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What college coaches look for in a quarterback prospect

So you want to play quarterback in college? Find out what the guys who coach at that level are saying about QB’s.

Craig Erickson

Growing up in South Florida I always wanted to be a quarterback. Miami, both collegiately and professionally, was the home to some big name talents at signal caller. The Dolphins had Dan Marino. The Hurricanes had National Champion quarterbacks like Bernie Kosar, Steve Walsh, Craig Erickson and Gino Torretta not to mention two Heisman Trophy winners under center in Torretta and Vinny Testaverde. Both the Dolphins and the ‘Canes were throwing for big time yardage in an era of football where few followed suit.

I started playing football at eight years old and quickly moved from tight end to the offensive line. Outside of Bill Walsh College Football or Madden Football, my QB days were done. Over the next decade I never moved off the line and still coach the position to this day. I am a fat boy, I coach fat boys.

However, I’m lucky enough to know a few guys who know a thing or two about quarterback play and they have recruited nationally as college football assistants. I’ve also had the pleasure of sitting in on conversations with top quarterback coaches in the country, such as: Phil Longo (UNC), Hal Mumme (recently with the XFL’s Dallas Renegades), Rhett Lashlee (Miami, formerly of SMU, UConn, and Auburn) and Dub Maddox (R4 author, QB/OC at Union High School) while having been in attendance for Darin Slack’s Quarterback Academy.

Let’s take a look at the three steps to recruiting a college QB. Those steps are the initial highlight tape viewing, hosting the player at camp, and then evaluating their entire package as a QB.

Florida State Seminoles v Miami Hurricanes

The highlight tape

I know that everyone wants to be the next Martin Scorsese, Spike Jonze, Spike Lee, or TikTok hero but that’s not what should go into a highlight tape. In Dub Maddox’s article, “10 Mistakes Keeping a Quarterback Highlight from Standing Out,” Dub leads off with a young QB needing to understand why they’re making the tape. The audience isn’t us fans, it’s the recruiter in charge of either your position group or your recruiting area (depending on how their staff breaks down initial recruitment).

The tape below is of Maddox QB at Jenks that he helped with his film for the article.

Understanding the why is something I teach in my classroom, weight room, on the track and in my position group meetings. Coach Maddox covers the don’t’s but I will cover the do’s. College coaches want to see your best, most dynamic plays up front. You have to prove within the first 30 seconds that you are a quarterback at their level (Power 5, Group of 5, FCS scholarship, FCS non-scholarship, D2/NAIA, D3). Can you make the college level throws like posts, digs at 10-12 yards, comebacks at 10-12 yards, and 10-15 yard outs? If not, you’re going to continually slide down their board.

College coaches want to see variety, so a tape consisting only of 5-yard throws, swing passes, screens and slants probably isn’t enough arm strength or variety (see: Lee, Xavier). They want to see you throw on the run, have to escape the pocket and pick up yards, and throw under pressure. They also want to see touchdowns or big plays that make them say, “Wow!”

One college assistant told me he looks for three main things on a QB’s highlight tape:

1. Can he make all the throws? Digs, curls, posts, fades, comebacks.

2. Can he make throws under pressure?

3. Can he escape and make plays with his arm and feet? I don’t want to see them pull the ball down and run every time, but I don’t want to see a clean pocket either.

One fast rising prospect is Aaron McLaughlin from Georgia. He’s a four-star pro style QB from Denmark High School and the 19th rated QB in the class of 2021. McLaughlin shows his ability to throw on the run, to make plays after protection breaks down and that he has the arm talent to play at the next level.

At camps

The biggest thing coaches want to see at camps is competition. Regardless of position, but especially at quarterback, competing against the other best players can set you apart. In Bruce Feldman’s The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks, he discusses Trent Dilfer’s “Dude Qualities” or “DQ.” Dilfer values intangibles, such as: competitiveness, toughness, leadership, resiliency, moxie, and grit. All things that are unmeasurable but you can feel them when you meet them.

Dilfer runs the Elite 11 which pits the best quarterbacks up against each other by region and eventually in a week long showdown of the best of the best. Elite 11 has hosted future stars like Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Tua Tagovailoa Dwayne Haskins, Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson, Drew Lock, Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, Andrew Luck, Tim Tebow, Matthew Stafford, Vince Young and Matt Leinart.

The Elite 11 has also featured a ton of duds and multi-time transfers as well as character issue guys that show the amount of guys experts miss on is far greater than the amount of QB’s scouts hit on. Miami is well represented at Elite 11 from Kirby Freeman and Kyle Wright to Brad Kaaya, Jacory Harris, Jarren Williams and Tate Martell.

