Invited to his first Duel last month, Kai Colon wasn’t quite sure what to expect when he arrived at Whitewater High School on the outskirts of Atlanta.
“I just wanted to get experience, since it was my first one,” Colon said. “But I also wanted to do well, because everyone does.”
Mission accomplished, on both fronts. Competing against incoming eighth graders in NFA’s annual showcase event, Colon finished fifth.
“I was very happy when they called my name for fifth place,” he said. “I was just happy I got to compete in the last gauntlet. Doing well, it raised my confidence a lot. But I still have to stay humble and not think too much about it. Just keep going and keep working hard.”
All of the hard work has already been paying off for Colon, even before his Duel debut.
Last season, the Slate Hill, N.Y., resident started at quarterback for the Minisink Valley Warriors A team as a seventh grader. Playing with a roster full of eighth and ninth graders, Colon passed for over 800 yards with 9 touchdowns and also rushed for another TD during the seven-game season.
“I thought I did well managing the game,” he said. “I don’t think I had any interceptions, which I was really happy about. Improving my speed was the one thing I wasn’t happy with, but I think the speed will come as I get older.”
As a sixth grader in 2015, Colon guided his Division 2 Minisink Valley Warriors team to a Super Bowl victory, rushing for 2 touchdowns, passing for another score and returning an interception for a TD.
This season, Colon is going to play quarterback on the Minisink Valley High School junior varsity team as an eighth grader. “I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I’m the only eighth grader getting pulled up, so it’s pretty cool. I think I’ll do well.”
Already standing 6 feet tall and weighing 170 pounds, Colon has high school size. He’s also a standout student, posting a 98.0 GPA on a 100 scale in seventh grade accelerated classes while being selected to the prestigious Junior Leadership program.
“I take a lot of pride in being a good student because I know a lot of colleges look at that,” Colon said. “I have great teachers and they’re always pushing me to get better. I study when I’m not on the field, pay attention in class and try to get my homework done as fast as possible. Doing well in school helps me playing football because I can read the defenses faster and think a lot quicker.”
In his first year of training with NFA, Colon has already seen positive results. “NFA has helped me a lot,” he said. “They helped my form, the path of my release. That’s really helped me make more accurate throws and allowed me to put more velocity on the ball.”
Natick High School had another successful season in 2016, going 9-2 and making a push in the Massachusetts state playoffs.
Looking ahead, the Redhawks’ varsity football program has a very bright future.
As an eighth grader with the Junior Redhawks in the Natick American Youth Football League last season, Will Lederman helped his team go 12-0 (8-0 league record, 4-0 playoff record) and win the Massachusetts state championship.
“The team goal was just to get better as a whole, and win the state championship,” Lederman said. “We had some new players coming in and we all worked hard in the off-season and accomplished our goal.”
As the quarterback of the Junior Redhawks, Lederman had a monster eighth grade season. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder passed and rushed for a combined 44 touchdowns.
“Heading into the season, I was confident,” he said. “I had a lot of talent around me and I knew I could put up numbers like that. We had a really good offensive line and some awesome wide receivers. I knew with the people around me, we could do it. To win our first state championship, I was really proud. Our whole team contributed and now we’re ready to play in high school.”
While Lederman excelled at QB last season, he also returned a punt for a touchdown and played free safety. On the defensive side of the ball, Lederman had 6 interceptions.
“Playing quarterback helps me a lot playing safety,” he said. “I know that some receivers stare down what side they’re going to and if you look at the quarterback’s eyes, it helps put you in the right position. We also had some good defensive backs and that really helped because I got some tips.”
As a seventh grader Lederman showed his defensive skills in a playoff game, intercepting a pass in his own end zone and running 102 yards for a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock.
While he also wrestles and plays basketball, lacrosse and baseball, Lederman is most comfortable on the football field playing QB. “I started playing quarterback in fourth grade but didn’t really start throwing a lot until sixth or seventh grade,” he said. “I definitely like playing quarterback. I like how you have the ability to lead your team and knowing that people are relying on you. And when you score, it’s not just you scoring. The whole line worked, everybody worked and the whole team scored.”
An honor roll student at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Natick, Lederman is always thinking when he plays quarterback. “It definitely helps,” he said. “Playing quarterback, you extend plays and you have to deal with adversity. Sometimes, you have to overcome adversity in school, maybe with a lot of homework. Get it done knowing you have practice later in the day.”
As he eases toward his freshman year of high school, Lederman is already hoping to make his mark with the varsity football team. “My goal is to get better in the off-season, and I want to play some varsity as a freshman,” he said. “It’s possible. There’s no doubt in my mind I could handle it.”
