Dub Maddox remembers the first time he crossed paths with Seth Agwunobi.
“He was different than most of the young quarterbacks that we get at camps,” said Maddox, a Master Coach for NFA. “He paid attention to everything we were teaching. His eyes were always locked into the each coach that was teaching or running a drill. I was impressed at how quickly Seth would listen and then make that changes that were necessary to change his mechanics.”
Agwunobi was a fourth grader when he first started training with NFA. Now, he is one of the top Class of 2018 quarterbacks in the country.
“NFA has been tremendous for me,” Agwunobi said. “To this day, I work on the mechanics I learned from NFA. Their mechanics are the ones that helped develop my throw into what it is now. The gave me the mold. I’ve changed a little throughout the mold but the mechanics I learned are still helping me.”
Now a 6-foot-2, 186-pounder, Agwunobi is working to build off a wildly successful freshman season at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia.
Maddox, for one, is not surprised that Agwunobi is doing so well at such a young age.
Performing under pressure
“He was a quiet kid but had a look in his eye that spoke loudly,” said Maddox, who also serves as offensive coordinator at national powerhouse Jenks High School in Oklahoma. “It was the look that I have seen in the best QB’s I have worked with. It was a look of focus and a look that displayed a confidence to perform under pressure. Anytime we would put Seth in an environment of pressure and competition with others, he always maintained his composure and excelled. Seth has been to a ton of NFA camps and another thing that stood out with me about Seth is that he never acted like he had arrived. At every camp he always continued to try to find something in his game to work on. He never went through the motions.”
Agwunobi’s strong work ethic and natural talent paid off last season when he stepped in as Episcopal’s varsity starter.
“I wasn’t so much surprised as I was reassured that my abilities were able to mesh with everyone else,” he said. “It was pretty nice.”
Agwunobi had a very nice freshman campaign with the varsity, leading the Maroon to a 7-2 record. Taking over as the starting quarterback in the third game, he passed for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Agwunobi also rushed for 410 yards and 5 more TDs.
“I was most happy with my ability to come in and lead the offense,” he said. “Coming in as a freshman, it was definitely a challenge. But I was able to work with the seniors and juniors and we accomplished a lot of great things.”
Agwunobi is not going to rest of his stunning success as a freshman.
“I need to work on my reads a little bit more,” he said. “Work on our offense, knowing the ins and outs of our offense, not just knowing how to do it but knowing why you do it.”
As his sophomore season at Episcopal draws closer, Agwunobi already has some goals in mind.
“We had two losses last year, and I want to cut it down to zero losses and have a great season,” he said. “I also want to bond with the new kids coming in and make sure the season is a lot of fun and we accomplish great things.”
While he is still a very young quarterback, the 15-year-old Agwunobi is already attracting interest from big-time college programs.
He’s already attended camps at Rutgers, Boston College, Northwestern, North Carolina and N.C. State this summer, with visits to Michigan State, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest also on the schedule.
Boston College, Rutgers, Northwestern, Duke, Wake Forest, UNC, Wisconsin, Penn State, Miami, Vanderbilt, Pepperdine, UConn, Clemson, Michigan State, NC State, West Virginia and Old Dominion are among the schools recruiting Agwunobi.
“It’s definitely exciting,” he said. “It’s something new but I think I’m ready to handle it.”
Whether it’s school or sports, Gage Palus augments his natural skills with a heavy dose of hard work.
A straight-A student at Ovid-Elsie High School in Michigan, the freshman also excelled on the football field this past season. Elevated to the Marauders’ Junior Varsity team, Palus started at quarterback and sparked his team to a 6-3 record.
The 6-foot, 190-pounder passed for over 900 yards and 16 touchdowns while being intercepted just 3 times. Palus also rushed for 200 yards and added 4 TDs on the ground.
“Getting moved up to the JV team, it was kind of a surprise at first,” he said. “I was pretty happy with the season. I didn’t think I was going to do that good, but I just put the work in and played the best I could.”
In two games for the Ovid-Elise JV team, Palus passed for over 200 yards and 3 touchdowns. “The first game of the season, it was a little bit intense,” he said. “It was probably the best team we played all season. It was my first game with the JV and it probably wasn’t the best game I ever played, but I just tried to improve and build off that game. I think I was able to do that.”
