Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers Matt Schaub, Vince Young, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez . . .
Maryville High School senior Patton Robinette joined an impressive fraternity on Monday when he began workouts at the ESPN RISE Elite 11 finals at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.
For five days, the 24 survivors of regional qualifiers will be tutored and evaluated by ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer and his staff for the chance to be named the nation’s top high school quarterback entering the 2011 season. The evaluation process will include SPARQ testing, 7-on-7 play, interviews and other events.
Robinette, a North Carolina commitment intercepted only once last season during Maryville’s march to the Class 6A championship, finished second among entrants in Tuesday’s Golden Gun accuracy challenge.
“Monday started kind of slow, but I’m starting to get into it,” Robinette said. “I look at it as an opportunity to compete. Everybody here is a big name. I look at it as an opportunity to come out and compete and try to get better.”
The final 11 will be announced on Friday, along with the passer selected the camp’s most valuable player and nation’s best. ESPN will televise the event Aug. 12 and 19 as part of its “Year of the Quarterback” series. Tebow, Brees, Rogers and the rest are all Elite 11 alumni.
Robinette has treated his selection much in keeping with a summer that saw the 6-foot-5 All-State quarterback receive offers from several major colleges, including Vanderbilt, Purdue, Northwestern, Cincinnati, Central Florida, Southern Mississippi and the Tar Heels, Maryville coach George Quarles said.
“He’s been pretty quiet about it,” he said, “but he’s pretty excited. He found out about it about a month ago. He’s handled it really well and he’s been really careful to remain humble about it all.”
Last Saturday, Quarles and his coaching staff were hard at work looking for the receivers who will run under Robinette’s passes this fall. Robinette was the only returning starter at quarterback for a Blount County high school at the Maryville College 7-on-7 Perimeter Passing Day, but the Rebels will enter 2011 without the top four receiving threats from last year’s title run.
“We need to figure out where the big plays are going to come from in the receiving corps,” Quarles said.
The frontrunners to replace last year’s big-play quartet are senior Dalton Curtis and juniors Brian Coulter and Chris Raymond.
“(Sophomore) Cody Carroll had a big day Saturday,” Quarles said, “and he’ll have a chance.”
The Rebels may rely less on the pass, at least initially, this season, due in part to a returning backfield of senior Jacob West and sophomore Shawn Prevo. With the most heavily recruited quarterback in Blount County history under center, though, expect the ball to be in the air some.
In a scrimmage with Cleveland last week at Everett Recreation Center, Robinette and his retooled receiving corps gave a good accounting of itself. Calling the signals for the Blue Raiders was another Elite 11 selection, Cleveland’s Chad Voytik. The Blue Raider senior has already received an invitation to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
“What are the odds?” Quarles asked. “Two players like that from East Tennessee, and we’re getting to see them on the same field.”
Alcoa’s Tornadoes will get an even closer look at Voytik when they open the season with the Blue Raiders in the Airport Motor Mile Bowl at Shields Stadium on Aug. 20.
“He’s got a cannon,” Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said. “The first two games we’ll face the top two quarterbacks in the state.”
The Tornadoes host the Rebels in the annual Battle of Pistol Creek the following Saturday.
Summer passing leagues like the Maryville College 7-on-7 camp can be a big help for teams looking for answers in the passing game before the pads go on Aug. 1, but it’s best not to read to much into them, Quarles said.
“It lets them compete against another defense, but it’s not realistic,” he said. “Linebackers just run out of there (into coverage). I wish they would do that.”
While the Rebels enter the new campaign with Robinette secure at quarterback, Alcoa, Heritage and William Blount are each breaking in new starters. From the looks of things, the selection process has been a good one.
Tornado senior and Austin-East transfer D.J. Oggs connected with junior Jordan Ferguson on a 40-yard touchdown pass on his first toss of the afternoon session on Saturday. There’s little separation between Oggs and junior Landon Turbyfill, Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said, and it’ll be a while before a starter is named.
“There (Nos.) 1 and 1 right now,” Rankin said. “We don’t have a clue who it’s going to be.”
Regardless who gets the nod, he’ll have some big shoes to fill. Austin Tallant (Tennessee Tech) never lost a game as the Tornado starter, concluding his Alcoa career in last season’s 3A championship game an unblemished 30-0. The title was seven in a row for the Tornadoes. Alcoa will open against Cleveland riding a school-record 43-game winning streak.
Oggs and Turbyfill are similar in many respects. Both delivered smooth, catchable passes Saturday, but it’s their foot speed when they tucked the ball and ran that caught the eye.
“What’ll set them apart will be who makes the fewest mistakes,” Rankin said. “You want to play quarterback for us you’ve almost got to be mistake-free. It’s important that our quarterback take advantage of the opportunities when they’re there.”
Much like the Rebels, the Tornadoes have a potent running game returning in senior tailback Vanderbilt Hambrick. Out wide, deep threats Lajuan Warfield and Ferguson are back to run under the ball when the Tornadoes go long. With junior Kenny Dean returning to football this season at receiver, Alcoa looks to have a lot to rebuild on.
Heritage’s Mountaineers and William Blount’s Governors will also be looking to new signal callers. Heritage’s Jake Olvey looked a confident, accurate passer all afternoon Saturday. The Mountaineer junior looked especially comfortable throwing on the move, just the thing for Heritage coach Brint Russell’s quick-hitting spread offense.
“Jake’s come a long way,” Russell said. “He’s really been working since last year. He’s a goal-driven kid, and he really wanted to be a starter.
“When we get him out of the pocket and give him the opportunity to make two or three reads, he does a good job with it. He understands when something’s not there; he doesn’t force the football.”
Olvey has also grown several inches, the additional height making it easier to pick out a veteran receiving corps with his passes on Saturday. Setting the pace were seniors Chase Everett and Justin Newman, “a formidable duo at the receivers,” Russell said.
The Mountaineers have the luxury of one of the county’s top returning backs in senior Chase Cline. The shifty, muscled speedster cranked out back-to-back 200-yard games in a dazzling display to open last season.
However the passing game develops, the Mountaineers don’t plan to forget that anytime soon, Russell said.
“We told Chase to invest in a saddle,” he said. We’re going to ride him.”
William Blount junior Hunter Saunders perhaps looked best of all the newcomers at quarterback on Saturday, the converted Governor receiver impressing with a series of bullet throws, each finding its intended target at just the right spot for the best chance of yards after the catch.
Thing is, it’s not his arm that makes Saunders most dangerous, William Blount coach David Gregory said.
“With the offense we run, the quarterback is more athlete than true quarterback,” he said, “and Hunter is one of the best athletes we’ve got. He’s got a good arm. He plays center field in baseball. He’s going to cause some problems for some teams with both his arm and his legs.”
Juniors Tim Green, Brooks Cunningham and Tanner Thompson and sophomore Vinnie Hasenstaub are slated as Saunders’ primary targets. Don’t sleep on freshman Brandon Tipton, though. The Union Grove Middle product has really got some skills.
“He’s definitely the best freshman to come through since I’ve been here,” Gregory said. “He put on a little show Saturday. He’s going to be hard to keep in the ninth grade.”
As is the case with Blount County’s other three schools, William Blount enters 2011 with a headliner back in senior Greg Cook. A runner with jackrabbit speed, Cook will get a powerful compliment in the Governor backfield this fall in senior Cole Henry, who’s moving from the offense line to fullback.
A linebacker his first two seasons, Henry presents Gregory with some interesting options as both a jackhammer between the tackles and bruiser in the open field with one of Saunders’ passes.
“He’s just been a big positive for us,” Gregory said.