National Signing Day might be over, but for quarterbacks the recruiting continues

National Signing Day might be over, but for quarterbacks the recruiting continues

For some players, National Signing Day is the pinnacle of their college career.

The fanfare, the adoration, the big to-do of announcing a college decision on national television or in front of the entire school is just the greatest moment ever.

And then it ends. The banners come down, the balloons are cut loose and the gym goes back to just being the gym.

“Once you sign on the dotted line and the letter of intent comes through that fax machine, you’re not the same person from a priority standpoint that you were before the letter of intent came through,” former NFL quarterback and Tulane grad Shaun King recalls. “Like, they call it the derecruitment. So things change. Coaches aren’t answering your call on the first ring when you call. You’re looking for coach, you’re getting the secretary now.”        

While “derecruitment” might be the case for most players as they move into their freshman years, it’s not always the case for quarterbacks.

Quarterback is one of the few positions in football where only one guy can play at a time. So when teams have four or five scholarship quarterbacks on their rosters at one time, the challenge is finding ways to keep them all happy even when there’s not enough playing time to go around.

“Looking at the whole landscape of quarterbacking in Division I football, to me the places that are really successful, are the ones that are able to keep the quarterback room together and then just replace them and continue to play at a high level,” said former Texas quarterback Todd Dodge, who coached several top quarterbacks at various high schools and is now the coach at Austin Westlake High School in Texas.

“These quarterbacks come in, of course they’ve been all-everything where they’ve been, they’ve been highly recruited, they’ve been written about, they’re superstars. And then they hit this window where all of a sudden no one gives them a whole lot of attention. That’s the job of the coaching staff behind the scenes, to make sure that while they are redshirting, while they are going through that time where they’re getting ready to play, that you’re challenging them, you’re in the video room, they feel like they’re progressing. They feel like they’re a part of it.”

Dodge, who had two different stints at the University of North Texas, including three seasons as the head coach, noted that just because a quarterback is signed doesn’t mean the recruiting ends. Convincing a quarterback to stay with the program even when he’s not playing is one of the biggest challenges of a coach. That desire to stay comes from not only creating a family atmosphere in the quarterback room, but also pushing players to compete every day.

“That’s the difference between college and the pros,” King said. “In college the best guy is going to play. In the pros, it’s the guy who’s making the most money. So in college, you have a chance every day to earn that starting position. If you put together a consistent few weeks where you’re playing better than the guy who’s starting, the coaches are going to find a way to get you on the field.”

Ideally, Dodge said, you want to have four quarterbacks on scholarship. One is a senior who is starting for either the first or second season. The next is a solid backup, who is probably in the same class with another year to play or a year behind the starter. Then you have a player who’s coming off a redshirt season and a true freshman. The goal, he said, is for the quarterback out of high school to be your team’s future, but not the immediate future.

“There’s always going to be a couple quarterbacks on your team, one is going to be a freshman who’s redshirting, and the other is a second year guy who’s already redshirted but he’s not quite ready yet,” Dodge said. “To me, a great investment is having one (coach) that handles nothing but those guys. Give them some love, give them some attention, stay with them as far as getting them ready during the season, getting them ready for the spring. Teaching them the system and everything so that they’re more ready to compete and during spring football practice you’re able to really up the competition.

“You may have a two-year starter that’s established or something, but golly, you get one torn ACL or one knocked down shoulder and you better have somebody ready to go. And to me, that’s the key to the people who are consistent year in and year out.”

There’s no team that personified the “next man up” mentality better than Ohio State, which needed its third-string quarterback to win a national title after its starter and then backup suffered injuries during the year. Dodge claims that the continuity of the quarterback room played a big role in the way Ohio State was able to continue being successful despite the perceived setbacks.

Similarly, Alabama has consistently cycled quarterbacks into the program by giving them small opportunities on the field. John Parker Wilson played in spot time his freshman season behind Brodie Croyle before starting the next three seasons. Greg McElroy saw some action during his redshirt freshman and sophomore years before becoming the starter as a junior and senior. AJ McCarron played some as McElroy’s backup in 2010 before becoming the starter from 2011-13. Last year was the first time the Tide broke the mold by playing Blake Sims as a fifth-year senior, but they had a junior, a redshirt freshman and a true freshman on the depth chart almost ensuring that the aforementioned Alabama quarterbacking pattern would repeat itself again.

Every coach says the same thing, ‘We expect you to come in ready to compete and play.’” McElroy said. “I for one could see right through that and knew that it would be awhile before I saw the field as a starter. They can only sell the university and an opportunity. Every player at one point or another will get an opportunity to compete. That’s all a coach can really do in order to get a guy on campus and that’s all that most quarterbacks really care about.” 

About 140 quarterbacks signed with FBS programs during Wednesday’s National Signing Day and many probably won’t see the field anytime soon. It will take a mixture of self-motivation, coach encouragement and the desire to compete to keep that player in the program for the next couple of years, but that patience will undoubtedly pay dividends in the end. Making what could be as much as a six-year recruitment worth it in the end.

“Your performance dictates your reality,” King said. “What coaches try and do is create an environment where everybody really has an opportunity to be the guy that should be on the field. All elite athletes feel like they are the best, and the ones that aren’t afraid to compete, they don’t care what the depth chart looks like. They’re going to go in and they feel confident that eventually they’re going to get their chance.”

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter!

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