Tristan Szabo is a talented young quarterback, there is no doubt about it.
The eighth grader from Sparks, Nevada, got his second invitation to the Duel in July and finished first among incoming eighth graders in NFA’s national competition.
“It was huge,” Szabo said of his Duel triumph. “You’re going against the best of the best there and to come out of it with a win, that was really good for me.”
Heading into his current season with the Spanish Springs Cougars in the Sierra Youth Football League, Szabo’s confidence was understandably high.
“Knowing you just won this national competition and then going into your season, it’s like, wow,” he said. “I got to show what I can do and that was really big for my confidence.”
Through no fault of his own, Szabo didn’t get a great chance to show his talent in the Cougars’ first six games of the season. They won them all while outscoring the opposition by a staggering 315-41.
The SYFL mercy rule dicates that offensive starters have to come off the field in blowouts, so Szabo averaged less than two quarters of play at QB in his team’s first six games.
“It’s been super frustrating,” he said. “When you get taken out, you’re not allowed to play any other offensive position. But I’ve been really happy with the way the team’s been playing. Our team goal is to make it to Las Vegas and win state.”
With Szabo under center, that goal has a very good chance of becoming reality. In their seventh game of the season, the Cougars dropped a tough 30-27 decision, but Szabo delivered an impressive performance with 3 touchdown passes and another rushing TD. For the season, he’s connected on 31 of 52 passes and thrown 14 touchdowns while rushing for 427 yards and 6 scores.
“I’m super happy,” Szabo said. “I feel like I’m accomplishing what my coaches need from me and I believe I’m doing what everybody said I couldn’t.”
When he has been on the field, Szabo has thrived in Spanish Springs’ shotgun offense. “I think it’s the best offense to be in,” he said. “Honestly, you get to choose what you want to do. I always have a release route, but I like to tuck it because I like to run the football.”
When his QB play was limited during the Cougar’s first six games, Szabo was allowed to play defense and he made a big impact in the secondary with 3 interceptions. “Being a quarterback playing cornerback or safety, you can tell what the other offense is going to do because you know what your receivers are going to do,” he said. “And it’s easier to read the other quarterback’s eyes and get a good break on the ball.”
Szabo is a standout defender, but he is much more at home on the other side of the ball at quarterback. “I’ve been playing quarterback my whole career, since I was seven years old,” the 13-year-old QB said. “I love getting the chance to run the team. You’re telling everybody else what to do, but you have to be on the same page with your coaches and decide what to do. You’re the leader of the team and you have a lot of responsibility. That motivates me.”
Training with NFA the last three years has helped Szabo become one of the top eighth grade quarterbacks in the nation. “NFA has really helped me with my arm, my throwing motion,” he said. “I used to kind of throw the football like a baseball. They’ve also helped me with my overall mechanics, looking off the safety, recognizing coverages. They’ve helped me more than I can explain.”