When July rolls around, talented young quarterbacks from all over the country converge on Massillon, Ohio, to compete in the Duel, NFA’s premier event.
QBs come from the West Coast. The East Coast. They come from the South and Southwest. From the Midwest.
This summer, Xavier Tremblay traveled from Canada to the Duel. It was a very productive trip.
“The Duel was an unforgettable experience for me in terms of development, technique and execution, as well as in terms of culture,” Tremblay said. “I was so impressed by everyone’s love for the sport of football.”
Football over hockey
Tremblay is a freshman at Les Loups de Curé-Antoine Labelle in Laval, Québec, which is located just outside of Montreal. He is right in the middle of hockey country, but he has always preferred playing football.
“I never played hockey,” Tremblay said. “I love playing football because it’s a team sport and it has the feeling of being a family.”
Not only does he love playing football, the sport helped Tremblay become a better student in school.
“I began playing football at the age of seven,” he said. “Having attention troubles that made school difficult, football became my escape. I felt accomplished and as though I was truly performing as I relied on my athletic abilities. As it would be, my results at school also greatly improved. This season will mark my sixth year of playing this amazing sport, every season having been at the quarterback position. I love being a QB, it is a challenge for me every time I step onto the field.”
Tremblay has already established himself as a Canadian quarterback to keep a very close eye on.
“I was honored to receive, in Grade 7, the MVP award and in Grade 8, the Offensive Player of the Year award,” he said. “My objective this season, in Grade 9, is to bring home the championship, the Bol d’or. Every year, we’ve reached the final rounds of the competition. This year, our goal is to win it all.”
Tremblay entered his freshman season at Les Loups de Curé-Antoine Labelle with plenty of confidence after finishing third at the Duel.
“I was extremely happy,” he said. “I was pleasantly surprised by the scores I obtained at the Duel since it was my first competition of this sort. I did not expect to come in first in my category nor third at the final. My results have only motivated me to be even better at the next Duel.”
Before competing in the Duel, Tremblay attended his first NFA camp in Montreal that was headed by JC Boice.
“NFA is very intense about football and that is something that has really helped me,” Tremblay said. “I am very happy with my ability to read defenses, and I love having the football in my hands. I’m working on my mobility and my patience when I have the ball, and I am working to improve my overall technique.”
Nik Scalzo a ‘next-level talent’
Nik Scalzo is only 14 years old, but he has a long history at quarterback.
“I started playing quarterback when I was 5 years old, in flag football,” Scalzo said. “I’m still playing, and it’s always been the position I’ve wanted to play. I just like commanding the offense and being the leader of the team.”
Scalzo also like likes to compete and be successful, and he has certainly been achieving those goals.
As a seventh grader last year for Coconut Creek, Scalzo wasn’t overly thrilled with the Eagles’ 5-6 record during the regular season. “Even though a lot of things happened during the regular season that weren’t so good, we all came together in the playoffs and beat an undefeated team,” he said.
Coconut Creek lost in the second round of the playoffs and finished with a 6-7 overall record, but Scalzo had a phenomenal season. The 5-foot-8, 145-pounder threw for over 2,000 yards and had 32 touchdown passes and only 6 interceptions.
When the Eagles’ season ended, Scalzo was far from finished.
He was the QB for South Florida in the FBU national tournament, and Scalzo led his team to state wins over Central Florida (41-6) and Southwest Florida (32-0).
After that, it was on to regional play in Buford, Ga., and Scalzo and South Florida kept on rolling with a 42-0 win over South Charlotte and a a 35-6 thumping of Georgia.
Advancing to nationals, South Florida beat Indiana 33-0 and followed up with a convincing 41-6 win over Iowa at the Alamodome in San Antonio to claim the championship.
In the six FBU games, Scalzo passed for 1,200 yards and 17 TDs while throwing just 1 interception. Along with running backs Nayquan Wright and James Cook, he was named Most Valuable Player.
It was quite an experience for Scalzo, but his season still wasn’t done.
Last month, Scalzo led his IMG 7v7 team to a national championship and he was again named MVP.
“Playing 7 on 7, it helps a lot as a quarterback because coming from tackle, you just have to make your reads,” Scalzo said. “It’s harder in tackle because you don’t have the time; you don’t have 4 seconds on every play. In 7 on 7, it gives you a lot of reps and it helps you get your timing down.”
Scalzo is already making a name for himself at quarterback, and training with NFA and Coach Darin Slack the past four years has helped his development. “Coach Slack helped me develop all of my technique and my footwork,” Scalzo said.
Looking back on all of Scalzo’s accomplishments this past season, Slack seems even bigger things ahead.
“Nik has next-level talent that will take him very far in this game,” Slack said. “His competitiveness, character and athleticism will make him a very valuable catch for any school or college that gets him. I’ve watched Nik’s growth for the past few years as a young man and a player.
“He continues to demonstrate that he is able to handle the pressure of increased opportunities and bigger showcase stages. While he is a quarterback that possesses great skill and decision-making discipline, more importantly, he is calm under fire.”
Multi-sport and incredibly talented student-athlete is looking to reach the same pinnacle as a quarterback as he has in a sport that doesn’t always come to mind
Airing it Out
When we first heard about Jadon Brisendine of Vanden (Fairfield, Calif.) the thought was the title of the story should be “Airing it Out.”
Vanden finished 8-4 and made it to the California Interscholastic Federation Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs second round before losing in a 62-42 slugfest to Sacramento Inderkum. Brisendine aired it out for 301 yards and four scores in the loss.
Not only does this 6-2, 180-pound incoming senior play a pretty mean quarterback, Brisendine also punts, kicks off and kicks conversions, and sometimes even kicks field goals.
Also, Jadon does it at a school where a high percentage of the students come from nearby Travis Air Force Base, where his father is an officer in the Air Force and where Brisendine and his family live.
Obviously “Airing it Out” would have been a very appropriate title for Jadon’s story, however you’ll understand the switch after his other accomplishments are unveiled.
From deployment to the dojo
When Captain Frank Brisendine returned in 2003 from deployment in Saudi Arabia, where he served evacuating critically injured soldiers by air transport, he told Jadon that if the then six-year old stayed enrolled in the beginner karate class at a local dojo run by a military member, he would join and they would get their black belts together. A pact was made.
Jadon excelled at a record pace and won Grand Champion in his first tournament. After five years at the very strict school the father/son duo underwent a grueling eight-hour black belt testing session consisting of a 5K run at 5 a.m. followed by drills, questioning and self defense against a senior black belt panel ranging from 2nd degree to a 5th degree master.
In the final match father and son fought side by side and although Jadon was totally spent and bleeding from the nostrils, the duo completed the pact they had made four years earlier. They had achieved what only around three percent of martial artists ever achieve. They earned a first degree black belt in Shotokan karate.
At the time Jadon was 10-years old and the youngest student to ever earn a black belt from that dojo.
Track and swimming too!
Besides football and karate, Jadon is a member of the Vanden 4 x 100 team that has run a 42.75 top mark. The quartet recently qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet and looked possibly headed to the State Track Meet, but a dropped baton on the final leg of the qualifier squashed those hopes and dreams.
He doesn’t swim competitively but Jadon is an excellent swimmer, something you’ll read about him needing in his career plans.
Started as a linemen
“I started playing football when I was six but I played lineman until the seventh-grade. That’s when the coaches realized I had an arm,” the younger Brisendine told NFA Nation
NFA and The Range
The Brisendine family arrived at Travis in 2010 from Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, and Jadon met Tom Koss through his son Tyler.
Koss, a 1986 Air Force Academy D1 quarterback recruit that retired from Air Force active duty in 2010, wanted to get into coaching and helping quarterbacks.
“I was looking at numerous QB schools/academies. The overall package of NFA was the choice for me based on the instruction, commitment to developing not only great players but also great young men, and the overall integrity of (NFA Founder and President) Darin Slack and the academy’s staff,” Koss remarked.