Palus also started on defense at strong safety and was always on the field for the Marauders. Now, he’s playing freshman basketball, but Palus continues preparing for his sophomore football season with the Ovid-Elsie varsity.
With basketball practice and games taking up his time in the afternoon and evening, Palus wakes up at 5 a.m. and is at school a half hour later. “I work out for an hour before classes start,” he said. “I put a lot of work in because I want to make my parents proud of me and I want to get better so I can perform better on the field.”
Palus has also been training with NFA for the past six years. “NFA has helped me work on my form to get it as perfect as possible,” he said. “I think my throwing mechanics are pretty good. I can release the ball faster and hit my targets. They changed a lot of my mechanics, and NFA helped me with my form. They also helped me with my footwork and helped me read defenses.”
Last summer, Palus attended his first Duel and finished in fourth place among incoming freshmen. He was in second place at NFA’s showcase event in Ohio heading into the final Gauntlet.
“It was my first Duel, and I thought it was pretty intense at the start,” Palus said. “But after a while, I relaxed and realized I could compete with the other kids that were there. I was pretty happy finishing fourth. I was in second going into the last Gauntlet, so I was kind of kind of mad when I didn’t do as well as I wanted. I thought I could have done better, but overall I was happy.”
With his work ethic and natural ability, Palus is going to keep getting better with age. And if everything falls into place, he could very well take the next step up and play quarterback for the Marauders’ varsity football team next season.
“The varsity head coach said he’s going to give me a shot,” Palus said. “If I can’t play quarterback for the varsity, maybe I can play defense or find another spot on offense for the year.”
Ideally, he’ll be at QB, the position Palus has played since third grade. “I really like playing quarterback,” he said. “You get to lead the team on offense and that’s something I like to do.”
NFA quarterbacks are accepting big-time college offers at a staggering pace these days, and there are plenty more talented athletes making their way toward signing day.
From Brandon McIlwain on the East Coast, to Tommy Stevens in the Midwest, to Quentin Dormady in the Southwest, to Morgan Mahalak on the West Coast, NFA clearly has been making a positive impact across the country.
And don’t forget about Canada.
It’s no longer hockey or bust, and Zach Dies is a prime example of the high quality of football players coming out of Canada.
Dies, who has been attending NFA camps since January of 2013 and is in the prestigious Blackshirt program, played for IDFFL Team Canada in the Midwest Elite 7v7 Tournament in late May. He led his team to an impressive third-place finish in a quality field of 18 teams.
The Midwest Elite tourney was held in Auburn Hills, Mich., and Team Canada competed against some of the top Division I prospects in the nation, including quarterback Alex Malzone, who will play his college football at Michigan.
Dies, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder, was voted third team All-Offense. He was coached by Anthony Cannon, who played in the NFL with the Detroit Lions.
“Only a sophomore at QB, this young man has the poise of an NCAA quarterback,” Coach Cannon said of Dies. “For Canadian high school football players, one of the biggest challenges of being recruited by major U.S. universities is getting them to see Canadian athletes play against top talent.”
Dies made the most of the showcase opportunity.
“Playing in the All-Midwest tournament was great, and it let me see how good I have to become to play at the next level,” Dies said. “I faced up against a junior D-1 commit (Malzone) who just played at an unbelievable speed. This is where I need to be by the end of my junior year.”
Dies will play for Admiral Farragut in St. Petersburg, Fla., this year.
“My goal for this next season is to help my new team be successful,” Dies said. “I know that I have to compete for the starter job with a senior (Dalton Collins) who is a great guy and leader on the team. I want to get out there and get some reps and learn from Dalton. Hopefully, I fit into my new school and get things rolling quickly. NFA’s values are specifically designed for my situation, when coming into a new environment you have to be passionate about the program, and everyone will follow you when you lead with passion.”
Playing in the Midwest Elite tourney at such a high level can only help Dies prepare for the new challenge at Admiral Farragut. “I feel like playing against the best high school players in America makes me that much more accountable for being the best I can be every time I step on the field,” he said.
Dies also said his experience with NFA has helped make him a better quarterback in the present and a college level talent in the future.