Lederman started training with NFA last year, and that’s helped him set and achieve some lofty goals. The rising young quarterback is looking forward to attending NFA’s next camp in the Boston area in March.
“NFA has helped me a lot,” Lederman said. “The quadrant drill especially helped, with quadrant 1, 2 3 and 4. I used the dropback and quadrant drill this past season and it helped me a lot.”
NFA stresses the importance of leadership to all of its quarterbacks, and Lederman instantly absorbed the message.
“It’s so important,” he said. “You have to be a leader, not only playing quarterback but leading the team. The most valuable player isn’t the most valuable player, it’s the one who makes the most players valuable. I still remember that from the first NFA camp.”
After winning the Duel in July of 2015, Aliam Appler got another invite to NFA’s showcase competition this past summer and he placed fourth among incoming sixth graders.
That just shows you how many talented young quarterbacks travel to the Duel in Massillon, Ohio, from across the United States and Canada. “Honestly, I wanted to win, but I knew from last year there are lot of awesome quarterbacks from all over the country, many of who I now call friends,” Appler said. “I was disappointed because I didn’t win, but I placed well. I could have done better but I am happy that I was in the Top 5, that’s very hard to do.”
He is right. Finishing in the Top 5 at the Duel is an accomplishment to be proud of, and most quarterbacks are able to carry the success into their seasons.
Appler did just that, leading the Coastal Cowboys to a 5-2 record in Wilmington, N.C. “I really wanted to make the Pop Warner Super Bowl this year, but half of my old team stayed down at Junior Pee Wee,” he said. “My team didn’t make the playoffs because the Wilmington Eagles, our crosstown rivals, beat us twice and made it to the Super Bowl at Disney. But I was really happy with my dad (Shaun) being able to coach me for my last season in Pop Warner and the amazing job my receivers did catching my passes.”
Displaying the same skills that helped him perform so well at the past two Duels, Appler completed 77 of 105 passes for 843 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also rushed 21 times for 107 yards and 4 TDs and also caught 2 passes for 76 yards and 2 scores.
Playing quarterback for the past six seasons, Appler continues to make impressive progress. “I like to throw the ball and give my team a chance to win games,” he said. “I can throw the ball on target, especially on timing routes. I read the defense pre-snap like Coach (Darin) Slack and NFA teaches. I release the ball within 3 seconds most of the time and I don’t mind getting hit and enjoy running my fakes so the defense is forced to account for me, too.”
For as good as he’s been as a young QB, Appler is striving to become even better. “I still need to work on my foot speed,” he said. “I am happy with the few rushes I had this year and my ‘juking,’ but I still need to work harder.”
Hard work paying off
Appler is always working on his game, and he’s been training with NFA for six years. “NFA is the reason I can do this well,” Appler said. “They taught me if I want to be the one percent I always have to work. ‘Others may, I may not.’ It’s hard sometimes, but I love my coaches and putting in the work. I love working out, even when my friends are skateboarding or surfing. I have to do my ladders and hurdles because I want to be the best.
“I play catch with my dad every day, even those days that he works nights. He’s a police officer and he is tired, but we go out and I throw the football to him. We know that it takes work.”
With his sixth grade season in the books, Appler has set his sights on next year. “I served as the manager for the Noble Middle School Eagles this season,” he said. “My goal is to start for them as a seventh grader, but I know that I will have to earn it. I plan to put in my time with NFA this off-season and earn my way to the Duel again this year and do well against the seventh graders.”
Looking back on his past season with the Spartans in the Peabody (Mass.) Tanners Youth Football League, Shea Lynch has a lot to be proud of.
Being named team captain is very high on the list. “I was voted captain by my teammates,” he said. “That showed me that my teammates considered me a leader and I had a responsibility to help my team, my teammates and my coaches.”
All great quarterbacks are great leaders, and Lynch fits that profile. While guiding the Spartans to a 4-4 record, the sixth grader completed 50 of 98 passes for 675 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also rushed for 339 yards on only 33 carries and scored 5 more TDs.
“I was happy to see my team come together and progress throughout the season,” Lynch said. “My team goal this year was to make the playoffs, but unfortunately we missed making the playoffs by only one game. My personal goals were to throw for 10 TD passes and to run for 5 touchdowns. I missed throwing for 10 by 1 touchdown but I accomplished reaching my rushing TD goal.”
Being able to pass and run are two skills needed to be the best quarterback possible, and leadership is equally important. Those are three reasons why Lynch has such a bright future.