“Coach Koss did all the research and found the NFA,” Jadon remarked.
By 2012 Koss was working with Jadon, had become an NFA certified coach, and also joined the Vanden staff as the strength and conditioning and quarterbacks coach.
That was also when Jadon was introduced to the NFA and Director of Player Development Will Hewlett.
Since then Brisendine has attended three NFA camps in Northern California and has had several private lessons with Hewlett at The Range in Livermore, Calif.
“Brisendine had a great season prior to us working together,” Hewlett remarked. “What we focused on was making his throw more fluid and getting his legs and core more involved. Saw a good increase in velocity and more consistency. Definitely some good improvements.”
“The thing I like most about NFA is their attention to detail. That’s how I was raised,” Jadon said and then continued. “When you get the small things correct the big picture really improves. Since beginning with NFA my throws have improved a great deal and my ability to read defenses has become a lot clearer.”
Besides Captain Frank, who played football and basketball in high school in Illinois, there’s Jadon’s mother Jenn Brisendine. She ran track in high school and served four years in the Air Force before attending San Antonio College. Now, Jenn is raising Jadon and his 12-year old brother Brylon Brisendine.
Just like his big brother, Brylon is a multi-sport athlete and excels in basketball, football, soccer and track.
This year’s goals
Not only did Vanden make it to the second round of the playoffs last season, the Vikings only lost one game in league to finish second in the Solano County Athletic Conference to new arch rival American Canyon.
“We ran out of time last year,” said Jadon of the 44-36 loss to American Canyon. “My thoughts are to come back and not only beat them, but destroy them. We’re eager to get back at them.”
“Overall, this year’s goal is to get back in the playoffs and not just go further than last year but win the championship.”
Jadon’s favorite player
“Tom Brady and not just because he’s so good and everybody else likes him. It’s because he was an underdog and underrated and went out and tore it up.”
There has been some Ivy League interest in Jadon, and he has interest in the University of San Diego, and possibly the Merchant Marine Academy, but not the Naval Academy, which is surprising until you hear his reasoning.
In the Navy – and guess what he wants to be
Jadon is a kid that does it all and knows where he wants to go and what he wants to do.
“When you go to the Naval Academy you come out an officer and I want to enlist in the Navy,” said the 3.5 GPA student-athlete who tells NFA Nation his favorite subject is math.”
But why, with his martial arts training, athletic prowess, and swimming proficiency, would he not consider going to Navy and becoming a Navy Seal.
“That’s exactly the plan,” said Jadon matter-of-factly and with a slight chuckle. “That’s why I’m looking at University of San Diego where Coach Hewlett thinks it would be a good fit. I want to enlist and become a Seal and they train in San Diego.”
The Right Stuff was a 1983 movie about the Air Force, Navy and Marines finest pilots.
Jadon Brisendine might not want to be a pilot, but he looks like he will be airing it out as a quarterback at the next level somewhere – and it certainly appears he has the right stuff to serve his country as a Navy Seal.
Mitch Guadagni commits to Toledo
The college offers keep pouring in for NFA trained quarterbacks. Mitch Guadagni is the latest to accept, and the senior to be at Hudson High School in Ohio will be playing his college football at Toledo.
On May 6, the 6-foot-2 1/2, 190-pounder verbally committed to play for the Rockets, a powerhouse program in the Mid-American Conference. Toledo has played in bowl games three of the past four seasons.
“I just had a good feel for them,” Guadagni said. “I visited there three or four times and I really got a good feel for the university. I really felt like I’d be happy there if I played there for four years. It was a great recruit for me. I got close to a lot of the players and the coaches and stayed in contact really well. I really felt like it was the best fit for me.”
Guadagni, who has passed for over 4,000 yards and nearly 50 touchdowns in his first two seasons as Hudson’s quarterback, has been training with NFA since he was in seventh grade. He is one of many Class of 2015 quarterbacks with an NFA background – joining other stalwarts like Jauan Jennings, Tommy Stevens, Matt Jimison, Matt Williams, Quinten Dormady and Alex Hornibrook.
Guadagni could have waited on potential Big Ten offers from Michigan State, Northwestern and Indiana, and he also had offers from Buffalo, Western Michigan, Kent State, Akron and James Madison.
When it came down to it, the dangerous dual threat QB knew where he wanted to go all along.
“I thought about waiting, but I just felt Toledo was the best fit for me and I wouldn’t really want to go anywhere else,” Guadagni said.
Is making the decision a relief?
“Yeah, just knowing that I don’t have to keep going and throwing for a bunch of coaches, and knowing I can now settle down and focus on this upcoming season, which is the ultimate goal. It’s a big thing,” Guadagni said. “And it’s nice because now I get to relax a little bit.”
The MAC has become an increasingly competitive league loaded with NFL-caliber players. In this year’s draft, Buffalo linebacker Kahlil Mack was the No. 5 overall pick. In 2013, Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher was the No. 1 overall pick.
“I’m very excited,” said Guadagni, whose father Mark played college football at Michigan. “There is great competition all around, great schools in the MAC. Hopefully we get a title, but there definitely is a lot of great competition. I’m very excited.”
Guadagni can exhale now that he has committed to Toledo. And he has some advice for other talented young quarterbacks when it comes to being recruited.
“Just really try to weigh all your options,” Guadagni said. “Get a list of the Top 3 schools you want to play at and don’t really worry about other schools coming in if they’re not in your Top 3. Really focus on the schools you really want to go to and write out pros and cons of different schools and try to get a great feel for what’s going and what’s going to happen in the future.”
Quinten Dormady back in a big way
There’s an old saying in sports – you don’t lose your starting job to an injury.
As Quinten Dormady is showing, you don’t lose your status to an injury, either.
This is a story that has two sides, and the first one is not pleasant. But the ending is decidedly upbeat.
As a sophomore at Boerne High School, located outside San Antonio, Texas, Dormady made an instant impact as the Greyhounds’ quarterback. He completed 228 of 372 passes for 3,010 yards and 27 touchdowns and was voted District 27 Offensive Player of the Year.
Primed for an even more impressive junior season in 2013, Dormady was playing varsity baseball for Boerne near the end of his sophomore year when he dove back into second base.
Just like that, his prized right throwing shoulder was severely injured. “I knew pretty much right off the bat something was wrong, but we didn’t know how bad it really was,” Dormady said. “There was a little bit of time there where there was a little bit of hope I could rehab it and be OK. Once I found out I needed to have surgery and I was going to miss the football season, that was the hardest part. We were going to pretty good last season, so that made it tough.”
Dormady injured his shoulder in a May 31 playoff baseball game. A week later, he was in Florida, where the renowned Dr. James Andrews repaired the damaged labrum.
The injury wiped out his junior football season, but that didn’t mean Dormady stayed away from the sport he loves.
“Once I got hurt, I kind of turned into a coach,” said Dormady, whose father Mike is Boerne’s head football coach. “I didn’t really have a backup. My sophomore year, we had a senior that played quarterback if I went down, but he didn’t take many practice reps. Going into my junior year, I was kind of the guy, you know, so once I got hurt I turned into a coach and had to get one my good friends in my grade (David Snelling) to play that role, play quarterback. We trained every day during the summer, 7-on-7, that kind of stuff to try to get him ready.”
Big-time athletes can handle a serious injury in one of two ways. They can sulk and stay down or they can pick themselves up and stay a part of the team.
Dormady – who has been training with NFA since middle school – obviously positioned himself in the latter camp, and that speaks volumes of his character.
But while he was helping the Greyhounds from the sidelines, Dormady was also working hard to come back from the shoulder injury.
“The day after the surgery, they were moving my arm so I didn’t build up scar tissue,” Dormady said. “For a month after that, my arm was in a sling and I was doing nothing. The biggest thing I could do was ride a stationary bike. A couple weeks after I was out of the sling I started jogging and doing footwork stuff. So a month and a half out from surgery, I was doing football stuff, not throwing, but working on my footwork.”
