Payton Falk competed at his second Duel in July, and he fared very well.
Not only did he finish first among incoming high school sophomores, he became the first Canadian to ever win NFA’s prestigious quarterback competition.
“The Duel showed me that I have what it takes to be a great quarterback,” said Falk, who received his invite at an NFA’s 3 Day OSD in Minneapolis (link to Minnesota). “I enjoyed every minute of it. This was my third Duel and finally being able to win it meant a lot, and then being the first Canadian to have ever done it was even more of an achievement.”
Heading into his season with a load of well-earned confidence, he had a big season at Steinbach Regional Secondary School in Manitoba. “The thing I am most proud of about this season is our team became the first team in school history to win 3 games in the top division,” Falk said of the Sabres’ strong showing in the Winnipeg High School Football League. “Our team was recently moved up to the top division and I’m honored to have been a part of the team’s success.”
Based on his historic showing at the Duel and spectacular 91.5 score in the competition, you would have thought Falk was going to quarterback SRSS this season. Instead, he did what was best for the team, and his remarkable athletic ability helped the Sabres roar. Falk rushed 15 times for 125 yards and caught 20 passes for 283 yards and 2 touchdowns on offense. On defense, he had 13 tackles and 1 forced fumble. Falk also returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown.
“My goal heading into the season was to be the best athlete I can be for the team,” he said. “Go play wherever the coaches put me, do what’s best for the team and ball out at that position.”
Falk did all of those things, just as he’s been doing in the eight years he’s been playing football. He started playing QB three years ago.
“At quarterback, I enjoy the feeling of leading my team out on game day and having the other school watch you walk out,” Falk said. “It’s a feeling nothing can replace. As a receiver and running back, my favorite thing is making the big momentum-changing plays.”
Falk’s impressive development at quarterback has been bolstered by his three years training with NFA and Coach JC Boice (link to JC Boice). “Without NFA and JC, I would not be the quarterback or person I am today,” he said. “The program has taught me more than I can say. I’m truly honored to be a part of such a great program.”
Speaking of honor, Falk is an Honor Roll student at Steinback Regional Secondary School. “School helps me understand what is happening on the field and why we use the motions we use as I further my knowledge on the human body,” he said.
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Payton Falk showed what he can do as a quarterback in July. After receiving an invite to the Duel, the eighth grader from Manitoba, Canada, journeyed to NFA’s international competition with some understandable trepidation.
“I was expecting a lot of competition,” he said.
Falk’s expectations were certainly realized, but his own competitive juices kicked in and he finished fifth in his grade group. “It made me feel pretty good,” Falk said. “I really wasn’t expecting to finish in the Top 5. To go there and do so well, it really helped my confidence a lot. It made me feel like I was able to be versatile and could compete at quarterback.”
Heading into his season with the Eastman Raiders in Manitoba, Falk was looking forward to playing quarterback for the third straight year.
Instead, he got caught up in a numbers game and primarily played slot for the Raiders.
“It was something I just had to deal with,” Falk said. “I just tried to do the best I could at the position I was playing.”
Falk played exceptionally well at slot back, scoring a whopping 20 touchdowns while leading the Raiders in receptions and receiving yards. “I think having played quarterback helped me play the slot,” he said. “I was able to read the defenses and understand what they were trying to do.”
With Falk helping the offense pile up points, the Raiders went 6-2 during the regular season before bowing out in the semifinals of the playoffs. “I felt it was very important that we played so well as a team and had a good season,” he said. “Where we play, we’re a rural team outside of the city (Winnipeg). We’re considered an underdog so to have a good season, it meant a lot to us.”
Next year, Falk will be a freshman at St. Paul’s High School and he’s looking forward to changing positions. “My goal is to play quarterback,” Falk said. “I like being in charge of the team and leading the offense and getting wins.”
St. Paul’s is a football powerhouse, and the Crusaders won the Winnipeg High School Football League championship this past season.
At St. Paul’s, many freshmen play on the junior varsity football team. The next step up is the AA team, with the AAA team providing the top level of competition.
“In Grade 9, I want to play on the AA team,” Falk said. “And I want to play quarterback next year. I’m really looking forward to playing quarterback and leading the team.”
Training with NFA the past year has helped Falk develop his QB skills, and he’s looking to improve even more before advancing to the high school level.