Lynch has been lining up under center since he was 5 years old. “I like playing the quarterback position because I like to help lead my teammates in achieving their personal and team goals,” he said. “I also like to run our no-huddle offense using some R4 techniques and I like to control the pace of the game.”
Learning the R4 system has also spurred Lynch’s growth as a quarterback. He’s been training with NFA for three years. “I’ve attended over 10 camps,” he said. “NFA has helped me as a QB by teaching to serve my team and to be a leader while also developing my release, footwork, and arm speed/path.”
In July, Lynch received his second invitation to the Duel and he finished fifth among incoming sixth graders. “My goal heading into the Duel was to place in the Top 5,” he said. “I was excited to place fifth this year, but now I am driven to do better and get another chance to compete in the Duel. I feel grateful for the opportunity that the Duel gave me as a quarterback and as a leader. My Duel success gave me confidence in myself heading into this year’s football season because I knew if I could compete with the great QB’s at the Duel I could compete and lead my team at a high level.”
Lynch competed in his first Duel before his fifth grade season and will not soon forget the experience. “In the 2015 Duel, I traveled from Boston with my family,” he said. “I had a ruptured ear drum and a double ear infection but I still felt the need to compete even though I lost hearing in my right ear. I didn’t want to the let the coaches, my family or myself down. Competing in the Duel is an honor that I take great pride in. After the 2015 Duel, I wanted to work harder to be invited back and prove to myself that I could compete at a high level against great quarterbacks.”
The South Charlotte Patriots and NFA continue to making impressvie strides together.
In 2015, South Charlotte quarterback Jack Curtis received an invitation to the Duel and he placed second among incoming sixth graders.
This past summer, another Patriots product stepped up at NFA’s showcase competition in Massillon, Ohio. Brooks Arant, a fifth grader out of Marvin Elementary School in North Carolina, finished fourth in his Duel debut.
“It was my first time so I really wanted to just stay calm, learn and do my best,” Arant said. “Of course, I also hoped to make the Gauntlet.”
He accomplished that goal, and while slipping from third place to fourth during the most grueling test at the Duel, Arant learned a lot about himself and quickly established a future ambition.
“I was very happy to make the Gauntlet my first season and it gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “I was a little disappointed at how I performed in that part of it, but it gives me goals for next year if I’m lucky enough to compete again.”
Given the impressive skill he’s already shown, odds are very good Arant will be back at the Duel for years to come.
This season, he guided South Charlotte to a 5-4 record which was capped by a Patriot Bowl win. Arant missed two games due to injury, both which ended in losses.
The season as a whole was anything but a loss. “I was happiest with having a winning season and learning to become a leader on a new team with players that I did not know,” he said. “The goal was to have a winning record and win a bowl game, and we accomplished that.”
Arant completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for the Patriots. He threw for 5 touchdowns, ran for another score and did not turn the football over. “My personal goals for the season were to limit turnovers, learn new plays and be successful with my teammates,” he said.
Home at QB
Playing football since the first grade – and tackle the last two years – Arant has played multiple positions. As his showing in the Duel clearly indicates, he’s found a home at quarterback.
“I like the opportunity to be involved in every offensive play and to be in a leadership role,” Arant said. “I also like to have a lot of chances to make plays.”
Consistently connecting with his receivers at such a young age is already a strong point of his game. “I am an accurate passer for my age at short and intermediate routes, and I throw good spirals,” Arant said. “I am also a good runner and am able to pick up new plays quickly.”
Even with all of the early success, Arant is working to take his game to an even higher level. “I would like to improve my arm strength and accuracy on longer throws and continue to improve my leadership skills,” he said.
Training with NFA the past year has helped Arant fortify his strengths and improve any shortcomings.
“The NFA camps and drills are great to improve throwing mechanics,” he said. “Additionally, the NFA coaches are great at teaching players how to be leaders.”
Kole Manley already has the look of a big winner, both on and off the football field.
As the starting quarterback for the Eudora Cardinals in Kansas, Manley helped his fifth-grade team go 8-1 this season while winning the Lawrence Youth Football league championship. “I am happiest about winning our league championship because that was my personal goal as well as our team goal,” Manley said. “We worked hard as a team to accomplish this goal. Having an outstanding offensive line and great receivers like (Braylen) Hoobler, (Logan) Sullivan and (Adrian) Seals are the main reasons for our success.”
