me with straight-up mechanics and everything like that. I just kept increasing my arm strength with those same mechanics. NFA helped me become what I am right now.”
Kristoff Kowalkowski continues to thrive on daunting challenges. In the classroom, he is a standout student and while he should be enrolled in seventh grade based on his age, Kowalkowski takes high school honors classes and is fluent in Chinese. On the football field, he is playing at the high school level for Apollo in St. Cloud, Minn. “I’ve really had to adjust my game speed and I have to recognize that these kids are physically and a little mentally stronger than me,” Kowalkowski said. “I have to adjust myself and it’s been kind of tough at times, but it’s a lot of fun.” Over the summer, the varsity coaches at Apollo High School brought in Kowalkowski and asked him to take a big step up in competitive class. Naturally, the 5-foot-11, 165-pounder accepted the challenge and participated with the Eagles’ varsity players on the field and in the weight-room, where he was up at 6 a.m. every day getting stronger. “It’s been a great challenge,” Kowalkowski said. “It’s been hard at times, but there was no doubt in my mind that I could do it. I’m ready for it.”
Meeting the challenge
While he is the backup varsity QB at Apollo, Kowalkowski is starting under center for the Eagles’ JV team. Not suprisingly, he’s doing very well. Through three games, Kowalkowski has helped Apollo go 2-1 while throwing for over 200 yards a game with 6 total touchdowns. “With our offense, we run a lot of spread and I really like it,” he said. “It’s fun. My goals are to continue on with my throwing, concentrate on throwing the ball well. A big goal is moving the chains and winning games.” Since he is competing against players that are older, bigger and stronger, Kowalkowski is not going to rest on the early success he’s having as the starting JV quarterback. That’s not part of his makeup. “I’m trying to get better with my footwork and get to a point where I’m consistently able to release the ball quicker,” he said. “These kids are coming in a lot faster than I’m used to, so I’ve had to adjust my mechanics and become faster. I’m really happy with how we’re playing as a team, but I’m working hard to improve every game.”
Another Duel win
Kowalkowski is playing way up in class this season, but he came in with an added dose of confidence after winning the Duel this summer among incoming seventh graders. It was the second time he’s won NFA’s showcase event in three years. “Winning the Duel gave me a lot of confidence,” Kowalkowski said. “It tells me that I’m good at what I do.” Kowalkowski has also benefited from training with NFA the past five years. “They’ve helped me so much with my mechanics, with everything you need to be a better quarterback,” he said. “I’m able to take what I learn from NFA and use it in my games.” While he still a very young player performing at arguably the most challenging position in sports, Kowalkowski has already attracted national attention by winning a pair of Duels. He is also high on the QBHitList’s Class of 2021 quarterbacks to watch.
Aaron Swafford didn’t know he was going to be starting at quarterback for Meigs County High School this season until the week of the first varsity game. When he did get the nod, the freshman was well prepared. Less than two months earlier, Swafford competed in his third Duel and finished first among incoming high school freshmen. “I mean, you’ve got some of the best quarterbacks in the country that go to the Duel,” Swafford said of NFA’s showcase event. “To go up there and win it, that really satisfies you as a competitor and it really helps you think that you can hang with the best.” Not only is Swafford starting at QB for Meigs County, which is located in Decatur, Tenn., he is thriving. “Winning the job the the week of our first game, it felt really good and it boosted my confidence a lot,” Swafford said. “I was playing middle school football at this time last year, so it’s much better competition at this level. You’ve just got to prepare for it a lot more.” With Swafford under center, the Tigers are off to a 3-1 start. Their lone loss was against Marion County High School, which was ranked No. 2 in Tennessee last year. “I didn’t play too well in that game,” Swafford said.