The Greyhounds were not able to overcome the loss of their standout starting quarterback last season. Had they been able to make the playoffs, Dormady was hoping to be back under center. “I started throwing the football again about halfway through the season,” he said. “So that was about three and a half months after surgery. That’s two weeks earlier than most people, so I was really moving fast as far as the rehab went. It went really good.”
This is where the story starts taking a positive turn for the 6-foot-4, 210-pound quarterback.
Not only is Dormady’s torn labrum completely healed, being away for his whole junior football season has reinforced the passion he has for a sport he’s been playing since his childhood. “It put things into a new perspective, for sure,” Dormady said. “Going into this year, I mean it was hard, my junior season. There were times where it was, ‘Man, this is just rough.’ But right now, now that I’m back and I’m not just standing there not being able to do anything, I can actually throw and all that stuff, I am definitely ready for this season. Being hurt, it really makes you think about what you’ve been given and the gifts you’ve been given, and that they can be taken away in a split second like it was for me. It definitely makes you look forward to each day and take it day by day and not be complacent.”
Playing college football has long been a dream for the tall Texan, but missing his key junior season surely makes that impossible, right? Wrong.
As we mentioned at the top of the story, Dormady’s shoulder injury has not had a negative impact on his status for playing at the next level. Injuries, even major ones, can only slow big-time talents like Dormady. Now that he is back up and running, Dormady is attracting widespread college attention.
Houston is the first school to offer. “I visited (in late March) and watched their practice,” Dormady said. “I kind of clicked with their coaches right away. They wanted to come (to Boerne H.S.) the first day they could, April 15, and watch me. It was pretty much a certainty they were going to offer me then. But I got a direct message two days after I was there and they offered me because they just felt like I fit.”
Is Dormady also a fit at schools like Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Penn State and TCU? “I just kind of want to wait it out until the end of the spring, most likely,” he said. “Wait and see what happens there as far as more offers and who knows what else. There are a couple of schools that I like and I feel good about with their coaches and everything. So I just want to wait it out and see. Hopefully, I’ll know where I’m going before my senior season.”
There were probably times early in the rehab process where Dormady didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s just human nature. Not only has he come barreling out on the other side, Dormady is fired up for his final year of high school football and moving on to the next level.
“Right now, I’m really excited, even with starting 7-on-7 and competing with the guys again,” Dormady said. “I’m looking forward to getting into the fall here and then I’m graduating early, hopefully. That’s my plan, and then get there and start living what my dream’s always been and set new goals.”
Farm town quarterback making big noise in the Big Valley
Although he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the southern portion of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Sac-Joaquin Section, it hasn’t been hard for Jonathan O’Brien of Hilmar (Calif.) to be flying under the radar.
Since nearby Castle Air Force Base in Atwater was decommissioned in 1995 and turned into the Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center, they don’t really use radar there any longer for takeoffs and landings.
Besides that, not many folks know about the tiny agricultural town five miles south of Turlock.
None of that matters to O’Brien or his ability to sling a football. He just keeps on launching.
No drought on the football field
The lack of rain has really affected farmers in the California Central Valley, including Jonathan’s family that has been farming the same farm in Hilmar since 1902 after arriving from Sweden.
The almonds, alfalfa and corn they grow have been hit hard by the drought.
While there has been a drought rain-wise in the Big Valley, on the football field in Hilmar it’s been raining footballs.
Last season in leading the Yellowjackets to a 13-1 record, and the most wins in school history, O’Brien had excellent numbers despite the offense having a lot of players that could run the ball and Jonathan getting pulled early in several blowouts. By most accounts he had the greatest season in school history.
Jonathan finished with 2,110 yards on a school-record 143-of-224 passing, a school-record 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions for a school-record 128 QB rating. The 6-foot, 190-pound junior also led the bevy of running backs in yards and TDs with 506 yards and nine scores.
Along the way O’Brien got the team within a game of playing for a CIF Division IV Northern Regional Bowl Game title when the team lost 24-10 to eventual state champion Central Catholic of Modesto in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title game.
For his efforts Jonathan was named the Trans Valley League Offensive MVP and the Merced Star First Team Quarterback.
Introduction to Will Hewlett
There aren’t a lot of top-notch quarterback coaches in the Central Valley portion of California, and Jonathan’s mother Chris O’Brien had taken him on a 250-mile round trip to one San Francisco Bay Area QB coach but the two didn’t click.
In January, one of the Hilmar assistants suggested they consider checking out NFA Director of Player Development Will Hewlett and his The Range facility in Livermore.
The local coaching community was aware that Hewlett was working with Hunter Petlansky, the sophomore quarterback of the Central Catholic team that knocked Hilmar out of the playoffs this season.
For the last nine weeks since the introduction was made in January, Chris has brought Jonathan to The Range on what is now a 150-mile round trip.
“If Will was closer by I’d like to go to him every day,” Jonathan joked. “With his changes in my mechanics I’m definitely seeing improvement in the way I can throw the ball – and my grip is better.
“It’s too soon to say because I haven’t used what he’s taught me in competition, but what he’s done is give me the confidence that with improving my mechanics I’ll be the best quarterback I can be – and I can get to the next level.”
Despite the short time together, Hewlett likes what he sees.
“Jonathan has displayed one of the smoothest and accurate releases I’ve seen in a while. His improvement has been in his footwork and adding velocity to his current throw. With his athletic ability, O’Brien has a college career ahead of him.”
O’Brien’s follow through is going to look different after working with NFA Director of Player Development Will Hewlett
Chris has seen things as well from the way Hewlett interacts with her son.
“He’s so positive with the kids. Jonathan always comes away with good feelings.”
Remember, Castle Air Force Base doesn’t have radar any longer, and Jonathan is out in the middle of the Central Valley, and although he attended a Rivals camp he hasn’t gotten a lot of exposure.
Not only is Hewlett whipping him into shape by improving his mechanics, he’s putting O’Brien on the radar screen.
“Will has really given me exposure to camps and meeting the right people. I know he’s working on getting me into the Elite 11 Camp and I’m really hoping it can happen.”
His brother a mentor
Jonathan’s brother, Wesley O’Brien, played on the 2008 Hilmar team that beat Central Catholic for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship, and was considered for the D4 CIF State Bowl game but not selected. He went on to play at UC Davis.
Rich history at Hilmar leads to lofty goals
Hilmar has won six CIF Sac-Joaquin Section titles, and besides the 2008 team Wesley played on the 2011 team upset defending CIF Division III State Bowl champion Escalon, so goal setting is easy for O’Brien.
“Definitely win another league championship, go for the section title, and if we can do that and then get to state, absolutely, that would be a dream to be part of.”
This spring and summer and NFA
O’Brien’s introduction to Hewlett also meant an introduction to NFA, and both Jonathan and his mother are ready.
“We’re letting Will guide us through the camps process and I like what I see about NFA. We’re still learning, but I trust Will,” Chris remarked. “When you trust him with your kid’s future you have to rely on that relationship.”
“If he says jump I’ll say how high?” said Jonathan.
Can O’Brien jump high enough to register on radar? We’ll see.
Dual threat O’Brien jumping around to escape trouble.
Backup to top QB in Wisconsin gets a start he only dreamed of, and a trip to the West Coast in April he really anticipates
When you’re the backup to the Wisconsin Gatorade State Player of the Year, the only playing time sophomore quarterback Zach Simons of Xavier (Appleton, Wisconsin) usually got was in mop-up’s of blowouts, and with as good as the Hawks were, it was pretty ample.
That all changed when star starter Matt Ferris injured his back in a 30-20 Wisconsin State Division 3 quarterfinal victory over Seymour. The win meant Xavier qualified for the D3 Final Four.