“I am using football as a means to get a good education; I want to get a college scholarship and if I get to do that by playing football, that will be an added bonus,” he said. “NFA has taught me how to properly throw a ball, but most importantly, how to act as proper gentleman and be a man and leader, on and off the field. My two favorite quotes from the NFA coaches are … 68 degrees and breezy and to be great on a Friday night, you need to be great every night.”
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.”
Max Tucker gains strength from late father
This past football season, Max Tucker experienced the ultimate high. After transferring from Wheaton Academy to another Chicago-area high school – Westminster Christian – the junior won the starting varsity quarterback job and wound up passing for 1,513 yards and 12 touchdowns while running for 3 more scores.
Tucker also experienced the ultimate low. His father, Jim Tucker, Max’s biggest fan, best friend and fellow football fanatic, passed away on Nov. 21 after being diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in September.
It was an emotional rollercoaster ride for Max, who will never forget the season or his dad.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Max said. “I was talking with some friends a couple of weeks ago just about how much my life has changed from this time last year. On May 1 of last year, I decided to transfer from Wheaton Academy to Westminster Christian because I felt like I’d have a better opportunity as a football player to play. My dad was really behind that decision. The coaching staff at my old school basically told my dad, they didn’t tell me because I wasn’t allowed in the meeting, that I would never be a successful high school quarterback and my dreams to play in college were unrealistic.”
After hearing that, Jim Tucker stood up for his son, just like he always did.
“In the meeting, my dad quoted Philippians 4:13 which says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,'” Max remembered. “And then he quoted Matthew 19:26 which says, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ Then he said, ‘My son will do whatever God has called him to do,’ so we decided to transfer. My middle school coach gave me the Westminster coach’s number, Coach (John) Davis, and I gave him a call. He said, ‘Well, we already have a pretty good quarterback but why don’t you come down.’ So I worked out for him and I threw for him and he said, ‘If you want to transfer we’d love to you.'”
At that point of his life, Max Tucker was walking on clouds. Since the age of 5, he only had one dream and that was playing in the NFL. Finally, the 6-foot, 185-pound QB was going to get the opportunity to show off his skills.
The right move
“I ended up transferring and it was a really good decision for me and my family,” Max said. “I wound up becoming the starting quarterback and was All-Area. It was more than anything I could have expected.”
Two days before his first start for the Warriors, Max was at practice going over the game plan with Coach Davis. That’s when everything turned upside down.
“My dad came out to practice and he had rashes all over his face,” Max recalled. “He had been sick for a while but we didn’t know what it was. As it progressed, he had it looked at. Coach John was talking to me about the game plan and I was sitting next to him. I’m usually very involved because our offense is a no-huddle, fast-paced Denver Broncos type of offense; a lot of times I’m making the play call at the line of scrimmage on the fly.
“I just remember totally tuning him out,” Max continued. “I was looking at my dad and I was so confused. I had asked him when he showed up if he was all right. He said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ But I knew something was wrong and Coach looked at me and he knew I was kind of out of it. He asked me what was wrong and I said, ‘Coach, I think my dad’s sick.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘I think something’s really, really wrong.’ He sat and prayed with me and my dad.”
‘It hit me really hard’
Jim Tucker already knew he had one of the worst cases of cancer possible, but he kept the somber news to himself for the time being. “He didn’t want to tell me until after my first game,” Max said. “After the game, we went to a wedding and he waited until the wedding was over because he didn’t want to ruin it. After the wedding he told me he was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Me and my dad were really, really close. I was so shocked and it hit me really hard.”
Jim Tucker always was in the stands when his son was on the football field, but he was unable to make most games as his illness worsened. “I rea1ly tried to play the season for my dad,” Max said. “In middle school when no one believed in me, in high school when no one believed in me, my dad was one of the only people that was willing to stand up and say, ‘You can do this.’ This whole season, I just felt like it was an enormous opportunity to, not prove everyone wrong, but I wanted to prove my dad right. I didn’t know how much time I had with my dad. He lasted about six weeks longer than the doctors told him, just by sheer will.”
Against doctor’s orders, Jim Tucker willed himself to attend Max’s last home game for Westminster Christian and he wound up having the best seat in the house. Coach Davis pulled his car onto the field and parked it on the sidelines, right around the 25-yard-line, and Jim watched from there.