The best quarterbacks are always passing around the praise, and Manley is no different. But he had a big season for the Cardinals, connecting on 45 of 60 passes for just under 1,800 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Manley also ran for 600-plus yards with 8 rushing touchdowns. The young QB’s versatility really showed in the championship game, when he completed 9 of 12 passes while throwing 4 touchdowns to Hoobler and running for 2 more scores.
He is still in the early stages of his career, but Manley is already showing he’s a quarterback to keep an eye on. “I have played football for seven seasons now, with the last four being tackle,” Manley said. “I have been the quarterback for six of those seasons. I like playing quarterback because I am the one that all my teammates lean on to keep calm and make the best decisions under pressure.”
In addition to his success on the football field, Manley is straight-A student at Eudora Elementary School. As he’s learned from Cardinals coaches and the NFA staff, getting good grades is crucial for players at all levels that are one day hoping to land college football scholarships.
Training with NFA has helped numerous QBs realize their dreams of playing in college. Manley joined up with NFA last year.
“I attended my first NFA camp in Denver,” he said. “NFA has helped me learn how to self correct my throwing technique, which helps me with my accuracy.”
Manley got an invite to the Duel in July and he finished fifth among incoming fourth/fifth graders. “Since it was my first time attending the Duel, I was not sure what to expect,” he said. “I knew my goal was to finish in the Top 5 and I accomplished that. Finishing fifth in the Duel gave me a lot of confidence to perform under pressure going into the season. I’m happy with that, but it is not enough. I continue to work on my accuracy and decision making.”
With his impressive fifth-grade season in the books, Manley is looking forward to getting even better at quarterback. “I will always be working on my accuracy and the ability to read defenses so I can find the open receivers quicker,” he said. “I feel that my ability to stay calm under pressure and perform for the best of the team is what my strong points are. I am also looking forward to attending the NFA camp in Denver again this year and I hope to get invited to the Duel again, where my goal is to win.”
While he’s already making a name for himself in football, Manley is a multi-sport athlete. “I made the Kansas United basketball team and am one of the starters because of my hard work on defense and my passing,” he said. “I have played baseball and wrestled in the past but plan to focus most of my time on football, basketball and pole vaulting.”
Caden Buckles played for a new team this season, and he had his same old success.
As the starting quarterback for the Knoxville Catholic seventh-grade team in Tennessee, Buckles and the Fighting Irish rolled to a 10-3-2 record. “I’m actually quite pleased with how the season went,” he said. “It was a new offense for me, and I really liked it. On my team last year (Hardin Valley), it was a run-heavy offense and this year it was mainly a passing offense. It was a big change, and with the skill level of our team I was really pleased with how we played.”
Knoxville Catholic peaked at just the right time, beating two teams from North Carolina in bracket play and another team from Detroit in the finals to win the Battle in the Rocky Top national tournament in the seventh-grade division.
“It was a tough competition,” Buckles said of the annual Battle in the Rocky Top. “It’s a really hard tournament, so it was exciting to win it because we found out we can compete against teams that play on a high level. It was a really fun experience.”
From start to finish this past season, Buckles had plenty of fun and success. Running out of a read option offense, he was always in the shotgun and was able to throw or run the football.
“It was a lot of fun,” Buckles said. “This season, knowing I was going to have good receivers and with my ability at quarterback, I enjoyed the fact I was able to throw to them and it gave me the confidence I can play in a good passing offense.”
Buckles averaged close to 100 yards passing per game and scored roughly 30 touchdown on a combination of passes and rushes. “I was very happy with the way I played,” he said. “Coming from an offense that ran the ball so much and not having as many options in the throwing game to having more passing targets and more read progressions, I think I did pretty well.”
While also getting some playing time at defensive back for the Fighting Irish, Buckles delivered a pair of touchdowns – one on a Pick 6 and the other on a fumble return. “I think being a quarterback helped me play defensive back,” he said. “Knowing what the plays might be and where the other quarterback was going to throw in certain coverages, I was able to get to the right place and make plays.”
Before the season, Buckles made his second trip to the Duel and finished second among incoming seventh graders. He won NFA’s international competition in July of 2015.
“Going into the Duel this year and being the defending champion, I wanted to go in and give it my best and know no matter how it turned out, I was going to be happy,” Buckles said. “It would have been really cool to win it again because it was such a good honor. But I was still really happy coming in second, knowing that I’m in one of the top parts of the NFA seventh-grade quarterbacks.”
With his first season with Knoxville Catholic in the books, Buckles is getting right back to work in preparation for eighth grade. He is looking forward to continue training with NFA and Coach Sean McEvoy.