“NFA has helped me a lot,” Falk said. “My first camp was in Minneapolis and I was able to throw about 5 yards farther after they corrected my form. My release was faster and my accuracy was better. They really helped me a lot.”
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.”
Kristoff Kowalkowski continues to thrive on daunting challenges. In the classroom, he is a standout student and while he should be enrolled in seventh grade based on his age, Kowalkowski takes high school honors classes and is fluent in Chinese. On the football field, he is playing at the high school level for Apollo in St. Cloud, Minn. “I’ve really had to adjust my game speed and I have to recognize that these kids are physically and a little mentally stronger than me,” Kowalkowski said. “I have to adjust myself and it’s been kind of tough at times, but it’s a lot of fun.” Over the summer, the varsity coaches at Apollo High School brought in Kowalkowski and asked him to take a big step up in competitive class. Naturally, the 5-foot-11, 165-pounder accepted the challenge and participated with the Eagles’ varsity players on the field and in the weight-room, where he was up at 6 a.m. every day getting stronger. “It’s been a great challenge,” Kowalkowski said. “It’s been hard at times, but there was no doubt in my mind that I could do it. I’m ready for it.”
Meeting the Challenge
While he is the backup varsity QB at Apollo, Kowalkowski is starting under center for the Eagles’ JV team. Not suprisingly, he’s doing very well. Through three games, Kowalkowski has helped Apollo go 2-1 while throwing for over 200 yards a game with 6 total touchdowns. “With our offense, we run a lot of spread and I really like it,” he said. “It’s fun. My goals are to continue on with my throwing, concentrate on throwing the ball well. A big goal is moving the chains and winning games.” Since he is competing against players that are older, bigger and stronger, Kowalkowski is not going to rest on the early success he’s having as the starting JV quarterback. That’s not part of his makeup. “I’m trying to get better with my footwork and get to a point where I’m consistently able to release the ball quicker,” he said. “These kids are coming in a lot faster than I’m used to, so I’ve had to adjust my mechanics and become faster. I’m really happy with how we’re playing as a team, but I’m working hard to improve every game.”
Another Duel Win
Kowalkowski is playing way up in class this season, but he came in with an added dose of confidence after winning the Duel this summer among incoming seventh graders. It was the second time he’s won NFA’s showcase event in three years. “Winning the Duel gave me a lot of confidence,” Kowalkowski said. “It tells me that I’m good at what I do.” Kowalkowski has also benefited from training with NFA the past five years. “They’ve helped me so much with my mechanics, with everything you need to be a better quarterback,” he said. “I’m able to take what I learn from NFA and use it in my games.” While he still a very young player performing at arguably the most challenging position in sports, Kowalkowski has already attracted national attention by winning a pair of Duels. He is also high on the QBHitList’s Class of 2021 quarterbacks to watch.
NFA and the Andover High School football program have been on the same page for five years. Not surprisingly, they have combined to write a very successful story.
Rich Wilkie is the head coach at Andover, located in suburban Minneapolis. He’s been at the school for 14 years, and he has coached prep football for 28 seasons.
When his son, Connor, broke out big as a sophomore at Andover, Rich Wilkie started researching high-level quarterback training programs.
“I’ve always coached quarterbacks and it’s kind of been one of my niches,” Wilkie said. “At that time, I just felt like (Connor) needed more than I could give him. So I started a search and came across NFA. The rep for our area was Jeff Menage, and I had known Jeff going back to our North Dakota days when we were there.”
Wilkie called Menage, and the two sides quickly found common ground. “Jeff came up and said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to show you what this is all about and I think you’re going to like it,’” Wilkie said. “He came up from Springfield (Minn.), which is quite a drive, and literally did about a 30-minute introduction with Connor. Connor’s eyes lit up just in that little bit of time. We dug into NFA more and Jeff asked if we wanted to be the host school for NFA camps and I said, ‘Sure.’ Since that point it’s become part of our program now, to use NFA exclusively, to train the mechanics and character of our players.”
NFA, the Wilkes and countless others were incredibly saddened when Menage passed away two years ago at the age of 49.