With Ferris deemed out for the semifinal start, the coaches pulled Simons aside after the Sunday weight training session and broke the news. Zach was starting in the semifinals against Greendale.
“I got a rush of adrenalin,” Zach told NFA Nation. “I always wanted to start. I was excited.”
And was there pressure on Simons?
“I tried to go out there like any other game and do my job – and try and come up with a win,” said the 6-foot, 190-pound Simons, who also started every game at outside linebacker and was named All Conference at that position.
Zach was 7-for-12 passing and led the team on a 65-yard scoring drive, and he had a 16-yard rushing touchdown against Greendale, but the Hawks suffered a 44-20 defeat.
Still, the Xavier faithful got a snapshot of what is to come from their dual-threat quarterback next season.
Dual threat but mostly a runner
Simons’ prowess as a runner resulted in four rushing touchdowns last season to go along with two TDs in the air. The team also lined him up at Wildcat after touchdowns, and he scored six two-point conversions during the playoffs.
Go west young man
Famous 19th Century statesman Horace Greely of New York coined the phrase “go west young man,” because Greely saw the fertile farmland of the west as an ideal place for people willing to work hard for the opportunity to succeed.
Simons will be coming west in April for almost the exact same reasons.
Although he’s been to five NFA camps, Zach’s ability to fulfill his long-term goal of playing quarterback at a Division I level college means he has to sharpen the passing skills portion of his dual-threat abilities.
To do that he will be coming to the West Coast the first week of April to work with NFA Director of Player Development Will Hewlett at The Range in Livermore, Calif. From there ho goes to Seattle to work with NFA Senior Certified Quarterback Instructor and Lead Camp Coach JC Boice.
And what do you think is the first thing a young man from a suburb of Green Bay, in the frozen reaches of Eastern Wisconsin, would say about coming out west?
“I can hardly wait to see some warm weather,” mused Zach, who maintains a 3.0 GPA at academically challenging Xavier, named one of the Top 50 Catholic schools in the nation.
And aside from the West Coast weather?
“My dad say’s he (Will Hewlett) is the best NFA quarterback coach. So he felt I should train with him and get some one-on-one work with him. What I’m looking to accomplish is to hone my mechanics and get them solid, improve my coverage reads and really plug into the R4 NFA system.”
Boice, who has worked personally with Simons four times before, likes him a lot and was the one that suggested he come out west to work with Hewlett.
“Zach is another NFA QB that I’m personally VERY excited about. He’s a blue collar tough kid that will give you everything he has. He’s also powerfully explosive both as a runner and passer. He’s fast and strong and plays with attitude. You can’t help but love QBs like that. We (NFA) just need to polish him up. With Zach’s work ethic and talent our job will not be too hard to have him ready for a major breakout year.”
Zach may have never been out west or to California, but his father, Mike Simons has. In fact Mike was a fullback at Merced Junior College.
“I’m really thankful that my dad has put all this time, effort and money in me and my football. Every weekend we work together at gym work, on footwork and gap escapes. Other times I throw to him.”
The baby of the family has an older brother and sister. Jared Simons, a senior offensive lineman and teammate at Xavier this past season, is someone Zach really looks up to.
Sister Lauren Simons played basketball in high school, something Zach also does as a varsity reserve guard at Xavier.
Goals next season
Xavier has won the Eastern Conference title 11 of the past 13 years, been in the playoffs 11-straight years and has won two state championships, so setting goals is no easy task. For Zach it’s pretty simple.
“Lead the conference in completion percentage, passing and rushing yards, win the conference and a state championship.
What Simons has gotten from NFA camps personal workouts with Boice
“The NFA training has definitely helped. It’s a lot about leadership and having faith in yourself and the team to get the job done.”
“With JC, the most important thing I’ve gotten from him is helping me to recognize and read defenses.”
Now, Zach comes to California to work with Hewlett, a quarterback coach that strives to be recognized as the best mechanics coach in the country.
Hewlett is looking forward to working with Simons.
“Zach’s relentless drive and preparation have allowed him to have a successful jumpstart to his career.” Now, we (NFA) have to help him get to the next level.”
Things should be jumping at The Range in early April.
Zach Simons (L) and his buddy and fellow sophomore linebacker Drew Hinkens. Simons started every game at linebacker and made All Conference.
Jacob Sirmon a big talent in Washington
It has been a tremendous past few months for a bumper crop of NFA trained quarterbacks.
Morgan Mahalak is headed to Oregon. JaJuan Lawson is going to New Mexico. John Wolford is headed to Wake Forest. Colby Moore is off to Kansas State. Austin Fort is going to Wyoming. Colby Brown will play his college football at Eastern Illinois.
Right behind that impressive group are highly recruited QBs like Tommy Stevens, JaJuan Jennings, Matt Jimison and Mitch Guadagni. And don’t forget about Brandon McIlwain, who very well could be the top senior prep quarterback in the nation before he graduates from Council Rock North (Pa.) High School in 2016.
Looking even a little farther down the road, keep an eye on Jacob Sirmon, who is in the Class of 2018. Actually, he’s kind of hard to miss.
Already standing nearly 6-foot-3 and weighing in at 193 pounds, Sirmon is already attracting big-time attention after back-to-back standout seasons playing QB for the Bothell Junior Football Varsity Cougars. As a seventh grader two years ago, Sirmon played up a level and led the Cougars to a 10-1 record and championship game appearance while passing for 2,135 yards and 35 touchdowns. He also rushed for 64 yards and threw only 4 interceptions.
This past season, the eighth grader guided the Cougars to an 8-2 record and trip to the semifinals while passing for 1,301 yards and 17 touchdowns while running for 518 yards and 7 more scores. Sirmon capped another big season by quarterbacking FBU Team Washington to the eighth grade finals.
The product of an amazing football family – we’ll get to that in a bit – Sirmon has already figured out how to exploit his great size to succeed under center. “I’m usually one of the biggest guys on the field,” said the 4.0 student at Canyon Park Junior High. “It’s a really a big key as far as having pocket presence. It allows me to see the field and makes it harder for the defense to take me down. Usually, I can use my strength to use the pocket better and break a few tackles if I have to.”
As for his bloodlines, Sirmon’s dad, David, played college football at Montana, where he was a linebacker. Both of his grandfathers played college ball, and so did five of Jacob’s uncles. One of them, Peter Sirmon, coaches defense at the University of Southern California. “It’s in the blood,” David Sirmon said.
Jacob Sirmon feels fortunate to come from a family with so many college football players. “I’m constantly around it,” he said. “At family reunions, we talk about football all the time, talk about old memories, things like that. I’m always around it. With so much of my family having played football, I think I’ve had an advantage knowing the game, knowing the strategies, knowing everything behind it. That’s helped move me along and then I work with my dad, he still has a passion for it. He loves it and he gives me a lot of time and investment going over film or working out. It’s great.”
In a word, Sirmon has a great future at quarterback, and he’ll move up to Bothell High School next season. A powerhouse prep program that went 9-3 last year while ranking No. 5 in Washington state, the Cougars return senior quarterback Ross Bowers in the fall.
The next level
“My goal is I really want to work hard and secure a spot as the second varsity quarterback,” Sirmon said. “It would be nice to have that opportunity as well to play freshman ball with my team and play with my core group of guys. And we have some really great coaches at the freshman level so I look forward to it. I’ll play at whatever level they choose.”
At some point down the road, Sirmon is destined to take over the starting QB job at Bothell and continue advancing toward the college level. “I’ve been playing since I started playing football in first grade,” he said. “I always enjoyed playing quarterback and it was my passion. Ever since then, I’ve been training and working towards trying to be a good quarterback.”