“This off-season, I’m going to work on accuracy,” Buckles said. “I need to get my completion percentage up and I need to work on my read progressions because going into the new offense and having more targets to throw to, I need to work down the pre-snaps of who I’m going to throw to. I’ve been training with Sean McEvoy lately one-on-one and he’s really helped me a lot.”
As a freshman football player, Jared Icenhower was a dual threat for Point Pleasant High School this season.
On one side, Icenhower was the starting quarterback for the Big Blacks’ junior varsity team, which posted a 4-3 record.
“We did pretty well,” he said. “We didn’t start off very well, but we just kept building and we got better throughout the season. I liked how we became closer as a team and worked through the difficulties.”
On the other side, Icenhower played for Point Pleasant’s varsity, one of the top prep teams in West Virginia year in and year out.
In addition to playing QB for the varsity Big Blacks, Icenhower’s offensive skills also came into play at wide receiver.
“I’d switch in and out at receiver,” he said. “And at quarterback, a lot of games we were winning by quite a bit so I got in during the second half almost every game. I was confident when I went in there and did my job. I think I did pretty well.”
How good was Point Pleasant the last four years? How about a perfect 39-0 in the regular season with four straight quarterfinal playoff appearances.
Breaking in to such a strong varsity program can be a challenging task for a freshman, but Icenhower was more than ready to make the step up in class.
“Playing varsity, the speed was the biggest difference,” he said. “It’s so much faster playing varsity, and there’s more pressure. But I just told myself to relax and I did. I was confident in myself and I just went in there and played.”
The Big Blacks averaged almost 50 points a game while winning their first 11 games before falling to James Monroe High School in the playoffs.
“Tough loss,” Icenhower said. “But we had a great season. We’re pretty good. Our offense is really good. We play really fast. We run a hurry-up offense and score a lot of points.”
With Icenhower on the varsity for the next three seasons, look for Point Pleasant to remain a powerful program in the Mountaineer state for the foreseeable future.
“I think I’ll benefit a lot from the experience I got this season,” the 5-foot-11, 165-pounder said. “I was nervous at first, but once the nerves got out I started doing really well. I felt confident in myself and knew I could do it. I’ll keep going to camps and work on anything else I need to do. I need to gain more weight so I’ll lift weights and get stronger. I feel like this year kind of helped me get the feeling of what it’s going to be like. I’ll keep working hard at it.”
Icenhower has trained with NFA the past four years, a critical part of his impressive development as a quarterback.
“They have helped me tremendously,” he said. “I don’t even know if I would still be a quarterback today if it wasn’t for NFA. They’ve helped my overall game a lot and I’ve learned so many things from them.”
Before the season, Icenhower made his third trip to the Duel. He didn’t make the finals the first two tries but finished fifth among incoming freshmen in July.
“I wish I would have done better, but I was happy with how I finished,” Icenhower said. “I worked really hard at it in the off-season. I practiced my footwork and technique and I felt really confident going in. I just did it. It built up my confidence quite a bit. I just kept working on my game and felt like I really improved heading into the season.”
Cam Moncur made his first trip to the Duel in the summer of 2015. In his own words, “it didn’t go well.”
Moncur did something about it.
“My first trip, I didn’t do well at all,” he said. “So I went to a lot more NFA camps and worked on my game a lot more. It helped me a lot coming into my second Duel.”
In July, Moncur did extremely well at the Duel. He finished second among incoming eighth graders.
“After I didn’t do well in the first Duel, I told myself I wasn’t going to let that happen again,” Moncur said. “I told myself I wanted to win. I wanted to be confident. I didn’t necessarily expect to win the Duel, but I wanted to win badly. I was happy placing second but being so close, I obviously would have liked to finish first. Still, I was really happy with it. I wanted to improve and I wanted to win, but to be on that stage and with the NFA organization there and the large number of kids that were participating, doing so well did a lot for me. It gave me a sense of, ‘I got this.’ I can keep progressing.”
An obvious competitor, Moncur built off his Duel success and had a standout season as his team’s starting quarterback at Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” he said after the Bears went 2-3. “But as far as the guys on my team, I was really happy to a part of it. I feel like we really grew together as a team and I’m excited about what the future is going to bring.”
Landon School dropped its first two games before ending the season on a high note. “I just think we started understanding each other as teammates and we started progressing,” Moncur said. “Losing our first two games, that obviously frustrated us. But I think we found a new gear inside of ourselves. We pushed harder, played harder, hit harder and just worked better together as a team.”