“He was a great guy,” said Connor Wilkie, who is now playing quarterback at Southwest Minnesota State University. “I remember when he came up to give the whole NFA introduction and I fell in love with it right away. He came up to the camps we hosted at Andover. I also remember my senior year, we made it to the state tournament and I kind of needed a tuneup, my mechanics were out of whack. He drove up when we were done with practice and helped me out because that’s the kind of person he was.”
Menage is still fondly remembered, and NFA has carried on in his absence.
Not only does Andover still host NFA camps, the powerhouse Huskies train their QBs through NFA and run the R4 system.
“Coach Wilkie is the quintessential coach relationship and an incredible host for NFA,” said Darin Slack, NFA’s founder and president. “In 28 years, he is among the best examples of how NFA creates a mutually beneficial experience. We are so very grateful for men like Coach Wilkie who support and appreciate what we do to serve coaches and their players. It’s a privilege to be able to have him, his son, and program on our side.”
After meeting up with Coach Menage and connecting with NFA, Coach Wilkie read “From Headset to Helmet,” the R4 book co-authored by Coach Slack and Coach Dub Maddox. His intial reaction was familiar.
“I got the book shortly after I met Jeff,” Coach Wilkie said. “We were just transitioning into some Pistol stuff, running a lot of stuff that Nevada was running. I was flying out there to meet with their coaching staff for a staff clinic. I read the book on the plane over and back and was like, ‘This is it.’ It was kind of an ephiphany of really how to do it. I told Darin the next spring, ‘It’s a better way to communicate. It’s made all the difference in the world.’ But I say this all the time – it’s always tough for me because I want to promote it so much but I feel like I’m helping my opponent if I do.”
There is little doubt Connor Wilkie benefitted from his NFA training and learning the R4 system en route to becoming Andover’s all-time leader in touchdown passes and passing yardage.
“The first game of my junior year, we ran a simple all hitches but with the R4 system,” said Wilkie, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound left-hander. “Just reading the defenders, our slot receiver got behind a backer and right between the safety and I ripped one in there. I came off to the sideline and said, ‘These mechanics are for real. I couldn’t do that as a sophomore.’”
Coach Wilkie is capable of teaching quarterback mechanics, but it is a time-consuming task for a head coach with a lengthy list of other things to do. That’s why NFA has been such a big help with Andover quarterbacks Connor Wilkie, Jeremy Neuman, who had a big senior season this year, and more young talent to come.
“As far as the mechanics for quarterbacks, we learn from those guys, use the NFA videos,” Coach Wilkie said. “When NFA is here, they are showing those kids where their mistakes are and how to fix them. Connor started playing quarterback in fifth, sixth grade. They learn how to throw a football on their own. It’s easy for those kids to fall back into what they’ve done. It’s a process to monitor the mechanics and maintain them after the season, so I rely on NFA to kind of work with them and make sure we’re maintaining.”
Lead or Follow
In addition to teaching quarterbacks to maximize their success on the field, NFA sends a strong message emphasizing leadership.
“Going into my senior year, I started getting college looks,” Connor Wilkie said. “Darin gave me the heart-to-heart of, ‘It’s not about you. There is more to the game than stats and how you play. You can be a leader.’ That really hit home and I kind of took off from there. I’m better because of that as I look back on it.”
A student of the game, Connor Wilkie sees the NFA influence spreading throughout football. “My dad and I, we’ll watch quarterbacks and their mechanics, and you can see who gets to zero and who doesn’t,” Connor said. “As NFA is getting more popular, there are a lot more quarterbacks out there now and you can see more guys with the NFA mechanics.”
Neuman is a great NFA success story, and he is coming off a standout senior season with the Huskies.
Heading into his freshman year at Andover, Neuman started working with Coach Menage and NFA. “Coach Menage was so helpful and he worked with my motion and mechanics,” Neuman said. “Continuing on with NFA, they definitely helped me to get to where I am. I don’t think I’d be anywhere as close to where I am without them.”
As a senior this season, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder completed 192 of 359 passes for 2,453 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Neuman saved his best effort for last. In Andover’s 47-44 loss to Moorhead in the state tournament, he connected on 30 of 42 passes for 379 yards and a staggering 7 touchdowns.
“With the loss, that made it tough,” Neuman said. “But it was pretty exciting to be a part of it.”
