‘It’s a science now’: For college football’s elite, there’s no such thing as an inexperienced QB anymore

Back in the primitive days of the 20th century, the United States evidently regarded its middle-school boys as dim bulbs incapable of processing complicated information relative to the elusive science of American football. Yet hark, here at the brink of 2019, an evolution has flowered.

For a good while now, college coach after college coach has been telling anyone who will ask that quarterbacks arrive on campus skillful as never before in reading sinister defenses of vicious complexity. Remember that period of adjustment new collegians used to need, a factor understood by all Americans addled with the sport? It seems to have withered dead.

As a hilt, here’s a College Football Playoff with four teams and four first-year starters at quarterback, with zero of the four teams having had to compensate for many boneheaded blunders from the greenhorn under center. Even while born in August 1997 (Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray), March 1998 (Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Notre Dame’s Ian Book) and — steel yourself — October 1999 (Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence), these four have a collective touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio of 120-21, so they’re about to pilot a three-game event watched by millions, a sign of either teenage progress or a deranged culture.

Or, both.


“Even our 12-year-olds, our 13-year-olds, understand cover-one, cover-two, cover-zero” defenses, said Prescott Bailey, who coaches Ewa Beach Hammerheads, the program for which Tagovailoa once played, founded by Ewa Beach native and former Dallas Cowboys draftee Mike Ulufale.

“Quarterbacks know, right now [at very young ages], when they motion a guy, they’re doing it to see if they’re in zone,” said Robert Faleafine, the president of Jr. Sports Prep Hawaii, who has coached in it as well. “They’re doing it to see if they’re in man. At this level. They’re watching that. So receivers are already being taught how to sit in zone, and to see whether the cornerback bails or if he sits. They learn these things already. At 11! At this level. It’s crazy!”

NFL teams were doing,” Gattis said. “College teams ran NFL systems, high school teams ran NFL systems, and it went all the way down to little league. And now in today’s age, I think football is rising from the bottom, working to the top. You see, you know, little league and Pop Warner programs that are running spread systems. These kids are in spread systems from the time they’re 8 years old to the time they go to high school.”

To accentuate that, there’s the skill-sharpening of 7-on-7 camps and leagues, a factor stressed by Michael Locksley, Alabama’s lead offensive coordinator and Maryland’s new head coach.

“I think the big thing is, their understanding of defensive structures and coverages, and with all the 7-on-7 stuff that people do,” Locksley said. “Nowadays, you’ve got all the 7-on-7 leagues. These guys are learning the passing game a lot earlier than, say, a guy who turned around and handed it off 40 times a game in high school. Now they’re coming in with understanding and knowledge of passing concepts, and for me that’s probably been the biggest change from the high school quarterback of 10 years ago to the high school quarterback of now.”