The improvement started at the Duel, and it continued throughout the season.
After placing eighth in the Duel before heading into eighth grade, Hayden Richardson climbed to No. 5 overall among incoming ninth graders this summer.
“I was happy with coming in fifth place,” he said. “It helped my confidence and it helped me understand what I am capable of doing. I look forward to continuing to improve.”
Heading into the season at Marist School, a powerhouse football program in Atlanta, Richardson continued to improve while emerging as the No. 1 quarterback on the War Eagles’ freshman team.
As the season progressed, he was bumped up to the JV team and also was promoted to the varsity. “I am really happy about making the most of my limited role with the freshman team throughout the season,” Richardson said. “I was able to make the most of my limited role and show how I can contribute to the team. We started the season 1-2 but we were able to win four straight and finish at 5-2.”
His success at the Duel and with Marist School’s freshman team helped elevate Richardson to the JV and varsity programs. “I look to be as consistent as possible and continue to improve everything,” he said. “I can make plays with my legs, I have good overall accuracy and I am a good decision maker.”
Richardson is very good in all areas, but he is still working hard to become an even better quarterback. “I’m working to improve my overall game,” he said. “I want to be as consistent as possible and continue to improve everything. I want to get better at avoiding the rush when I’m in the pocket and improve my footwork.”
A quarterback since he was in third grade, Richardson has gotten better and better with experience. “Playing quarterback, I really enjoy being able to handle the ball every play and be in complete control of the offense,” he said. “And I like being able to run and throw the ball.”
Training with NFA for the past three years has helped Richardson take his game to higher levels. He qualified for the Duel at a camp at East Coweta High School in Georgia.
“NFA has improved my arm over the last three years,” Richardson said. “Each year, it has improved greatly. Without NFA I wouldn’t be able to throw as well as I do today. They have also helped me with understanding to read defenses and avoid pass rushers. They have really helped me improve.”
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The first Duel is often the toughest. It’s very likely the first national competition for quarterbacks in fourth/fifth grade, and more and more QBs are coming in from Canada to take part in NFA’s showcase summer event.
Chap Chapman earned his Duel invite in Atlanta, Ga 2 Day PSP and the fifth grader from nearby Monroe finished in first place among the youngest group of QBs at the competition.
“Winning the Duel title was a great experience,” Chapman said. “I learned so much about what I need to do as a quarterback to succeed on the field. And the coaches and players I competed against taught me so much that I used during the season. Winning the Duel gave me the confidence that in real games, I could make the tough throws under pressure. And having the correct fundamentals made all the difference this season.”
Playing QB for George Walton Academy this season, Chapman led the Bulldogs to the playoff semifinals. “Heading into the season, the goal was to help my team win the league title,” he said. “I’m most proud of the comeback win we had in the first round of playoffs.”
Given the way he is rapidly developing at quarterback, many more wins are undoubtedly coming in the future. “I feel playing quarterback is the best possible position because you can help your team win in so many different ways,” Chapman said.
While his throwing skills are obviously strong given his showing at the Duel, Chapman can also run the football. He accounted for 8 touchdowns this season via the pass and rush.
As his career progresses, Chapman is working to get better and better. “I have a lot of confidence in my arm strength and accuracy,” he said. “But I am working to improve my all-around game, from my passing form to reading defenses and carrying out play fakes. I also want to learn to make the right mental decisions on when to scramble or throw the ball away.”
Training with NFA and Coach Adam Britt in Monroe, Ga. the past two years has helped Chapman get a leg up on the competition.
He is also an Honor Roll student at George Walton Academy. “My general education helps me understand plays and how to read defensive and offensive schemes,” Chapman said.
When you put the work in, good things usually happen. JeKobe Coleman is a prime example.
Getting after it on the football field and in the classroom is paying off big for the sophomore honor student, who is the starting quarterback at Fayette County High School in Fayetteville, Ga.
“I’m just trying to keep it up,” said the humble 15-year-old. “And I want to do even better.”