Coach Wilkie had similar sentiments. “Jeremy had a great game and he had a very good set of wideouts that understand the R4 system,” he said. “A stat line like that, maybe if it’s during the season and you’re playing kind of an average opponent, maybe that doesn’t impress you that much. But when you’re playing a state playoff game and playing one of the best teams in the state, to do what he did there, that was pretty impressive.”
Like Connor Wilkie, Neuman is looking to take his game to the collegiate level. “I’ve looked at a lot of schools and I’m still trying to figure out the best fit,” he said. “I think I can play college football somewhere.”
Connor Wilkie has no doubt Neuman can succeed at the next level. “He’s kind of like my little brother,” Wilkie said. “It’s pretty cool to see how NFA helped him out and turned him into a gunslinger.”
Smarts, skills make Kowalkowski a success
He would never come out and say it, but when Kristoff Kowalkowski is on the football field he is typically one of the smartest players.
Not only is the 11-year-old Duel winner a straight-A student at Madison Elementary School in St. Cloud, Minn., Kowalkowski comes from a football family. Oh yeah, he can also speak and write Chinese thanks to participating in an immersion program at school.
It’s little wonder Kowalkowski has a complete understanding of whatever offense he is running. “I like being one of the leaders on the field,” the 5-foot-3, 110-pounder said. “It’s really fun when you learn everything and then you can just see it come together on the field. And I like picking apart defenses.”
While he is still developing his game, Kowalkowski has already established himself as a dangerous QB capable of shredding the opposition.
Playing for the St. Cloud/Apollo Mustangs last season, he led his team to a 4-2 record and did not throw an interception or turn the ball over all year. He did have 6 touchdown passes and multiple games with over 100 yards passing.
“I think it’s important,” Kowalkowski said. “When you don’t turn the turn the ball over, you’re not going to give the other team chances to score. If there’s a defender within 3 yards of where I want to throw the ball, I’m not going to throw it.”
Kowalkowski threw the ball extremely well at the Duel in July, winning NFA’s showcase event in his age group. “I just wanted to go there and do my best and see what happens,” he said. “Finishing in first place, it makes me feel pretty cool. It was a great competition and to do so well, I think I’m pretty confident heading into my season.”
Back with the Mustangs this year, Kowalkowski is looking to build off the success he had in 2013. “Just like last season, I don’t want to turn the ball over,” he said. “And hopefully, we can score more touchdown and make more yards after completions and rush for more yards.”
For the past two years, Kowalkowski has been training with NFA to help sharpen his quarterback skills. It has obviously been paying off.
“NFA has helped me with a lot of my mechanics and footwork,” he said. “I want to get better with my footwork. My mechanics are pretty good but with better footwork I’ll be able to move a lot better. I also work a lot with my dad.”
Tom Kowalkowski played college football at St. John’s University in Minnesota under legendary Head Coach John Gagliardi, who retired after the 2012 season with a 489-138-11 record, making him the winningest coach in collegiate history.
Tom is thrilled his son has hooked up with NFA. “I think it’s a wonderful program,” he said. “It really helps the kids. More importantly, they’re teaching them a philosophy about life, and that’s more important than football. I’ve been very impressed with NFA.”
Brad Maendler back where he belongs
After playing his college football at Bemidji State in Minnesota, quarterback Brad Maendler embarked on a career in sales and he’s risen to National Accounts Director for Corporate Visions, Inc.
But when he started coaching his son’s youth football team, Maendler caught the bug. “I had so much fun doing that,” he said. “I guess I didn’t know I’d end up coaching quarterbacks at the high school level, but when things started going down that path it was pretty exciting.”
In 2009, Maendler served as a volunteer coach at Hudson High School in suburban Cleveland. The next year, he became a full-time member on the Explorers’ staff as the quarterback coach, and Maendler’s offensive expertise has helped Hudson advance to the Final 16 in the Ohio state playoffs in each of the past three seasons.
“We’ve played some tremendous football in that time,” he said. “We have a bunch of smart, hard-working kids that are good athletes and are a lot of fun to coach. It’s been a blast.”
NFA an ‘amazing experience’
In addition to being on the sidelines at Hudson, Maendler has been coaching with NFA since 2009.
“Getting connected with then QBA, now NFA, and being able to learn under people like Darin Slack, Will Hewlett, Dub Maddox and JC Boice, it’s been an amazing experience,” Maendler said. “I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in the five years I’ve been with this organization. My passion for this position and the training that I’ve had and the experiences I had playing has really shaped the way I do this.”
