Luke Del Rio emerges at Ohio events

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When the pressure is on and the stakes are high, that has been when Luke Del Rio of Highlands Ranch (Colo.) Valor Christian has excelled.

So when he ran through the Pressure Cooker -- the final event at Friday's Columbus Elite 11 Regional -- and completed every single pass, his father wasn't surprised.

"He's at his best in that setting," his father, former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, said. "I wish I could get everybody to see that, because I've seen how he has been very unflappable in those situations. And getting that opportunity, in front of the crowd and his peers, it was a great opportunity."

Even with the strong performance, Luke didn't earn an invitation to the Elite 11 finals. The invite went instead to Michigan-bound quarterback Shane Morris.

"I thought yesterday I had won it," Luke said. "When I didn't win it, I'm not going to lie, I was pretty [upset], and it was hard for me to go to sleep. ... So I came in today and I had an even bigger chip on my shoulders."

His shortcoming Friday raised the stakes, and pressure, for Saturday's Nike Football Training Camp. And even with that chip on his shoulders, he was able to find a steady arm and finish as the top quarterback and walk away with the position MVP award.

Luke looked at the NFTC as a moment to earn his spot on a national stage. The day before, no one really knew who he was. When the shaggy-haired, blonde boy walked onto the field at Ohio Dominican University, most figured he was a California kid. Few bothered to ask who he was.

That was until they saw him throw.

In Friday's finals, which featured just six quarterbacks, Luke was the only contestant who completed each pass. That event is the kind of bubble Luke wishes to play in at all times.

"Other guys are like, 'Wow, are these people are watching me and I'm on camera or Trent Dilfer will see this or my family will see this, I can't mess up!'" Luke said. "But for me, I have confidence and I know I can do it. Especially some of the throws that require touch, if you get all your angst up or get nervous, you'll overthrow it."

Luke's father sat in the stands and stood on the sidelines, videotaping his son's performance. The elder Del Rio knows a thing or two about quarterback talent. After all, he is a former NFL head coach and the current defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, who just picked up Peyton Manning.

But the only signal-caller on his mind this weekend was Luke.

"I'm always a coach, but I'm also a dad," Jack said. "When I'm watching Luke, I'm a dad, and I want to support him. But I can't help but coach, too. I'm evaluating always."

He was proud of Luke's performance and knows the MVP title at an event such as the NFTC could help catapult Luke onto the national scene -- something that has eluded him. So far Luke has flown below the radar, picking up just one offer from Colorado State, though the interest is beginning to rapidly pick up, as Jack said more than 20 schools are coming out to watch Luke work out this spring and summer.

For several athletes, being the child of a high-profile coach can often taint the athletic experience, but Luke said it has only helped him. As the only son in the Del Rio family, he has soaked up the football experience and enjoyed being a part of the game since birth, learning from a defensive-minded coach.

"I actually prefer that he has a defensive mindset rather than an offensive mindset, because at quarterback you attack the defense so you need to understand it," Luke said of his father's influence. "With defenses, you need to know how they line up; if they're going to roll to it, what it's going to look like; how to attack certain coverages that other people might not know how to attack. So I think it's more valuable for me than if he were an offensive coordinator."

Luke displayed that higher football IQ and mental aspect of the game, as he placed perfect passes in the one-on-ones and the seven-on-seven drills during Saturday's event.

No tickets to the Elite 11 were given out on Saturday, but with two more Elite 11 events there will be quite a few spots handed out, and with Luke's performance on Friday and Saturday, he could be in strong contention for a finalist position come June.

"It was really a great showing to be able to come up here and compete with this group of young men, which is a very talented group," Jack said. "He knows he has a long way to go and a lot of work to do. But it was nice for him to come up and get that kind of recognition."