REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- Heading into this week's Elite 11 finals, the thought of Asiantii Woulard (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park), who is entering just his second season playing quarterback, walking away with the MVP honors wasn't really a consideration.
He was one of the last QBs to be invited to the Elite 11 finals. In fact, if it wasn't for Elite 11 head coach Trent Dilfer's last-minute decision to add a 25th QB to the event, Woulard would have been the final player invited.
But by Sunday afternoon, it was difficult to imagine anyone other than Woulard receiving the award.
"I never thought that he could do what he did," Dilfer said. "I'm so blown away by it."
Not included in the first two versions of the Elite 11 lists that are produced after each day of the camp, Woulard stormed up the rankings on Saturday and earned his spot atop the heap with a phenomenal performance on Sunday. He excelled in the two-minute pressure cooker, a drill designed to test all aspects of a QB's skill set.. He was one of two quarterbacks to complete a 60-yard touchdown pass on his first snap and the only to lead an additional drive for another score.
Woulard has heard all the reasons why he can't play quarterback. So the 6-foot-3, 204-pound South Florida commit just made sure his final appearance on the Elite 11 field proved why he could.
"He hasn't been playing long enough, he isn't good enough, his feet aren't quick enough, he can only run the ball," Woulard listed as some of the things he hears from his critics. "That last drive was a lot more than just a second two-minute drill."
While there might have been doubts even among the staff as to how Woulard would fare during the six-day event, they never crept into the quarterback's mind.
"I'm a competitor," Woulard said. "I didn't have any doubts that I could [win]. I just came out here and proved it, because me thinking about it doesn't do much. When he announced it, it was a big relief. Everything I put in this week and in the past, preparing for this, it all paid off."
Woulard said he never felt there was a point where things clicked for him and he began thinking that he had a shot at the MVP award. In fact, he believed that he was performing poorly at one point and prodded himself to raise his level of play. He might not have a lot of experience at the position, but he knows what makes a successful QB. He said coming back from interceptions or mistakes is the hallmark of a good quarterback, so he shifted his focus to bouncing back and putting himself on the right track.
Dilfer said it was a difficult decision to select an MVP winner, as Max Browne (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline) and Christian Hackenberg (Fork Union, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) were very deserving candidates, as well. But after announcing a three-way tie for MVP at last year's Elite 11, the decision was made to find a way to give this year's award to just one quarterback.
"It was hard not to go with Max or Hack," Dilfer said. "Those two were unbelievable. But I think there was a hair separation. I think it came down to this: Greatness is making the highly difficult look very easy. That's what Asiantii did. They did the same stuff; he made it look easier."
The fourth iteration of the Elite 11 quarterbacks list was announced at a ceremony following the camp. Woulard was joined on the list by Browne and Hackenberg, as well as Miami commit Kevin Olsen (Wayne, NJ/Wayne Hills), Arizona State commit Joshua Dobbs (Alpharetta, Ga./Alpharetta), Nebraska commit Johnny Stanton (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita), Notre Dame commit Malik Zaire (Kettering, Ohio/Archbishop Alter), Maryland commit Shane Cockerille (Baltimore/Gilman School), Cal commit Jared Goff (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic), Oklahoma State commit Luke Del Rio (Highlands Ranch, Calif./Valor Christian) and Zack Greenlee (Stockton, Calif./Lincoln).
Dilfer mentioned a number of times that this group of finalists was especially difficult to choose. Impressive weeks were turned in by Troy Williams (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne), DeVante Kincade (Dallas/Skyline), Anthony Jennings (Marietta, Ga./Marietta), Shane Morris (Warren, Mich./De La Salle) and plenty of others. The group "exceeded expectations monumentally," according to Dilfer, who added that the starting point was already raised several notches with this year's class. The quarterbacks received an extensive playbook several weeks before the start of camp and were asked to know it inside and out.
"We started with a group that was tougher mentally because of what we put them through," Dilfer said. "Their level of preparation coming into this thing would be the same level of preparation an NFL quarterback would go into a training camp with."
But it wasn't just on the field and in the classroom where these quarterbacks were tested. After a 4 a.m. wake-up call on Friday, they were taken by bus to the beach, where they were put through a workout with a Navy SEAL team.
"That was a risk on my part," Dilfer said. "When we were going down there, I said to somebody that I thought we might get four or five that said it was too much. I was going to treat them with kid gloves if they did, but nobody flinched. They exceeded every expectation."