When he’s coaching with NFA, Maendler is able to inject much of the high-level instruction he does with the Explorers. And when he’s at Hudson, he taps his valuable NFA experience.
“One of the things I always talk about that is right out of the NFA playbook is the whole concept of being a thermostat and the ability of a quarterback to really change the temperature in a room and by extension, change the psyche of a team and their level of performance and commitment to doing things the right way, playing for each other and playing like brothers,” Maendler said.
Having experience playing football at the collegiate level gives Maendler a big edge in the coaching game. “I really love watching kids get better and improve,” he said. “I think so much of what we do as coaches is giving them a road map for life success later. This is like a practical application, doing something that they love to do that is going to be a great process and approach for them to have life success. NFA has been unbelievable for that.”
Coaching quarterbacks is particularly appealing to Maendler, considering the position is vital to the football team’s overall success. “Our guy has his hands on the ball every play so it’s critical that they are able to make great decisions, they can make the throws we need them to make,” he said. “We’re always assessing what our guys do best and how does that marry up with the offense we run?”
Coaching college-bound QBs
At Hudson, Maendler is coaching quarterback Mitch Guadagni, who already has a flood of Division I collegiate offers as he prepares for his senior season with the Explorers. Before Guadagni, he coached David Nelson, who was a preferred walk-on at Indiana, and Rich Piekarski, who is now a standout free safety at Duquesne.
Growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, Maendler first caught the coaching big from his father. “He was just one of those guys that had that amazing ability to have competitive teams,” he said. “My dad taught the fundamentals, and the kids had fun and learned how to compete. It didn’t matter if he had a great team or an average team. He was so consistent. I saw him have such an impact on so many kids, so that was probably my biggest motivator for becoming a coach.”
Mitch Guadagni eyes next level
Mitch Guadagni has always been patient enough to wait for his turn to play quarterback at Hudson High School, which is located just outside of Cleveland. But when he was a freshman, he moved up to the Explorers’ JV team when David Nelson went down with an injury.
As a sophomore, Guadagni took over as Hudson’s varsity starter at QB when Ben Hart broke his wrist in the first game of the season. “He played basically every snap as a sophomore and he had a huge year, throwing for over 2,000 yards with 26 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions,” said Brad Maendler, the Explorers’ quarterback coach. “He’s really taken off from there. I’ve been at Hudson since 2009 and he’s the best quarterback I’ve coached. We’ve had some really good ones, but Mitch is on another level.”
As a junior last season, Guadagni showed why, passing for 2,029 yards and 22 touchdowns while exploiting his 4.63 speed in the 40 to rush for 913 yards and 7 more scores. The 6-foot-2 1/2, 190-pounder also led the Explorers to a 10-2 record, which included a playoff win.
“I thought we had a very good season,” Guadagni said. “We lost a couple of our good seniors but we stepped it up on both sides of the ball and won a lot of games. Personally, there are definitely some things I want to clean up heading into my senior year. There were a couple of reads I wish I could have gotten back but overall I thought it was a good season.”
Big Ten interest
Guadagni had a good enough junior season to attract widespread collegiate attention from Big Ten schools like Northwestern, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. He’s already received offers from Buffalo, Kent State, Toledo, Western Michigan, Akron and James Madison.
“I’ve wanted to play college football ever since I was little,” Guadagni said. “My dad (Mark) played for Michigan, so I’ve always been around football. Always watching Michigan games, I always wanted to play at the next level.”
Ideally, Guadagni would like to commit to a college before the start of his senior season, but he is still enjoying the recruiting process. “So far, it’s been good,” Guadagni said. “A little stressful, but overall it’s been fine. I like getting out and seeing colleges. It’s cool being able to talk to coaches and get a good feel for them. It’s been good so far.”
Maendler, who is also an NFA coach, is confident Guadagni is going to be an impact quarterback at the collegiate level. “I don’t think there’s any doubt,” said Maendler, who was a standout QB at Bemidji State in Minnesota. “When I look at quarterbacks and what I want, I look for toughness, I look for smarts and I look for work ethic and he’s got all three in spades. He’s so got so much natural athleticism but he works so hard. That’s a great combination.”