That’s setting a pretty high bar, considering the success Coleman enjoyed this season, his first with the Tigers’ varsity team.
Heading into the summer camp, Fayette County H.S. had a returning senior and junior competing for the starting QB job. Coleman quickly zipped up the depth chart, and the 6-foot, 160-pounder passed for nearly 800 yards and 7 touchdowns in his first 9 games.
“Heading into the season, we were all competing and I had to win the job,” Coleman said. “I was humble but I was confident because I know what type of work I put in.”
In addition to training with QBA, Coleman put in more time trying to improve his game. “I trained four or five days a week, working on my craft.”
Starting at the varsity level as a sophomore is difficult. Playing quarterback is even more challenging, but Coleman has handled himself very well.
“The speed of the game is faster, so that’s been the biggest adjustment,” he said. “My job is to provide leadership and make sure my team stays level-headed. Playing quarterback, you have to be able to be the thermostat of the team.”
NFA is well known for teaching QBs to keep the temperature at “68 and breezy,” and Coleman has learned that lesson very well. Training with QBA has also aided his rapid development.
“NFA has helped me a lot, especially learning to read the defense quicker,” Coleman said.
Qualifying for his first Duel at a camp in Atlanta, Coleman placed fourth among incoming sophomores at NFA’s showcase competition in July. “I really went in just wanting to have fun and learn some new things,” he said. “I was happy finishing fourth, but there were a couple of throws I felt like I could have done better and earned more points. But I feel like it was a good experience.”
Coleman has earned Offensive Player of the Week honors from Elite Georgia Recruits and he was voted Student Athlete of the Week. He’s also received an invitation to play in the All-American Bowl in New Orleans.
“It means a lot to be rewarded like that with all of the work that I’ve put in,” Coleman said. “I just have to continue to keep on working.”
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.”
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.
Given his impressive size, Caleb Ellard always found himself playing on the line when he started playing football.
It’s not surprising, considering the 13-year-old from Georgia already stands 6 feet tall and weighs 170 pounds.
Deep down, Ellard wanted to play quarterback. “It was kind of frustrating,” he said. “But I just knew if I kept working hard at it, my time would come to play quarterback.”
Ellard’s time has come. He is playing QB for the Classic Cowboys, an independent travel league team in Athens, Ga. And he is playing very well.
“I feel very comfortable throwing the football,” Ellard said. “I’m comfortable passing just because I know that I get the ball to my receivers and I can be accurate. I’m very happy to be playing quarterback, but that doesn’t mean I can stop working hard. I’m working to get my footwork a little bit better and I’m working on my throwing mechanics.”
Ellard’s size has been an asset at quarterback. “With passing, it helps me because I can stand tall in the pocket and not have to throw over defenders so much,” he said. “With running, it’s easier because not a lot of people want to tackle me.”
While helping the Cowboys get off to a 2-0 start this season, Ellard passed for 4 touchdowns and had 3 rushing scores. Last year, he primarily played fullback but did go 3-for-3 passing the football.
To prepare for full-time play at QB, Ellard attended two NFA camps. He also received his first invite to the Duel and finished second among incoming seventh graders in July.
“My goals at the start of the Duel were to just go out and have a good time, do my best and see how far I could go with it,” Ellard said. “It was very exciting. I thought I would probably be in the top five going into the primary gauntlet round. Once they got down to the top two, I got a little nervous because I wasn’t sure if they were going to call my name or not.”
Doing so well at NFA’s showcase event has helped Ellard step right in and perform with the Cowboys. “It gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “Going into the season, finishing so higgh at the Duel helped me to realize that I was that good and I could play well for my team. I was able to start at quarterback on a team I never played with before. It really helped.”
In addition to being a young quarterback with a very bright future, Ellard is also a straight A student at Prince Avenue Christian School. He was recently inducted into the National Junior Honor Society. “Grades are more important than football because without good grades, you can’t get into college,” he said.