While he prefers putting the ball in the air, Sirmon is developing into a dangerous dual threat. “If I had a preference, I would like to stay in the pocket and pass,” he said. “But I’m not afraid to escape use my legs. That’s was kind of a key part for our offense last season, I would roll out a lot. But definitely throwing is a strength of mine. I feel I can throw pretty well. But I’m not afraid to use my legs. I like to run.”
Achieving so much success and attracting so much attention at such a young age would be difficult to handle for most quarterbacks. But Sirmon works hard to keep everything in perspective.
“I have a couple people I talk to about it, I talk to my dad and my uncle at USC,” he said. “They help me out. And (Bothell) Coach (Tom) Bainter, he’s a great guy. He helps me stay humble and don’t take it all to heart and just keep working, stuff like that. I try to enjoy it and I’m happy about it, but I keep that fire to keep working and keep pursuing it.”
Working with NFA and Coaches Will Hewlett and JC Boice has also helped Sirmon elevate his game. “They’ve been great,” Sirmon said. “They’ve given me a base on my throwing mechanics. Will Hewlett really helps me with my mechanical stuff and JC gets me into the mental stage with reading and progressions, stuff like that.”
Sophomore named starter in Northern Nevada’s toughest league despite being undersized
The big football team in the “Biggest Little City in the World” is the University of Nevada-Reno Wolf Pack, and wolves are known to roam the snow-capped mountains that surround Reno, however the kind of wolves sophomore Hunter Triplett of Earl Wooster of Reno encountered were a little different.
At one time in the 52-year history of Wooster, the school was a force to be reckoned with in Nevada high school football. It was also a big-time wrestling power.
The Colts won eight state football championships between 1976-1998, still the most in state history.
Since then, however, Wooster is still known as a wrestling school, but the football program has been down. In fact, since 1998 the Colts have not made the playoffs, and they have rarely been at .500 in the ultra-tough IA Northern League.
After a 2-8 season in 2012 with only 23 players on the roster, and with the starting quarterback and back-up both graduating, the job was open.
“Wooster had been down because kids weren’t coming out for football,” Triplett told NFA Nation.
That changed in 2013 when 41 boys came out, including Triplett, the starting JV quarterback as a freshman.
Actually the coaches asked Hunter to move up at the end of the 2012 JV season, but in order to do so they told the at the time 5-foot-9, 125-pounder he’d have to gain 20 pounds.
Six meals a day and protein shakes, plus weight training
With a goal of becoming the varsity starter, Hunter turned to the coaches he trusts for a game plan, NFA Senior Certified Quarterback Instructor and Lead Camp Coach JC Boice, and local NFA Coach Rod Robinson.
Coaches Boice and Robinson put him on a weight gain regimen of six meals a day and weight training. “A lot of protein shakes,” Triplett mused.
Within five months Hunter had gained the pounds.
Thrown to the Wolves
Hunter competed with an incoming junior over the summer and prior to the season beginning he was named the starting quarterback.
Triplett came into the season at 5-10 and 145 pounds and started and played every game in Northern Nevada’s toughest league.
His numbers weren’t spectacular, but he did pass for 1,694 yards and 22 TDs with 13 interceptions.
More importantly, Triplett led Wooster to a 4-5 record, the best record at Wooster since 2001. For his efforts, he was named Second Team All League.
“Hunter is a real up and comer that got thrown to the wolves early as a young sophomore, but he made the most of it,” Boice remarked.
“By his senior year everyone will wonder where he came from,” continued Boice. “He has all the tangibles and just needs to grow and continue to work. “His film at moments is pretty impressive. He’s already getting some interests from schools despite his record and stats because some coaches can see his upside.
Maintaining the game plan
Because the 3.57 GPA student-athlete, who’s taking advanced courses in the International Baccalaureate school-within-a-school at Wooster, is super busy, the telephone interview had to be done at 6:30 in the morning.
“I’m up at 5-5:30 because I have a lot to do before school,” Triplett said. “I have to get ready and prepare all my meals for the day and arrange my clothes for school and work.”
Triplett has a part-time job at an athletic training facility where the money he earns pays for the speed and agility sessions he takes there.
Besides the training sessions, Hunter is still using the diet regimen Boice and Robinson laid out for him.
“I’m currently 5-11, 151, but I need to weigh 165 pounds going into the season.”
To reach his ultimate goal Triplett’s weekly goal is to gain a half pound.
“Every Sunday I contact Coach Boice and he reviews my diet and weight I’ve recorded throughout the week.”
What he gets out of NFA
As is evidenced by the work Boice has done with Triplett above and beyond football, the NFA experience has transcended a big part of his life.
Since he was 11-years old, Hunter has been to nine NFA camps, worked personally with Boice for and extended period, worked around 15 times with Robinson, and recently came to The Range in Livermore, Calif. to work with NFA Director of Player Development Will Hewlett over a two-day period.
“When I went to my first NFA camp I thought playing was just about throwing the football. I didn’t know anything about mechanics and getting the footwork right.”
“For me the most important thing I’ve gotten out of NFA is the stress and importance they put on leadership and doing the little things right. I’ll never forget the leadership speech by Coach Slack (NFA founder and President Darin Slack).”
“As a team our goal is to grow as a team, get above .500 and go the playoffs for the first time in 16-years, and win a state championship in the next two years. I want to be a success personally, but doing whatever I have to do to get us to the playoffs is my goal.”
“My long term goal is to get the attention of college coaches, whatever or wherever, but eventually to start in a D1 program. From there I’ve dreamed of playing pro since I was six.”
Despite his smallish stature Boice still likes what he sees.
“I still consider him an ‘under the radar’ kid for the moment. However as he continues to grow and mature and develop that is going to change and change fast. He has all the tangibles especially leadership and intelligence with very strong throwing mechanics, so he has a high ceiling. The Hunter we saw be effective this year as a sophomore varsity starter is going to grow into an extremely competitive senior quarterback a year and a half from now.”
Triplett can’t control his height, but he’s working diligently on his weight, and for a kid that’s up at 5 a.m., maintains outstanding grades, and works a part time job on top of football, no one can question his work ethic and desire to succeed.
Mitch Guadagni eyes next level
Mitch Guadagni has always been patient enough to wait for his turn to play quarterback at Hudson High School, which is located just outside of Cleveland. But when he was a freshman, he moved up to the Explorers’ JV team when David Nelson went down with an injury.
As a sophomore, Guadagni took over as Hudson’s varsity starter at QB when Ben Hart broke his wrist in the first game of the season. “He played basically every snap as a sophomore and he had a huge year, throwing for over 2,000 yards with 26 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions,” said Brad Maendler, the Explorers’ quarterback coach. “He’s really taken off from there. I’ve been at Hudson since 2009 and he’s the best quarterback I’ve coached. We’ve had some really good ones, but Mitch is on another level.”
As a junior last season, Guadagni showed why, passing for 2,029 yards and 22 touchdowns while exploiting his 4.63 speed in the 40 to rush for 913 yards and 7 more scores. The 6-foot-2 1/2, 190-pounder also led the Explorers to a 10-2 record, which included a playoff win.
“I thought we had a very good season,” Guadagni said. “We lost a couple of our good seniors but we stepped it up on both sides of the ball and won a lot of games. Personally, there are definitely some things I want to clean up heading into my senior year. There were a couple of reads I wish I could have gotten back but overall I thought it was a good season.”
Big Ten interest
Guadagni had a good enough junior season to attract widespread collegiate attention from Big Ten schools like Northwestern, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. He’s already received offers from Buffalo, Kent State, Toledo, Western Michigan, Akron and James Madison.
“I’ve wanted to play college football ever since I was little,” Guadagni said. “My dad (Mark) played for Michigan, so I’ve always been around football. Always watching Michigan games, I always wanted to play at the next level.”
Ideally, Guadagni would like to commit to a college before the start of his senior season, but he is still enjoying the recruiting process. “So far, it’s been good,” Guadagni said. “A little stressful, but overall it’s been fine. I like getting out and seeing colleges. It’s cool being able to talk to coaches and get a good feel for them. It’s been good so far.”