As for his own performance, Moncur made steady strides in his first season at Landon School. “All in all, I’m very happy with how I played,” the 5-foot-11, 165-pounder said. “I think I was really consistent with how I delivered the ball and doing a good job of spreading it around. But I think as the record shows, there’s a lot more you can do for your team. There were obviously some throws I wish I could take back. But overall, I’m pretty happy with the way I played.”
Being affiliated with NFA the past two years has helped Moncur grow and improve at QB. “In multiple ways,” he said. “I’m a huge follower of the R4 system. I’ve been studying that a lot through the videos and their book. That’s really helped me on the field.”
The training he’s done with NFA has also elevated Moncur’s play. “The camps and the curriculum that they teach, it provides a really, really good set of ideas for you to bring to your game, and for your fundamentals and your mechanics,” he said. “Any time there’s been a slump throwing the ball or there’s been something weird with my mechanics, I can always go back and look at the notes that I took at the camps I attended. That helps me out and helps me improve my throwing.”
Jacob Winters has been playing football since the second grade, and he’s always played quarterback at a very high level.
Now a sixth grader at River Valley Middle School in Bidwell, Ohio, Winters is making an impact as an offensive lineman this season. The position switch doesn’t mean he no longer likes playing QB.
“This season has been different,” Winters said. “I have to play on the offensive line because we have a weight limit of 130 pounds and I am currently 5-foot-8 and weigh 145 pounds.”
As a natural quarterback who has grown to appreciate the protection provided by his offensive line, Winters is actually enjoying his temporary shift to the trenches.
“Playing the line has taught me to appreciate the guys up front a lot more in what they do,” he said. “I have learned so much about blocking schemes and that will definitely help me out in the future in understanding what goes on up front. And by not playing quarterback this year, it’s allowed other guys the opportunity to get reps running the football which will help our team in the future.”
While he played on the line for the River Valley Raiders and helped pave the way to 4 wins in the first 5 games, Winters has kept his quarterback skills sharp.
“I have had the opportunity to be the scout team quarterback for River Valley High School this year, so I have been working on my accuracy and velocity,” he said. “If I can make the throws now against a high school defense, I definitely will be able to compete as a freshmen in high school. I have also had the opportunity to be the signal guy for our high school team and that has tremendously helped me understand the whys and hows behind our offense.”
Training with NFA the past two years and learning the R4 System has also helped Winters understand what it takes to run an offense. “I’m working to improve in all areas,” he said. “Specifically, at the high school level, my dad (Chuck Winters) is the offensive coordinator and we have implemented the R4 system. I have been studying it and preparing myself for junior high.”
Winters will return to quarterback in junior high next season, and he can’t wait to get back under center. “I like playing QB because I get the opportunity to help my teammates achieve their goals,” he said. “We do a thing at my school where every time we get a break we say ‘family,’ and I think my teammates are my family. By being in this position, it allows me to help them achieve their goals. Playing QB has a lot of responsibilities that I enjoy having. I love competition and the ability to lead.”
Winters’ love of competition has been quite evident the past two summers at the Duel, NFA’s showcase event. Before his fifth grade season, he finished third. This year, Winters delivered another third-place finish.
“My goal at the Duel was to compete with the best quarterbacks around the country, to continue to learn and of course, win it,” Winters said. “I feel pretty good about how I did and I know I have to continue to get better every day.”
Even though he played line this season, Winters improved himself as a quarterback. “Not getting to play QB this year was disappointing, but with the success I had at the Duel it has helped me to assist the younger quarterbacks on our team,” he said.
Training with NFA and coaches like Andy Hall and his father Chuck, who is recently certified, has also helped Winters become a better quarterback. “I want to thank NFA for everything that I have learned up to this point,” he said. “My goal is to play college football some day and with the fundamentals and techniques I have learned, it will help me achieve this dream of mine.”
At this time next year, Quincy Crittendon will be a freshman at Austin High School in Decatur, Alabama. With an eye to the future, the eighth grader has set his football goals extremely high.
“I’m already looking forward to my freshman year,” Crittendon said. “I’ll be looking forward to playing varsity.”
Living in a state that is crazy about its football, Crittendon isn’t just dreaming about playing varsity for a Black Bears team that is an impressive 17-6 over the past two years. This season, he has shown advanced talent at quarterback.
The starting eighth grade QB for his Cedar Ridge Middle School team, Crittendon led the Black Bears to a 7-1 record and the Tennessee Valley state championship.
“I was overwhelmed with joy,” he said of the successful season. “We had some great wide receivers and running backs, a great offensive line. We also had a lot of great defensive players who always were making big plays.”
Heading into the season, Crittendon said his personal goal was to throw 30 touchdown passes, a staggering total. He finished with 20.