While Guadagni has passed for over 4,000 yards and nearly 50 touchdowns in his first two years at Hudson, he is equally dangerous rushing the football. “I love being able to run the ball,” Guadagni said. “I’ve been a quarterback my whole life and back when I was a kid playing with the (Hudson) Hawks, all we did was run the ball pretty much. I still love running the ball.”
Dangerous dual threat
His obvious ability as a dual threat should help get the Explorers back into the playoffs next season and advance Guadagni’s career at the next level. “I think it’s a combination of things that stand out with him,” Maendler said. “He’s such an explosive runner but he can throw. Make no mistake about it, he can really throw the football. Offensively, we are a very balanced team. I think his passing and rushing numbers, they give you a good sense of what he’s able to do.
“And I think that kind of flexibility makes him really valuable to colleges because he can stand in the pocket and throw and progress through our pass concepts,” Maendler continued. “He can also handle quarterback runs and he’s outstanding at escaping out of the pocket and making something out of nothing. He’s got that flair for making something happen when it doesn’t look like anything’s there. That flexibility of throwing and running and the ability to make something out of nothing makes him a really a valuable quarterback.”
For as good as he’s been with the Explorers and for as bright as his future is, Guadagni is a perfectionist and he’s not going to sit back and admire what he’s already accomplished. “I think there’s definitely a lot more room for improvement,” Guadagni said. “Just with reads, I made a couple of bad decisions last season that I think could have helped us a lot. Just being able to know when to tuck the ball and run or make a little better read with the zone offense, there’s definitely some stuff I need to work. Overall, I hope there’s some improvement.”
Given his natural ability and intense drive, you can bet Guadagni’s future steps are all going to be forward. And even with all of the college attention, he’s focused on getting Hudson deeper into the playoffs next season.
“I’m definitely working on my footwork and a couple of adjustments we’ve made with the offense this off-season, a couple more plays that have been put in,” Guadagni said. “I’m also throwing with the wide receivers, trying to get a good feel for them.”
Guadagni has been training with NFA since he was in the seventh grade, and he appreciates the pointers he’s picked up from Maendler and the rest of the NFA staff. “Back in seventh grade it was learning to get to zero and little stuff at first and then we’ve just built on it the past few years,” Guadagni said. “From just throwing the ball to reading the defense to getting more power on my throws, NFA has helped me with everything.”
Jackson Erdmann has dream season
The obvious question is this – what is Jackson Erdmann going to do for an encore? How is he going to top the stellar junior season he recently completed at Rosemount High School in Minnesota?
“We had a great season,” Erdmann said. “Obviously, our goal from the start was to get to the state championship game. Once we got there we felt like it was a big step and we wanted to finish with a win. We didn’t come through and that was a little disappointing. But other than that, it was a fantastic season.”
Erdmann, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback, led the Irish to an 11-2 record and appearance in the Class 6A (largest schools in the state) title game. It ended with a 28-7 loss to perennial powerhouse Eden Prairie, but that did nothing to diminish a memorable year.
Playing four of its eight regular season games against 6A playoff teams from the year before, Rosemount rolled through the difficult schedule and outscored the opposition 272-28 during the first half. That usually meant a quick hook for Erdmann from Irish head coach Jeff Erdmann, his father.
Despite coming out early in most games, Jackson Erdmann still managed to pass for 1,788 yards and 25 touchdowns on only 161 attempts. Erdmann was also voted South Suburban Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Year.
“I was pretty satisfied with my season,” he said. “There were a few games that I didn’t do so hot in, but once we got to the state tournament it was kind of weird playing the whole game because I was so used to coming out early. Overall, it was a great season.”
Erdmann got an early jump on his junior campaign by getting an invite to the Duel by NFA. He finished second in the showcase event last summer in Massillon, Ohio.
“That was a real cool thing to do,” Erdmann said. “I was thrilled to just be there. When I went to my first NFA camp, being invited to the Duel was the goal. I didn’t think I performed really well, so I was a little surprised when they called my name to be in the finals.”
Erdmann started attending NFA camps a year ago. “I realized how much it helped and how great it was to focus on my mechanics,” he said.
In addition to preparing for his senior season at Rosemount H.S., Erdmann is also in the early stages of the college recruiting process. “It’s been going good,” he said.
Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa State, Northern Illinois, North Dakota State and South Dakota State have already expressed interest. “I’m hoping to play at the highest level possible,” Erdmann said. “Hopefully it’s Division I, but we’ll see how this next season goes. I’m confident I have a really good chance to play in college. It just depends at what level.”
If he turns in another banner season with the Irish, Erdmann’s stock is really going to rise.
“I’m hitting the weights, throwing and running every day with the guys and just working on my quickness and strength,” he said. “We have our offense coming back but our defense, we lost a few guys. We’re hoping to make it to the state tournament for sure and hopefully we get back to the state championship game and win it this year.”
When Colby Brown went to his first NFA camp as an eighth grader, he didn’t exactly stand out. As a matter of fact, he really wasn’t even a quarterback at the time.
“I was an offensive lineman, a guard,” Brown said. “I went to my first NFA camp and they changed my throwing motion and that gave me a little confidence and I started believing I could do it. I started believing I could play quarterback.”
During his freshman season at Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla., Brown made his first appearance at QB in a playoff game, and it was a memorable debut. “They put me in the fourth quarter and I threw for about 200 yards,” he said.
Brown led Olympia to another playoff appearance during his sophomore season before moving to Plant High School in Tampa. As a junior, Brown played behind highly skilled senior Aaron Banks but still managed to compile 470 passing yards and 4 touchdowns.
This past season, the senior led Plant H.S. to an 11-2-1 record and another postseason berth while passing for 2,905 yards and 31 touchdowns. Brown also rushed for 151 yards and 3 TDs.
In addition to NFA, Brown said playing on the offensive line helped make him a better football player. “Moving from offensive line to quarterback, I’m glad it worked out that way,” he said. “I got a better understanding of how hard an O-lineman’s job is, and even though I was an O-lineman, I was one of the smallest kids on the team and I thought I might have developed a little toughness. I probably should go back to O-line a little bit and toughen up again.”
This past week, Brown signed a letter of intent to play QB for Eastern Illinois, which advanced to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs last season. The Panthers were led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who is positioned to be selected in the top half of the upcoming NFL Draft.
In good company at EIU
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo also played at attended EIU, as did New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton. “They’re a good team and they’ve got really good coaches,” Brown said. “They’re new and they’re going to do well. They told me I had a chance to compete early and I really liked hearing that.”
Brown was relieved to hook up with Eastern Illinois, and he is happy the recruiting process is over. Even with the impressive numbers he put up for one of the top high school programs in football-rich Florida this past season, Brown was not overwhelmed by college offers.
“The process was brutal,” Brown said bluntly. “I had 15 schools or so that told me, ‘Hey, if this kid doesn’t commit the spot’s yours.’ A kid always committed. It happened at Utah State, Toledo, Rutgers, Vanderbilt, Minnesota, Georgia Southern and a bunch of other schools. It was rough. It was pretty nerve racking. The thing I think kids need to understand about the recruiting process is, it’s not ever a measure of how talented or how good you are at football. It’s a measure of how good you are and the situation you’re put in. That’s what (Head) Coach (Robert) Weiner always told me at Plant. It’s a pretty rough process, especially for quarterbacks.”
Brown’s lack of size was also an issue. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, many big-time programs obviously thought he was too small.
“Absolutely, it was a problems for a lot of schools,” Brown said. “I kind of like my size. I feel like I can use it to my advantage a little bit. But there are just some schools out there that won’t offer a smaller guy. It doesn’t matter how good he is. Anything that cuts your options in half like that, it’s going to make it tough. I almost feel like little guys are better, to be honest. Big guys can see a little bit better, but unless you’re a big guy that’s really athletic, and still throw with accuracy, it’s like what’s the point if you’re going to be awkward and big?”
Brown said he was relieved to find a college home at Eastern Illinois, and he’s ready to help keep the program on strong footing. “I think I’ll have a huge chip on my shoulder, being a small guy, being a guy that was under-recruited,” he said. “I love having a little chip.”
And even though he’ll be starting all over again as a freshman, Brown said the lessons he learned from NFA should help him overcome any future obstacles. “NFA was a huge push for me,” Brown said. “They taught me a lot about playing quarterback and they taught me a good part of how to be a man, how to treat people. Treat everyone like they’re important and that really helped shaped my leadership skills.”