Maendler, who is also an NFA coach, is confident Guadagni is going to be an impact quarterback at the collegiate level. “I don’t think there’s any doubt,” said Maendler, who was a standout QB at Bemidji State in Minnesota. “When I look at quarterbacks and what I want, I look for toughness, I look for smarts and I look for work ethic and he’s got all three in spades. He’s so got so much natural athleticism but he works so hard. That’s a great combination.”
While Guadagni has passed for over 4,000 yards and nearly 50 touchdowns in his first two years at Hudson, he is equally dangerous rushing the football. “I love being able to run the ball,” Guadagni said. “I’ve been a quarterback my whole life and back when I was a kid playing with the (Hudson) Hawks, all we did was run the ball pretty much. I still love running the ball.”
Dangerous dual threat
His obvious ability as a dual threat should help get the Explorers back into the playoffs next season and advance Guadagni’s career at the next level. “I think it’s a combination of things that stand out with him,” Maendler said. “He’s such an explosive runner but he can throw. Make no mistake about it, he can really throw the football. Offensively, we are a very balanced team. I think his passing and rushing numbers, they give you a good sense of what he’s able to do.
“And I think that kind of flexibility makes him really valuable to colleges because he can stand in the pocket and throw and progress through our pass concepts,” Maendler continued. “He can also handle quarterback runs and he’s outstanding at escaping out of the pocket and making something out of nothing. He’s got that flair for making something happen when it doesn’t look like anything’s there. That flexibility of throwing and running and the ability to make something out of nothing makes him a really a valuable quarterback.”
For as good as he’s been with the Explorers and for as bright as his future is, Guadagni is a perfectionist and he’s not going to sit back and admire what he’s already accomplished. “I think there’s definitely a lot more room for improvement,” Guadagni said. “Just with reads, I made a couple of bad decisions last season that I think could have helped us a lot. Just being able to know when to tuck the ball and run or make a little better read with the zone offense, there’s definitely some stuff I need to work. Overall, I hope there’s some improvement.”
Given his natural ability and intense drive, you can bet Guadagni’s future steps are all going to be forward. And even with all of the college attention, he’s focused on getting Hudson deeper into the playoffs next season.
“I’m definitely working on my footwork and a couple of adjustments we’ve made with the offense this off-season, a couple more plays that have been put in,” Guadagni said. “I’m also throwing with the wide receivers, trying to get a good feel for them.”
Guadagni has been training with NFA since he was in the seventh grade, and he appreciates the pointers he’s picked up from Maendler and the rest of the NFA staff. “Back in seventh grade it was learning to get to zero and little stuff at first and then we’ve just built on it the past few years,” Guadagni said. “From just throwing the ball to reading the defense to getting more power on my throws, NFA has helped me with everything.”
Jonathan Hillel of Mount Si High in Snoqualmie, Washington, actually got more time at free safety on defense, and most recently as a starter on the basketball team, than he did last season at quarterback.
Much like NFA standout Morgan Mahalak (Marin Catholic, Kentfield, Calif.), who received an offer from Oregon before starting a varsity game because he was an understudy to current Cal quarterback Jared Goff, “JoJo” as his father Jean Hillel nicknamed him as a baby, has had to be a backup to Nick Mitchell.
Mitchell accepted an offer to Oregon State because of his prowess, so JoJo had to bide his time.
Hillel had to be content with three interceptions including a pick six on defense, and a mop-up role at signal-caller on a team that finished 9-2 and went to the second round of the Washington Boys State Football Championships 3A division eventually won by nationally-ranked Bellevue, perennially the top team in The Evergreen State.
Best back-up in the state
Hillel isn’t where Mahalak was at this stage of his career, and he doesn’t have any offers, but since he began working with NFA Senior Certified Quarterback Instructor and National Lead Camp Coach JC Boice three years ago, and attended 15 NFA camps, he’s more than on the radar screen.
Not only has he impressed Boice, but he has been impressive in several other camps since as early as 2008. As a result he heads to Las Vegas where he’s been invited to participate in next weekend’s Elite 7-on-7 put on by Pylon Elite Camps Football.
“JoJo Hillel was without a doubt the best back-up in the state of Washington last year,” Boice said.
“I expect very big things for JoJo in 2014,” continued Boice. “Aside from being a very good athlete that has all the physical tools, he is also one of the more intelligent young men I have worked with, and his leadership is a very big plus as well. He has a great attitude and kids like being around him.”
“As a quarterback JoJo is tough in the pocket but also has ability to escape and extend plays. He is just a real playmaker. What a lot of college programs are soon going to discover as well is that JoJo is very young. He is going to graduate very young and has a lot of natural maturing to do physically speaking. He is a full year younger than athletes in his class. Give him another year of growth and he is going to be even more explosive.”
Mount Si head coach Charlie Kinnune agrees with Boice about the 6-foot-2 Hillel and his goal of getting to 180-pounds fairly soon and developing more physically with workouts and lifting five days a week.
“He does need to get stronger so he can develop more speed at the point of attack.”
On being a back-up
“Its been tough, especially when the coaches tell me I could start at almost every other school, but Nick is a great quarterback and I’ve watched him and learned from him,” said the 3.2 GPA student-athlete whose favorite subject is U.S. History.
“Now that I’m getting my opportunity I want to prove I’m more than a back-up and I have a lot more to offer,” continued JoJo, who gets his football roots from Jean, an enterprise architect that’s been coaching all levels of football for 25 years and who played at the college level growing up in Quebec.
New rivals and expectations
Snoqualmie, 20-miles southeast of Seattle, is growing, and so has the enrollment at Mount Si. This coming season they are moving up to 4A, so they won’t play Bellevue. Instead, the Wildcats will play Skyline and Eastlake of neighboring Sammamish, and Bothell, all perennial Washington big-school powers.
“Our goal is to win a 4A state title,” JoJo told NFA Nation. “It’s a lot to ask for, and maybe some teams won’t take us seriously, but we’re going to come out every day and make it happen.
Best attributes and what JoJo likes about being a quarterback
“Our system is flexible enough to fit JoJo right in,” Kinnune said. “He’s lanky but very athletic so we’ll put him on the move. His other best attributes are his ability to change direction, a nice touch, and he’s pretty savvy.”
JoJo on the move as a back-up
“I’ve always liked being the quarterback since I began playing at seven,” said JoJo. “You take command of everything. When you win or lose a game it’s on you. You’re the one everyone looks up to when you’re going out there every day and grinding.”
“My favorite player is Chris Schlichting (a 6-5, 270-pound Mount Si lineman). We’ve been best buddies since the second grade. My favorite quarterback is Cam Newton. He’s pretty exciting to watch.”
What NFA and working with Coach Boice has meant
“When I came into NFA I knew nothing about mechanics. They tuned me up.”
“JC has come a long way with me. He always has something new to fix. He’s been very helpful.”
“At camps I’ve talked to a lot of college coaches and now I know going into the college camps I have to show them what they want and what I’ve learned from people like JC.”
“For me it’s about going and getting an education. That comes first. Hopefully the school I choose has a top football program.”
The way JoJo is progressing and impressing people like Boice, chances are a top program very well lies in the future of Jonathan “JoJo Hillel, a back-up no more.
Brandon McIlwain ‘blows up’ big
Council Rock North (Pa.) High School’s Adam Collachi has been coaching football for 16 years, and he has never seen a talent like Brandon McIlwain. “I’ve coached some kids that have played at some major Division I programs and made some practice squads at the NFL level, but nothing like Brandon,” said Collachi, who is entering his fifth season at the helm for Council Rock North. “His talents on the field, his work ethic in the off-season, his leadership qualities, he is a rare commodity for sure.”