Dilfer describes two types of QB leaders: a thermometer or a thermostat. A thermometer reacts to the competition and climate while the thermostat sets the climate. Think of the leadership and drive of two Super Bowl Champions- Joe Montana and Tom Brady. What Joe Cool and TB12 lack in arm talent they make up for with intangibles.

In another of Feldman’s books, Meat Market, he details that Ed Orgeron doesn’t like shy kids because shyness shows they’re meek and lack leadership. At camps, leadership and competition are the king. If a college coach isn’t a good judge of character or reading teenagers they might sign the wrong person to lead their program. A recruiter has to be as much a psychologist as a coach.

Miami Hurricanes football practice Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The quarterback total package

In my post covering Rhett Lashlee’s Zoom conference call, I told you (read it here) that Coach Lashlee likes his quarterbacks to have enough arm talent to make throws, that he values accuracy over arm strength, and he wants an athlete. His point of emphasis was Shane Buechele. Buechele isn’t an elite track star, but he can sprint out, scramble, extend plays and pick up a few yards on an inside zone read. Lashlee also covets competitors that lead and have confidence without having false bravado.

The Tar Heels OC, Phil Longo (previously with Ole Miss, Sam Houston State), wants to see arm talent and the ability to learn. Longo describes arm talent as having a baseline arm strength where accuracy takes precedent. His ability to learn is detailed as someone that makes good grades, has a high IQ, and not only loves watching film but can draw up concepts on the board.

It makes perfect sense that Longo was dying to sign Sam Howell. As a true freshman, Howell led the Tar Heels to a 7-6 record, a bowl win over Temple, and victories over South Carolina, Miami, Georgia Tech Duke and NC State. The Heels also were competitive in close losses to Clemson, Wake Forest, Appalachian State, Virginia Tech (6 OT’s) and Virginia. UNC was a handful of points away from a major upset and maybe a 9 or 10 win season in year one for Mack Brown.

Howell played smart football completing almost 62% of his throws, maintaining a TD:INT ratio of 38:7, and averaging 8.6 yards per attempt while hardly running for positive yards. But you can see Howell extend plays and run a touchdown in this highlight tape below.

Another college coach from a Power 5 program said he looks for these 8 things in a QB prospect:

1. Body: Size, frame, and growth potential.

2. Process - Timing and working through his progressions.

3. Lower Body: Good footwork and balance.

4. Upper Body: Quick release and ability to change arm angles.

5. Velocity and ball placement.

6. Pocket awareness with mobility.

7. Athletic ability to run the football.

8. Intangibles like toughness and grit.

A name being floated around recently is Kai Horton from Carthage High School in Texas. With Lashlee’s Texas recruiting chops it could make for an interesting option. Horton is 6’4, 220 pounds and is not only a Texas 4A State Championship football player, but also a starter on the Carthage basketball team. Good athletes who play multiple sports make for great QB’s. Tom Brady was a catcher, Steve Young a pitcher, Ken Dorsey sold Larry Coker while after the latter saw the former playing basketball, and Patrick Mahomes and Jameis Winston played baseball at Texas Tech and Florida State, respectively.

What does this mean for Miami?

Leadership comes from the top down. It’s established by the head football coach. In Eric Kapitulik and Jake MacDonald’s book, The Program: Lessons From Elite Military Units for Creating and Sustaining High Performance Leaders and Teams, when a head coach selects his or her Core Values and the standards that uphold those Core Values, they’re creating the footprint of the culture they wish to set in place. In order to hire, or in this case recruit, the right person- they have to be a perfect mix of The Miami Hurricanes Core Values and being an elite talent.

Once a QB prospect passes the highlight tape test, the staff can bring that prospect on campus for an in-person visit (unofficial, official or a camp setting). How that player engages with the program (staff, volunteers, coaches and players alike) and how they compete will determine who makes the final cut of potential signees. The best signee will be respectful, engaged, confident, and competitive.

Lately, Miami hasn’t done a good job of establishing Core Values and thus they haven’t recruited in “The Best” QB’s for the job. The leadership, drive, engagement and respect has been lacking. You can argue me, but if those components The Program, LLC. looks for were present- guys wouldn’t be getting suspended, skipping practice, or embarrassing their program with other “issues.”

If Miami wants to return to the national conversation of “we back,” The U will need to find the QB that can get the job done, in all ways.

Rose Bowl X