No apologies necessary. Swafford is playing a challenging position at an advanced level, and he’ll only get better. That was quite evident after the loss to Marion County. Facing unbeaten Silverdale, Swafford threw touchdown passes on each of Meigs County’s first three possessions of the game. He ran for two more scores in the third quarter to spark a 32-19 win. Needless to say, Swafford has been accepted very well by his older varsity teammates. “At first, I think they were kind of sketchy,” Swafford said. “But as soon as we got on the field I’m sure they just wanted what was best for the team, and they saw we were playing good with me playing quarterback. I think they’ve been fine with it.”
Standing almost 6 feet tall and weighing 170 pounds, Swafford has been playing QB since he was 8 years old. “I like quarterback because you’re in control of the game and you’re a leader at that position,” he said. “Everyone looks up to you and you’re the one everybody needs to make plays.” If he keeps making plays at quarterback, Swafford is likely to achieve his primary goal as the Tigers’ varsity starter. “I want to make it pretty far into the playoffs,” he said. “Last year, this team didn’t make the playoffs. I’m looking to turn that around and go deep.” Training with NFA the past three years can only help Swafford reach that goal. “They’ve helped me a lot with my mechanics and a lot with becoming a leader on the field and how my personal standpoint is on and off the field,” he said. In addition to playing QB as a freshman, Swafford also starts at safety for Meigs County. He was one of the top tacklers while tying for the team lead in interceptions through the first four games. “Playing quarterback definitely helps me play safety,” Swafford said. “I can get in the other quarterback’s heads and read their eyes a lot of times. That helps me know what they’re going to do.”
It’s not easy standing out when playing in The Woodlands High School football program. In a word, it is massive.
In addition to the varsity, there are two junior varsity teams, two sophomore teams and three freshman teams. The Highlanders also have six teams each at the seventh and eighth grade levels.
Needless to say, it can be easy getting caught up in the dreaded numbers game. But Ben Mills is already standing above the crowd at the Houston-area school.
Mills, a 6-foot, 180-pounder, is playing quarterback for The Woodlands’ top freshman team and he’s off to a fabulous start this season.
“I’m pretty happy with our season so far,” Mills said. “We’ve got a really good offensive line, so that’s really helped.”
With Mills sharing time at quarterback, the Highlanders are 3-1 and have outscored their opponents 95-25. The highlight win was a 26-0 decision over Katy, the 2015 varsity national champions.
Mills passed for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns against Katy and also rushed for 74 yards on only 6 carries. On the season, he’s completed 16 of 47 passes for 294 yards and 3 touchdowns and run 14 times for 115 yards and another score.
“Playing at the high school level, it’s tougher than I thought it would be,” Mills said. “The schools we play against are a lot bigger and there’s just better competition. But it’s been great so far, a lot of fun. My goals going into the season were to get playing time, get better and continue to work on improving my timing with the receivers.”
So far, so good. And Mills is also one of only four freshman football players at The Woodlands that travel with the varsity team. He doesn’t dress with the varsity, but the experience has been invaluable.
“It definitely is inspiring,” Mills said. “Being around the varsity, it shows how much better you need to get, how much work you need put in. And it shows you how much faster the game is.”
To prepare for the next step up in Texas’ fifth-largest high school by enrollment, Mills has been training with NFA the last two years. NFA Coach Aaron Cupp’s guidance has been particulary valuable.
“Working with NFA, they’ve helped me throw the football with more power and they’ve helped me learn the aspects of what you need to be as a quarterback,” Mills said.
In the summer, Mills received an invite to his first Duel, and he overcame a slow start and finished in the Top 5 among incoming ninth graders at NFA’s showcase event.
“I talked to Coach Cupp before the Duel and I looked at it as a big challenge because I had never gone before,” Mills said. “It was pretty much what I expected, a really good competition. The first day, I struggled with some accuracy stuff and then I was able to go back to the hotel and look at film and see what I was doing wrong. I was able to fix it and that showed that I can look at what I did wrong on film and make the adjustments.”
Faring so well at the Duel has helped Mills’ performance as a freshman QB. “It definitely helped my confidence a lot,” he said. “It showed I can definitely fit in playing quarterback at my school.”