Chip Bennett has been coaching quarterbacks for 26 years, and he’s never run across a talent like McIlwain, either. “Brandon will be the best 2016 (high school) quarterback in the nation,” Bennett proclaimed. “How do I know that? I said that two years ago when I saw his freshman film and nothing has changed my mind at all.”
McIlwain will be a junior next season at Council Rock North, and he already owns a resume impressive enough to warrant scholarship offers from powerhouse programs like Auburn, Ohio State, South Carolina, Clemson, UCLA, Florida and Penn State. “It’s really thrilling,” McIlwain said. “It’s almost surreal at this point. The whole recruiting process, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve created relationships with the coaches and I’ve explored different options.”
More college offers figure to pour in (UPDATE: Miami (Fla.) offered on March 6) as McIlwain goes through his upcoming junior year with the Indians. As a sophomore this past season, the 6-foot-1, 208-pound dual threat quarterback completed 105 of 190 passes for 1,446 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also ran the football 104 times for 594 yards and 10 TDs.
“I think I grew a lot when it came to making decisions this season,” McIlwain said. “I got better going through my check-downs and I started making better decisions earlier. My footwork got a lot better from my freshman to my sophomore year and I learned to stay in the pocket a little more.”
An extremely gifted athlete, McIlwain also started for Council Rock North’s varsity team as a freshman and averaged 137 yards passing per game with 9 touchdowns while he ran for 715 yards and 11 more scores. Not only was he the youngest player on the field, McIlwain made it through the entire year despite tearing two ligaments in his throwing (right) thumb in a preseason scrimmage.
“You have to do if for your team,” McIlwain said of the injury. “For me, if I’m able to play, if I can do it, I’m going to play. I’m never going to sit out, especially if I don’t have to and I can wait until after the season to have surgery.”
Also a standout baseball player, McIlwain waited until the summer after his freshman year to have surgery and didn’t miss a beat as a sophomore QB. “He can throw the football and run the football, but I think even more, it’s his competitiveness,” Collachi said. “When it’s game-time, he just completely changes. It’s awesome to watch and see him warming up; he just accepts that responsibility as somebody that has to perform game in and game out. Just that competitive streak he has, it’s something you don’t see all the time.”
As the big-time college offers come rolling in, you’d understand if McIlwain’s ego began to swell and his attitude changed. That has hardly been the case. “My parents, my teammates and coaches, they’re a good influence,” McIlwain said. “I just keep doing what I need to do. I’m getting my schoolwork done and working out hard.”
There’s a great dual threat QB for you – skilled on the field and mature off. “Just a fantastic kid,” Bennett said. “I was talking to a coach at Navy, and Brandon is above that talent-wise. But I have a feeling that if he went to play football at Navy, just by the type of person he is, if he went there and graduated, he might be the Secretary of Defense one day. I don’t say that about anybody. You might be voting for this kid as President one day. That’s a big statement, but that’s just the impression that I get from him. Every time I talk to him, I’m in awe.”
Collachi hasn’t had one worry about McIlwain losing focus with all of the college attention at such an early stage. “He really is the same kid he’s always been, and I think that’s a testament to his mother and father,” Collachi said. “They’ve instilled great values in him. And our coaching staff has continued to work with him and try to develop him, not only as a football player but also as a person. I thing there’s a lot of good support in his life, all the positive role models and the positive people he has surrounded himself with. It’s a testament as to why he is the way he is.”
Considering his impressive list of accomplishments through two years of high school varsity football, is it possible McIlwain has peaked early? In a word, no. “I can always work on fundamentals,” he said. “I can keep getting better at reading defenses, taking the check downs, staying in the pocket for that extra second. You can always do something to make yourself a better player.”
‘NFA has been huge’
Toward that end, McIlwain has trained with NFA and Coach Will Hewlett for the past six years. “It’s been huge,” he said. “I would not be where I am right now without the influence of NFA, Coach Hewlett. Working with them has pushed me fundamentally; they’ve helped me with my mechanics, reading defenses, everything. NFA has been huge for me and like I said, I would not be where I am today without them.”
As for tomorrow, when he reaches the collegiate level, McIlwain is excited but keeping the recruiting frenzy in perspective. “Playing college football, it was always a dream of mine,” said McIlwain, who is cousins with former NFL linebacker Aaron Maybin and San Diego Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin. “I didn’t know exactly if it was going to happen or not, but it was always a dream and I’ve always tried to work as hard as I could to give myself an opportunity to be in this position. I’ve been enjoying meeting with the coaches and hearing what they have planned for their programs in the near future. I’ve enjoyed exploring different colleges and seeing what they have at their schools.”
Before McIlwain does head to the next level, Collachi is really going to enjoy the next two years of football at Council Rock North. “It’s a testament to how hard Brandon has worked to get himself to this level,” Collachi said. “It’s not a coincidence that someone who dedicates so much time and effort has such good things happen to him. It’s quite amazing to see the offers that are coming in and to see how he’s kind of blowing up this off-season. We’re proud of him here. He’s a great leader for our team and our program and we can’t wait to get started up in the fall.”
McIlwain is truly a classic case of an individual striving to reach a big goal and grasping it. “He has confidence and he’s humble,” Bennett said. “I can’t explain it. I don’t deal with too many kids like that. He’s appreciative of everything. He should be in this moment, this moment with all of the attention he’s getting. This is how it’s supposed to happen. This is where he’s supposed to be, at this level.”
McIlwain is already regarded as one of the top prep quarterbacks in the country, but he does much more on the football field. “He does everything for us,” Collachi said. “He punts and he also plays free safety. I think he could be an all-state free safety. He excels in all three phases of the game. He’s the total package, on and off the field.”
On the baseball field, McIlwain is already good enough to be considered a major-league prospect as a pitcher and second baseman. “He started as true freshman on varsity last season,” Collachi said. “Our baseball program has been very, very successful over the last 20 years or so. He is an integral part of that program.”
Tommy Stevens grows into big-time recruit
When he was a freshman at Decatur Central High School in Indianapolis, Tommy Stevens didn’t exactly stand out in the crowd. “I think I was 5-foot-10 and 140 pounds,” he recalled.
Time has passed, and Stevens has changed. A lot. The junior now stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 200 pounds. “I knew that I’d eventually grow,” Stevens said. “I guess I didn’t necessarily think I’d be 6-4, but I’ve got a big family and I knew that I was going to grow eventually. That growth spurt definitely helped me out, and now I’m starting to fill out a little bit. When I started growing, I was growing height wise but I wasn’t growing wide. I was a twig, but I’m trying to put on weight now.”
Stevens has grown physically, and his skill level at quarterback has also increased. In his first full year as the varsity starter this past season, Stevens passed for 1,526 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 785 yards and 7 more scores.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised,” Stevens said. “I expected to do great things because of the guys that were around us. I know we had a lot of talent coming back. We only lost, I want to say, one offensive starter from the year prior so I knew we were going to have a great year. It definitely helped me out having all the great playmakers around me. It started with the offensive line, I had all those guys back and they trusted me with everything. They did an absolute great job.”
There’s little doubt the Hawks were loaded with talent this past season – particularly on the offensive side of the football. Running back Eli Conlin rushed for 1,548 yards and 19 TDs and wide receiver Ryker Stout caught 39 passes for 564 yards and 7 TDs. Decatur Central senior offensive lineman Lukayas McNeil is going to play college football at Louisville and junior to be Trent Maynard already has an offer from Cincinnati.
But there is little question Stevens was the Hawks’ focal point this past season. “Our offense, we averaged 46.8 points per game against some really good competition here in Indianapolis,” said Decatur Central Head Coach Justin Dixson. “A lot of that is due to Tommy. We had two Division I offensive linemen and three really good running backs as well. Our offense was really potent and a lot of that was due to Tommy and his ability to be multi-dimensional and do a lot of different things.”