Nick Patterson: Likes being pushed to the limit
Like many of the other young invitees to the NFA’s first annual OpC4 camp in Tampa in early January, Nick Patterson of Lakeside High School in Evans, Georgia, had limited varsity experience.
That didn’t matter to the sophomore who has been on the radar screen of the NFA from the time he was in grammar school.
“Until the Tampa camp I’d never really worked with Will Hewlett but when I was in sixth-grade he liked me on Facebook and that’s what got me interested in NFA,” Patterson said.
In 2011, when he was in the seventh-grade, and in his fourth year of organized football, NFA did a story on Patterson after he had already attended NFA camps and worked with NFA Founder and President Darin Slack.
Now, after showing the kind of overall improvement needed to be invited to the exclusive OpC4 camp, Patterson did not disappoint.
“I think the main reason I was invited to Tampa was I’ve shown in NFA camps I’m a competitor,” Patterson remarked. “Since I started with NFA my goal has been to strive to get better at each camp and I feel I’ve improved every time I go to one.”
Ready, willing and able
The OpC4 camp is like no other but the 6-foot, 175-pound Patterson was ready after having worked with Slack so many times in the past.
“Coach Slack pushes you to the limit and not just on the football field. He teaches you to be able to respond in uncomfortable situations. An example is at the camp we had to stand up and tell everyone why we were different. It wasn’t easy.”
It might not have been easy but Patterson proved himself at the camp. This is what Slack had to say.
“Nick has the calm and easy demeanor of a seasoned veteran at quarterback, with an obvious talent that should net him a starting role at the collegiate level one day.”
And what about the guy that liked him on Facebook way back when.
“He has a quick, compact release. He’s well coached, his ability to make throws on the move is just as impressive as when he’s in the pocket,” Hewlett remarked. “Patterson should have a break-out year in 2014.
They play the Masters golf tournament in nearby Augusta, but in Evans and at Lakeside, the Panthers compete in the Georgia Class 5A Region 2, said to be one of the toughest regions in the Peach State.
In Georgia the boys can play up to six quarters a week so last season Patterson was both the Panthers’ JV starter and varsity back-up. In JV action he racked up big numbers passing and rushing, including a game where he was over 200 yards on the ground and in the air for a 7-0 team. He also had four varsity TDs passing.
A backup no longer, its Patterson’s turn to run the no-huddle offense of Lakeside Coach Jarrett Troxler.
“I got introduced to the offense my freshman year. It’s the Auburn run game with a lot more passing.”
Best attributes and favorite part of OpC4
“My best attributes are I strive to limit my mistakes, that I’m a dual threat and I’m an accurate passer,” said Patterson, who has a 3.8 GPA and scored 1,420 on the PSAT.
“I’ve been to a lot of NFA camps but none pushed me this far. This camp gave us the experience of having a lot of adversity thrown at us.”
“Getting up and working out with the Navy Seals at 6 am – they pushed us to our limits.”
Coleman Smith on the move up
After Coleman Smith finished fourth in his age group at the Duel last summer in Massillon, Ohio, NFA coaches raved about the up-and-coming quarterback. “Great acumen with high scores in both coverage tests,” the scouting report said.
While he just completed his fifth grade season playing quarterback for the River Ridge Knights in Woodstock, Ga., this past year, Smith has been a football player since he was in the second grade. His dad, Brad Smith, has a coaching background, so some knowledge has obviously been passed down.
“Having played four seasons for the same coaches and running the same offense has helped me,” Coleman Smith said. “And I love to watch football, especially the Georgia Bulldogs. I think that watching games really helps. My dad was a high school football coach and he coaches me now, so he is always making me tell him what I see, what coverage the defense is running, what person is the QB reading, thing like that. That has really helped me understand the game better both offensively and defensively.”
Operating out of a Wing T/Triple Option again last season, Smith passed for 660 yards and 8 touchdowns and ran for 250 yards and 4 more scores.