“I think I did pretty good,” Crittendon said. “I was really happy with the way I delivered the ball and making it to the championship game. Heading into season, the team goal was to make it to the championship game and win it. Personally, I wanted to throw 30 touchdown passes and be the best leader possible. I’m pretty happy but I think I have room to improve even more. I can get better reading coverages and I can get better with my gap escapes.”
Every quarterback can improve, be it on the NFL level or in eighth grade. But Crittendon showed he already has impressive skills by finishing third in the Duel, NFA’s high-profile competition held every July.
“My goal was finishing in first place,” he said. “But I was happy with how I did and where I finished. I had coach Kraig Campbell work with me and he really helped me get ready for the competition.”
This was Crittendon’s second Duel invitation. He finished sixth on his first trip to Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon, Ohio. “This time, I felt better throwing the ball and hitting my targets,” he said. “I was more comfortable and I was able to compete like I know I can.”
With his eighth grade season in the record books, Crittendon has moved into basketball season. He is a prolific point guard and shooting guard, but football has always come first. “Football has always been my favorite because I like to play quarterback and lead my team,” he said. “And I really like to throw the ball.”
While basketball helps keep Crittendon in shape for football, he lifts weights throughout the year to prepare for the contact. He’s also been training with NFA the past two years.
“NFA has helped me a lot,” Crittendon said. “They’ve helped me with my throwing mechanics and my technique. I’ve become a better passer and they’ve also helped me become more confident and be a better leader.”
He’s still a young quarterback, playing for the Kasson-Mantorville fifth grade Black team in Minnesota. But you can’t blame AJ Donovan if he looks ahead from time to time.
“I’m learning how to run the veer offense like our high school team,” he said.
Successful high school football teams rely heavily on strong feeder programs, and developing the varsity quarterbacks of tomorrow is critical.
As he continues to make impressive strides under center playing for his middle school team, look for Donovan to start attracting increasing notice from the Kasson-Mantorville High School varsity coaching staff.
As for now, Donovan is off to a strong start for the Komets, who started the season with a 4-1 record. “We want to win our league tournament,” he said.
In Kasson-Mantorville’s fifth game, Donovan was a perfect 6-for-6 passing for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns. And, already showing he’s comfortable in a veer offensive system, he rushed 5 times and gained 50 yards.
“I want to be the best quarterback in the league,” Donovan said.
Now in his fourth year playing football and his second season playing tackle, Donovan has little doubt he is playing the right position.
Why does he like QB so much? “Because it is the best position in all sports,” Donovan said.
Attending his first Duel in July, Donovan showed he is one of the best fifth graders in the country with a third-place finish. “It was a great experience,” he said. “I wanted to finish in the Top 5 and be in the finals.”
Having accomplished those goals in NFA’s national competition held at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon, Ohio, Donovan carried the successful showing into his current season with Kasson-Mantorville Black.
“It gave me confidence that I could do anything heading into our season,” he said. “And it also helped my confidence by knowing that all of our high school coaches kept talking about it with me and I knew I could perform under pressure.”
While he is well advanced at option reads out of the Komets’ offense and throwing the football with accuracy and distance, Donovan is still young and working hard to improve his overall game. “I’m working on getting faster,” he said.
Training with NFA since March has helped the young quarterback become even more effective.
“Learning the R4 system has been been big for me,” he said. “Our team uses that system and knowing the R4 has helped me in making decisions. I can’t wait to work with NFA again this winter.”
Most kids like spending their summers cooling off at the pool or goofing around with friends. Dylan Lonergan finds his enjoyment excelling at athletics.
Two summers ago, Lonergan was a big hit on the baseball field. The standout pitcher threw a no-hitter for his Peachtree Ridge Lions team that beat opponents from four states en route to winning the Grand Slam World Series.
This summer, Lonergan received an invite to the Duel and he enjoyed immense success on the football field, finishing second among incoming sixth graders at NFA’s showcase event.
“My goal going into the Duel was winning my age group,” Lonergan said. “I felt I could have done better, but the competition gave me a chance to see how I stacked up against kids my age.”
He stacked up very well against talented young quarterbacks who journeyed to Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon, Ohio, from across the country.
Lonergan rolled into his season with the Peachtree Ridge 12U Lions in Duluth, Georgia, and his team is off to a 5-0 start.
“That’s what I’m happiest about with our season, we are undefeated so far,” Lonergan said. “The team goal is to win a championship.”