Running the show
Not only did Stevens take advantage of his big arm, he also used his standout speed in the Hawks’ spread option offense. “We ran a lot of things under center and a lot of things out of gun,” Dixson said. “That gave Tommy the ability to run, hand-off or throw based on what the defense was giving us. There’s a lot of decision making in his hands and a lot of responsibility to keep us in the right play.”
Stevens typically made the right decisions and when his junior football season ended, the college recruiters came calling in droves. Stevens already has multiple offers from schools like Iowa, Indiana, Cincinnati, North Carolina State and Purdue. Based on his ability to pass and run the football with impressive success, more college programs are likely to join in.
“It’s been crazy,” Stevens said. “I don’t think I’d be able to tell you that, when I was a freshman, I didn’t necessarily think that I’d be on the path that I am today. But a lot of hard work really helped me out a lot. My coaches helped me out a lot and the players around me, they’ve helped me.”
As he continues to weigh multiple college options, Stevens is keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground. “It’s a little difficult,” he said. “But the way I was raised, it’s about staying on the same track, don’t let anything distract you and continue to do what got you there. I’m still trying to be the same person I was before all these offers and everything started coming in.”
For as good as he was a junior at Decatur Central, Stevens sees room for improvement. “Definitely, there’s always room to improve,” he said. “That’s why I’ve been trying to keep working hard, because more people are going to going to be not wanting to let me have the year I did last year. I have to work extra hard.”
Dixson has no doubt that Stevens is going to continue to flourish at quarterback when he reaches the next level, regardless of where he winds up. “I think they sky is the limit for Tommy,” Dixson said. “I know he wouldn’t say that, but the work ethic and the drive, and the talent he has, and also the love of the game, the sky is the limit. I tell people this all the time, in my 15 years as a coach I never thought I would coach a kid that loves football more than I do, and he might.”
His father has coached Stevens since he was in second grade, and growing up in a football family helped make him a well-rounded player before he finally settled in at QB. “My dad always taught me to play as many positions as I can and that helped,” Stevens said. “I basically played pretty much everywhere except for offensive and defensive line because I couldn’t quite block people at 130 pounds.”
There is no question Stevens landed at the right position, and he gave NFA major credit for helping him develop into one of the top prep quarterbacks in the country. “They helped me a lot,” Stevens said. “In my perspective, I think the NFA coaches are some of the best of the best. It helps to work with NFA. (Lead Coach) Will (Hewlett) is the man, and he’s got a great coaching staff behind him.”
Moving forward, Stevens can’t wait for his senior season at Decatur Central before moving up to the collegiate level. “It’s been a dream since I was a little kid,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to play college football. Growing up watching college football, the NFL, seeing that, and now I’m going to play college football. It’s awesome.”
When he does move on from high school, Dixson sees more great things for Stevens. “He’s obviously very special and that’s why so many schools want him,” Dixson said. “But more than just a quarterback, he’s a football player with how competitive he is and how tough he is, those sorts of things. That’s what makes him really special. We knew coming in, watching him play as a seventh and eighth grader, he was going to be a good player. He comes from a football family and his dad’s one of the coaches on my staff. And when he hit that growth spurt, that just added to the tools he already had.”
Brett Kean looks to build on banner season
When he moved from one powerhouse prep program – University High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to another – Lakewood St. Edward in the Cleveland area, Brett Kean wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. “It was kind of tough at first but everyone here (St. Edward) really embraced me,” Kean said. “That made it a lot easier.”
Stepping right in as the starting quarterback for St. Edward, which won the Ohio state championship in 2010, Kean led the Eagles to an 11-2 record as a junior this past season. St. Edward finished the year ranked in the Top 15 nationally in most polls.
“We had a really good year, but we didn’t do what we wanted to do,” Kean said. “We wanted to win the state title. But we have a lot of key guys coming back, a lot of skill positions guys coming back. We should be strong again next season.”
For as great as the Eagles were last season, they fell short in the Division I state semifinal game, losing to Mentor in a 41-38 thriller. Kean was outstanding in the game, completing 22 of 44 passes for 343 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The 6-foot-2, 206-pound QB finished his first season with the Eagles with 180 completions in 300 attempts for 2,810 yards and 32 touchdowns. He also rushed for 11 scores.
“The last game of the regular season (5 TD passes vs. Eastern Christian Academy) was really big for me,” Kean said. “We had to throw the ball a lot that game and it really showed that we can throw the ball a lot and still be successful. And throughout the whole playoffs, we threw the ball a lot more. In the Mentor game, I threw the ball more than I did in all of the other games. It was a good game for me but in the end it wasn’t what we wanted.”
Kean is looking to bring home the state championship trophy as a senior this upcoming season. “That’s our goal,” he said. “We play a really tough schedule and we’re just going to try to win every game.”
Multiple college offers
On the strength of his standout junior season, Kean has been very busy this winter on the college recruiting front. Four Mid-American Conference schools – Akron, Toledo, Ohio and Western Michigan – have already extended scholarship offers. Kean is also drawing interest from Northwestern, TCU and several other schools.
“It’s always been a dream to play college football,” Kean said. “I like it a lot, but me and my teammates are trying to focus on the upcoming season. You try to enjoy the whole process because it only happens once, but you have to try to stay focused for the season. I’m trying to find the best fit for me. I’d like to commit before the season. Most of the coaches want the quarterbacks to commit before the season just so they can build around them. So that’s definitely why I’m looking to commit before the season starts.”
Kean started playing football when he was 7 years old, and he started training with NFA and Coach Will Hewlett when he was in sixth grade. “From the very beginning, I really liked playing quarterback a lot,” Kean said. “And I always wanted to play college football ever since I started. I’ve been training with Will and I started doing NFA camps after that. They definitely helped. They helped me with my upper body mechanics a lot.”
JD Gieson plays with competitive fire
While he might lack ideal size, JD Gieson makes up for the alleged disadvantage with a dogged work ethic and intense competitive fire that makes him a viable candidate to be playing quarterback at the collegiate level. “I’m very determined,” Gieson said. “I have been since I was little. And I’ve always been competitive. I hate to lose, even in my gym class.”
While he stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 160 pounds, don’t be fooled. Gieson is a player. This past season, the junior started his second year as the varsity quarterback for Dixon High School in Illinois and passed for 1,481 yards while gaining another 455 rushing the football.
“We run a triple-option offense, spread and pistol, and some hurry-up here and there,” Gieson said. “It definitely suits my strengths. I’m not much of a pocket passer; I kind of like to run and get out on the edge and make plays and I can throw out there as well.”
All-time passing leader
In two seasons as the Dukes’ starting QB, Gieson is already the school’s all-time passing leader with 2,807 yards. Dustin Bock, who graduated in 2001 and currently serves as Dixon’s quarterback coach, was the previous leader with 2,429 yards.
“When you have the height disadvantage, you have to be able to use your other abilities to get around that,” said Gieson, who is also highly successful in the classroom with a 3.78 GPA. “You can’t be the normal pocket passer as much where you just stand around looking over the linemen because you can’t really see over the linemen all the time. You have to get out and make plays. In my situation, I’m another athlete who can actually throw the ball and run the ball.”
Not only does he have 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, Gieson holds the freshman and sophomore school records at Dixon for fastest times in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles. “I actually use my speed to just evade defenders,” he said. “We have set plays and a lot of times I can get away from people and run around and extend the play, get the ball down the field or find the gap, hit the hole and just take off. We didn’t really have a running game my sophomore year. We picked up our running game a lot this past year and I was a pretty big part of that.”
Gieson is preparing for his senior season with the Dukes, and he’s attending NFA’s OSD camp in Indianapolis this weekend. “NFA’s been great,” Gieson said. “I go there to obviously get better in my technique and form and learn how to throw a little bit better. I know I can run the ball, I know I can catch the ball, but there’s always room for improvement throwing. That’s another step I need to improve my game and NFA has been a really big help.”