“I like the offense because I get the choice of who gets the ball when I make the line reads,” Smith said. “And I also like that the receivers are open a lot because the linebackers bite on the run.” One of the highlights from last season came when the opposing defense got caught up in pass coverage and Smith took advantage with an 80-yard run.
Smith is already looking forward to playing for the River Ridge Junior Knights sixth grade team next season. “I am working hard on my technique and doing some speed and agility training,” he said. “Personally, I would like to throw the football farther and be able to read the coverage better. And for my team, I would like to win the (Cherokee Youth Football Association) championship. We made it to the championship two seasons ago but lost.”
With Smith back at QB, the Knights should be able to mount a championship run. “I am a good leader, have good footwork and pretty good technique,” he said. “I always need to work on technique and need to learn to read the defensive coverage better.”
Attending NFA camps for the first time last year helped Smith enhance his game, and he plans on returning for more training in 2014. “I will definitely go back this year,” Smith said. “It really helped me understand the proper technique for throwing a football and how to correct myself when something was wrong.”
Finishing fourth at the Duel was a big confidence boost for the young quarterback. “It helped me a lot,” Smith said. “Being able to work with and compete against some of the best quarterbacks in the country showed me that I was pretty good.”
Andrew Van Wie rises to challenges
As he prepares to head into middle school and then the high school level, Andrew Van Wie has already set a pretty high bar for himself. The sixth grader was not only a rousing success on the football field this past season, he was equally aces in the classroom.
A straight-A student at Notre Dame Academy in Duluth, Georgia, Van Wie had the discipline to hit the books even after driving up to an hour each way to and from football practice. “It’s actually pretty hard because with football practice three days a week, I’d get home after 9 o’clock,” he said. “I have to pay a lot of attention in class, take good notes and work hard. I work hard at school and at football. I’ve been doing it the last few years, school and sports, and it comes a lot easier once you get used to it.”
Van Wie used his athletic ability and smarts to win the starting quarterback job with the Forsyth Paladins, who entered the 11U season ranked third in the state. After shaking off some injuries early in the season, Van Wie threw 15 touchdown passes and led the Paladins to the Georgia Division 1 semifinals.
“I really liked playing against the best competition in the state,” he said. “I proved to myself that I can play with anyone. It raised my confidence because now I know I’ve done it and I know what to expect.”
Van Wie’s strong grasp of the game allowed Forsyth to install a no-huddle spread offense, and the Paladins also used hand signals on center snaps while expanding the playbook. “I was really proud of the way the season went because it was a new team for me and there was a lot of competition at quarterback,” he said. “I had to prove I could be the starting quarterback and one of the team leaders.”
Home at QB
Van Wie proved he was up to the challenge, and he’s happy he was moved from offensive tackle to QB after just two games of his first football season in third grade. “Back when I started football, I enjoyed it and I thought our team did pretty good, so I was hoping quarterback would be my position for the future,” Van Wie said. “I’ve been able to play quarterback and I really like it. Everyone looks up to you and you have to be the leader of the team. That’s something I really like about quarterback.”
In 2012, Van Wie finished first in his age group at NFA’s Duel of the Dozens in Massillon, Ohio. This past summer, he placed second. “I know that for everyone from NFA in my grade, I can compete with them,” Van Wie said. “That helped me a lot, and it helped my team. The kids I competed with at the Duel helped me compete for the quarterback job on my team.”
In addition to the past two Duels, Van Wie has attended five NFA regional quarterback camps over the last three years. “Andrew has a lot of talent that’s going to take him a long way,” said NFA Coach Adam Britt. “He picks things up really fast, especially for his age, and he can do anything you ask him to do on the field.”
Evan Conley has bright future in Georgia
Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates set a pretty high bar at Pope High School, located just outside of Atlanta. Before heading off to the University of North Carolina to play college football and then making it to the NFL, Yates passed for 2,305 yards and 17 touchdowns during his senior year at Polk, earning Atlanta Metro First-Team honors.