As for individual goals, he is aiming for 1,000 yards passing with 10 touchdowns. Lonergan is likely going to meet those milestones, and he had 400 yards passing while connecting on 25 of 46 throws with 3 TDs through the first five games of the season. The sixth grader from Richard Hull Middle School in Duluth also rushed 14 times for 70 yards and another touchdown.
This is Lonergan’s fifth season playing football. Not surprisingly, it’s his fifth season playing quarterback. “I like having the ball in my hands every offensive play,” he said. “ I also like being responsible to run the offense.”
Lonergan has been training with NFA for the past three years, and that’s helped him take his game to an even higher level. “They’ve helped me improve my throwing mechanics,” he said.
As a rising young QB, Lonergan is already at an advanced level with his arm strength and accuracy throwing the football. As he continues working on reading and reacting to opposing defenses, his future could not be any brighter.
Heading into his season with the Rush-Henrietta Junior Comets in the Rochester (N.Y.) Youth Football League, Shaker Reisig was already brimming with confidence.
Not only was the fifth grader on the upswing from his first year of training with NFA, Reisig finished first at the Duel in July. “I feel proud of myself at how well I did at the Duel,” he said. “When I got there, I just wanted to have fun and do my best.”
That’s exactly what Reisig did at NFA’s showcase event in Massillon, Ohio. He had a blast competing against fellow fifth grade quarterbacks from across the country, and he emerged as the winner from his age group.
“Having success at the Duel helped me by giving me more confidence that I can do this,” Reisig said. “It was a really great experience.”
Through his first three games of the season with the Junior Comets, the mulit-talented QB threw 2 touchdown passes and also ran for another TD and a pair of extra points. Reisig also had over 10 catches at the midseason mark.
As a rising young quarterback, the touchdown passes have given him the greatest satisfaction. “The team goal is to win more games this season,” Reisig said. “My personal goal is to be more accurate on hitting my receivers.”
That’s where working with NFA the past year has come into play. Playing such a challenging position at such a young age can be difficult, but Reisig is already thriving under center. And as he showed at the Duel, his passing ability is already at an advanced level.
“I’m happy with my footwork, which is one of my strengths playing quarterback,” Reisig said. “I am working to improve my throwing on the run and leading my receivers. NFA has helped me improve, and learning the R4 system has also helped me.”
Reisig started playing football five years ago, and he was a quarterback in his first two seasons playing flag and the last three playing tackle.
“I’ve always like playing quarterback,” he said. “I like calling the plays and throwing the football.”
Vincent Cajano III is a young quarterback on the move. His rapid rise up started at the Duel in July and has continued to surge during his current season. Cajano, a sixth grader at Dyker Heights Intermediate School 201, is the starting quarterback for the Staten Island Seminoles in New York and his team is 4-0 to open the season. “We all get along and pull together,” Cajano said. “I’m really happy with the way I’ve been throwing the ball, and our team has been able to throw the ball and run and move the ball. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Competing in the rugged Staten Island Boys Football League, which was formed in 1959, Cajano is not only playing against tougher competition this season, he’s taken his game to a higher level. Through four games, the Seminoles are averaging almost 37 points per game. Cajano is 12-for-20 passing with 3 touchdowns. He has also thrown for a PAT and run for two more. “I just try to work as hard as I can and go out and help my team,” he said. “I try to get better game in all areas of the game.” When he started playing flag football, Cajano was a quarterback. But when he moved to tackle football, he was a tight end and linebacker last year for the Staten Island Pop Warner Lions. When the Lions’ regular QB couldn’t make a game, Cajano stepped in and knew he was at the right position. “I really like playing quarterback,” he said. “I like to throw, I like to run and I just really like running the overall offense.” While he is already having a spectacular season, Cajano is focued on taking his game to an even higher level. “I’m working hard to improve my drops and improve my footwork,” he said. “I’m trying to be the best in every possible area playing quarterback.” Being a straight-A student has also helped Cajano become a better quarterback. “I’m able to understand what’s going on with the offense and recognize what the defense is doing,” he said.
Winning the Duel really helped Cajano roll into his season with a full head of steam. “It was my second Duel and I knew it was going to be a challenge,” he said. “I just wanted to do my best.” Cajano did just that, placing first among incoming sixth graders. “It really helped my confidence,” he said. “It showed that if I do my best and work my hardest, good things can happen. It showed that I could go there and compete.” Competing and winning against top-flight competition from around the country is no easy feat, but Cajano made it happen. “I was a little surprised,” he said. “In the back of my head, I thought I had a chance. I didn’t doubt that I could compete. Doing so well at the Duel, it made me feel that I could be a strong leader for my team and help us win games.”