The Warriors were trailing Christian Liberty Academy by 9 points at halftime and, well aware it would be the last time his father would see him play football, Max spoke up during the intermission. “I just remember looking at my team and being so frustrated,” Max said. “I gave a speech and don’t even remember it. I was kind of somewhere else.”
Westminster took Max’s words to heart and rallied for a 33-28 win over Christian Liberty, and Max will never forget the postgame celebration.
“We came all the way back and won with two minutes left,” Max said. “I took the last knee and the student section made a tunnel we went through. I got to the car and I hugged him and started bawling my eyes out. I said, ‘I love you dad, this is for you.’ My dad grabbed me and said, ‘I love you so much son. Thank you.’ And me and my teammates, we did a tribute hash-tag that said, ‘Win for Jim’ and we’d wear that on our eye paint. It became the saying around our team. After the game everyone in the stands, my teammates, they all started chanting, ‘Win for Jim.’ Coach (Davis) doesn’t get very emotional, but he started crying. There wasn’t a dry eye in the stands.”
A couple of weeks after that, Max had to temporarily drop out of Westminster Christian.
“I was gone about a month to take care of my dad because he got very sick and my mom couldn’t do it on her own anymore,” Max said. “He just got sicker and sicker.”
Max remembers the very last talk he had with his dad.
“He told me, ‘You know, I never really told you this and I probably should have a long time,’” Max remembered. “‘I didn’t want you to love football because I love football; I wanted you to love football because you love football.’ I was like, ‘Dad, even if you hated football I’d love it.’
“He said, ‘This has been your one dream.’ He was a very spiritual person and he believed God put passions in your heart and it was your job as a Christian to follow them. My dad said, ‘I never told you this, but this is my dream, too. It always has been. And there are going to people that are going to tell you you’re crazy, you’re not good enough, you’re not big enough, strong enough, fast enough, you don’t throw a good enough ball.’ Those people are going to tell you that because they’re too afraid of the possibilities of this world and the possibilities of God. They don’t like not being able to have control over something, so they don’t want you to have control. I want you to see this thing through.”
Max plans to heed his father’s final words. He is heading to Central Michigan this weekend for junior day and is also looking at Cornell, Northwestern and USC.
“Anything is possible,” Max said. “I learned that from my dad. We say that but we don’t mean it genuinely. I think life has limits because we allow it to have limits. I never had total faith in that until now.”
Max credits his father for so many things, and finding NFA is one of them.
He started attending camps in middle school and completely credits NFA Founder/President Darin Slack for his polished throwing mechanics.
“My dad also bought NFA’s entire video series,” Max said. “Every summer for the last four or five years, it’s just been repping all of those videos and I’ve gotten better and better.”
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.”
After serving as a backup with the Wildcats in his first year at the Big Ten school, Siemian started making his mark last season as a redshirt sophomore.
Overall, Siemian completed 128 of 218 passes for 1,312 yards and 6 touchdowns. He had a monster game in his first start for Northwestern, against Indiana on Sept. 29. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder sparked a 44-29 win over the Hoosiers while connecting on 22 of 32 passes for 308 yards.
But in Siemian’s highlight game, he came off the bench against Michigan. In a Nov. 10 visit to Ann Arbor, Siemian entered the game late in the second half and threw 2 touchdown passes, including a 15-yarder to Tony Jones with 3:59 left in the fourth quarter to give the Wildcats a 31-28 lead.
The Wolverines got a game-tying field goal with 2 seconds left in regulation and they won in overtime, 38-31.
2012 Bowl Highlight:
Northwestern is no longer a doormat football program, but the Wildcats entered last season not having won a bowl game since 1949 and riding a 9-game losing streak in the postseason.
Thanks to Siemian, the drought is over.
Kain Colter got the start for NU in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, but Siemian had a big impact in the 34-20 win vs. Mississippi State.
Siemian completed 12 of 21 passes for 120 yards and also ran for his first collegiate touchdown.
Heading into spring football practice, Siemian and Colter, who will be a senior next season, were slated to split time under center.
Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald used both QBs last year and expect the trend to continue in 2013.
When Fitzgerald wants to put the ball in the air more, Siemian is the better option. Colter is a phenomenal athlete and is often used at wide receiver.
Northwestern also landed a top QB recruit in Matt Alviti, who prepped at nearby Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Ill.