The junior year of high school is crucial for any quarterback hoping to attract the attention of Division I colleges. Some young quarterbacks get the opportunity to play on the varsity level as sophomores, but for the most part many are banking on big junior debuts to get on the recruiting radar.
For instance, 2008 Elite 11 MVP Aaron Murray is one who had to wait his turn. Although he certainly had the talent to play as a sophomore, he had to wait for teammate and current University of Miami QB Robert Marve to finish his career at Plant.
Murray had so much talent heading into his first year as the starter for Plant and had such good performances at camps -- such as the Florida State Nike Camp -- that he earned a few early offers, despite not having started a game. Murray also took advantage of a unique opportunity: He was selected to be a ball boy at the 2007 Elite 11.
Every year a few underclassmen are selected to come work the Elite 11 for a chance to get some reps in during practices. Past quarterbacks who have served as Elite 11 ball boys include Jamarcus Russell (LSU/Oakland Raiders), Cody Hawkins (Colorado). Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) and Jonathan Crompton (Tennessee).
This year's Elite 11 featured a trio of diversely talented and hard-working QBs who surely will be heard from down the road out of the Class of 2010.
Devin Gardner (Inkster, Mich.) first impressed the coaches at the Columbus NIKE Camp in May. At nearly 6-4 and 195 pounds, Gardner stands out physically in a crowd, and when he throws it around, you definitely take notice. Gardner is fast becoming a top prospect for 2010 and already has offers from Michigan State, Bowling Green, Toledo and Cincinnati, and many other schools are showing a lot of interest.
Right now, Gardner--as all young players do--has much to work on to become a better quarterback. But he certainly is ahead of the curve athletically, with his ability to pull it down making him a dual-threat signal-caller. He says he looks forward to working on the mental aspects of quarterbacking.
"I found out at the Elite 11 that there are a lot of other players all over the country that can do the same things I do, and if I want to set myself apart I have to do all the other little things," Gardner said.
On tape the Michigan native resembles Vince Young, starting from the No. 10 jersey he wears and extending all the way through his three-quarters release and sneaky, elusive, long-striding ability to make big plays with the ball in his hands.
After watching him during the week, Gardner will have to learn to be tall in the pocket and take advantage of his height. He says his biggest weakness is his accuracy, which is a direct result of arm placement and how the ball is released. He has a real bad habit of dropping his release point when throwing, as well as sinking his hips and knees when throwing. This happens more when throwing shorter routes, as he tries to guide the ball.
This fall, expect Gardner to be more comfortable under center as a result of his week in Southern California. Not only did he take full advantage of every rep on the field but he also improved greatly on the chalk board. When asked if he left the camp a better player, Gardner's response was "absolutely and hands down, my ability to read and recognize coverages are much better now."
Along with the aforementioned early offers, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Penn State have shown interest and will be following his progression on the field this fall.
Chandler Whitmer (Downers Grove, Ill./South) is a true competitor and is always working hard to set himself apart from the rest of his class. In early May, he attended the Stanford Nike Camp because he felt the pool of talent would be stronger there than at the Ohio State Nike Camp, which was much closer for him geographically. Whitmer left the Stanford Nike Camp as a top underclass performer.
"It was the best experience I've had to date in my football career," the 6-0, 180 pounder said of the Stanford camp. "Having the chance to work with the best quarterbacks and coaches in the country was unreal, its something I will never forget."
Even at this early stage in his career, Whitmer shows an above-the-curve understanding of the game and of the work it requires to get better. Just after the Elite 11, he was down in Florida working out with Aaron Murray and Plant coach Robert Weiner during a vacation with his family.
"I realize that I have the skills and talent to be one of the top quarterback in the Class of 2010 if I continue to work at my game everyday, utilizing what the coaches have taught me," Whitmer said.
The Illinois standout is very quick and is light on his feet, which leads to quick, smooth drops. He throws the ball well on the run and can make plays with his feet. The biggest knock against Whitmer will be his size and strength, and it's something he is already aware of.
"My biggest weakness is my physique right now, I need to get bigger, stronger and improve my arm strength," he said.
The young quarterback is already on the radar of many big schools after a sophomore season in which he threw for 18 TDs and only three interceptions. Yet to receive a formal offer, Whitmer is hearing some good things from Arizona, Illinois, Stanford, Notre Dame and South Florida.
Earlier in June at the Las Vegas EA SPORTS Elite 11 regional, eventual Elite 11 selections AJ McCarron, Bryn Renner and Richard Brehaut were vying for a spot at this year's big show. While these three had all eyes on them, one player was emerging right next to them as a '10 QB to keep an eye on.
After making a big impression in Las Vegas, Redlands (Calif.) East Valley pocket-passer Tyler Shreve was picked to be a ball boy at the Elite 11. The selection gave him a chance to see where he stood among some the country's best quarterbacks.
"It was a great experience at the Elite 11, just getting a chance to work with the coaches was awesome. Most importantly I found out that I could compete with the best high school quarterbacks in the country," said the 6-4, 205 pound Shreve.
Confidence is one of the most important aspects a player needs to have to be successful, especially at the quarterback position. As the week progressed at Elite 11, it was easy to see Shreve becoming more and more confident with himself as he realized he "belonged" in that group. In drills he was making quicker decisions, and hitting receivers on time.
Without questions, Shreve's biggest strength right now is his throwing arm. Being primarily in a shotgun system at REV is very beneficial for him, as he can just get the snap and let it rip, as he did last year, throwing 20 TD passes.
Heading into his junior year Florida, Oregon and Arizona have shown the most early interest in Shreve.
Other Top Class of 2010 Quarterbacks to Watch
• Tyler Arndt, 6-4, 200, Cuero (Texas)
• Bryan Bennett, 6-2, 170, Encino (Calif.) Crespi
• Terrance Broadway, 6-1, 195, Baton Rouge (La.) Capitol
• Trey Burton, 6-2, 205, Venice (Fla.)
• Chas Dodd, 6-0, 180, Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes
• Brandon Doughty, 6-3, 190, Coconut Creek (Fla.) North Broward Prep
• Tyler Gabbert, 6-0, 175, Ballwin (Mo.) Parkway West
• Jeffrey Godfrey, 5-11, 170, Miami (Fla.) Central
• Jake Heaps, 6-2, 185, Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline
• Austin Hinder, 6-5, 175, Steamboat Springs (Colo.)
• Claude Johnson, 6-1, 195, Pine Bluff (Ark.)
• Zach Lee, 6-4, 195, McKinney (Texas)
• Phillip Sims, 6-2, 200, Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith
• Peter Thomas, 6-5, 200, El Cajon (Calif.) Valhalla