The Greyhounds look to have another standout quarterback coming up through the system in Evan Conley. Playing for Pope’s seventh grade feeder team this season, Conley sparked a 6-3 record by throwing for 1,538 yards and 26 TDs while running for 297 yards.
“I thought we had a really good season, and we had a really tough draw in the first round of the playoffs,” Conley said. “My goal for next year is to keep playing well at the eighth grade level. The main goal is to win a playoff game because that’s something that’s been alluding me.”
Conley’s best game for the Greyhounds came in a 58-18 win. He threw 6 touchdown passes and spread the football around, finding four different receivers in the end zone.
Spread it around
Conley has been playing QB for seven years and likes using all of his offensive weapons. “I like playing quarterback just for the fact that I’m in control and I can kind of determine what happens,” said Conley, who connected with nine different receivers during the season. “As a receiver, you go to the line and you rely on the quarterback to get the ball to you. I like to be able to determine what happens.”
When his receivers are not open or he is under a heavy rush, Conley showed he can tuck the ball away and run. “I would say I’m pretty good at avoiding the pressure,” he said. “I like to run the ball. I’m working on being able to go to my second and third reads more often, get better at my check downs.”
Conley has been working with NFA to polish his game, going to camps the past three years. “I grew up a baseball player so I was kind of throwing the football like a baseball,” he said. “NFA helped me improve my throwing mechanics a lot and they’ve helped me come a long way.”
Before the season started at Pope, Conley was invited to NFA’s Duel of the Dozens competition in Ohio over the summer and he placed fourth in his age group. “I did better than I expected,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, and it definitely boosted my confidence a lot. It made me more trustworthy of my throws, and being more confident let me take more chances.”
John Michael Estes doing big things in Georgia
Year in and year out, East Paulding High School always seems to put powerhouse football teams on the field. Seven times in the last eight seasons, the Raiders have won at least eight games and advanced to the playoffs.
The near future looks equally promising for East Paulding. This year’s freshman team was a perfect 6-0 before losing to Allatoona in the final game of the season, and the eighth grade Raiders were boosted by the skills of quarterback John Michael Estes.
Already 6-feet tall and 185 pounds, Estes threw 14 touchdowns passes for the eighth graders at East Paulding Middle School. Estes was also selected to play QB on Nov. 23 for the Georgia Middle School Athletic Association (GMSAA) all-star team.
“I think I had a good season, and being taller, I can see over the offensive and defensive lines and that makes it easier to throw the ball,” Estes said. “From the start of the season to the end, I worked hard and tried to get better and better and it was an honor to be picked for the all-star game.”
NFA Duel champion
Estes came into the season ready to play. He’s been attending NFA camps the past two years and last summer he won the prestigious Duel of the Dozens for quarterbacks headed to eighth grade.
“NFA has really helped me a lot,” Estes said. “My throwing motion was kind of messed up and after working with NFA, it’s a lot better now. They’ve helped a lot. And winning the Duel, that gave me a lot of confidence for the season.”
Later this week, Estes has been invited to Troy University in Alabama for an unofficial visit. He’ll get a very early look into what it’s like to prepare for and play college football. “I’m really excited to see what that’s like,” Estes said. “I’m going to watch the game and hopefully I’ll get to talk to some of the coaches.”
Before he seriously starts thinking about possibly playing college football, Estes is going to prepare himself to play for East Paulding H.S. next year. “My goal is to start for the JV team as a freshman and then as a sophomore, start for the varsity,” he said. “I’m going to work out a lot, go to some NFA camps and keep working to get better.”
With four years of playing quarterback under his belt, Estes has gotten better each season. He actually spent the first three years of his football career playing fullback. “I always like running the ball, but playing quarterback, I like when it comes down to the end of the game and you’re able to help your team,” Estes said. “Just helping the team win, that’s what I try to do.”
Along with two of his current teammates, Estes is looking forward to playing in this year’s NFA Future All-Americans Bowl Game in Florida.