Steve Clarkson is known as a quarterback king maker. He started the hype machine that led to Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen being called “one of the greatest high school recruits ever”. He helped launch the careers of Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Leinart, J.P. Losman (maybe not such an endorsement) and Gino Toretta. Now he’s in the early stages of launching a primo career for David Sills, a Delaware native who just so happens to be 12 years old.
(Meet the future of the quarterback position, aged 12.)
That’s right folks, a 12 year-old is running through passing drills and prepping himself for college recruitment. He reportedly received a questionnaire from UCLA a year ago, and he’s not alone. According to this piece from CBSSPORTSLINE, Clarkson is tutoring no fewer than four middle school quarterbacks across the country, teaching them advanced formations and schematics as if they were seniors in high school.
It’s terrifying because, if recent recruiting classes have taught us anything, it’s that even long-time surefire bets don’t always pan out in big time college football. Texas once rued the day it lost Ryan Perriloux in a class that also included an unheard of small town passer named Colt McCoy. Florida’s Chris Leak was once the most sought after quarterback in the country, but in retrospect he may have only been slowing Tim Tebow’s development for a year. And how many blue chip quarterbacks does Florida State have to burn through to prove that they aren’t guaranteed success?
Yet that isn’t slowing the search to find the next pre-teen phenom who can pass a ball. Just check out some of the slick marketing attached to Sills. He’s billing himself as, “David Sills: The Future of the Quarterback Position.” A profile also includes the following excerpt:
“After watching an 11-year-old casually draw up a ‘Trips Right, Roll 334, Z Tuck, Y Banger, Gas Flip, Action Gas, check with me’ on the washboard, I say in my seat wide-eyed, tapped the shoulder of the person next to me … said ‘Wait a second, what just happened here?’ It was an extraordinary sight.”
Legally, there’s nothing wrong with the hype and the attention being heaped upon Sills. There’s not even anything wrong with UCLA sending him a questionnaire. But that doesn’t make the whole enterprise and spectacle of putting a 12-year-old under the national spotlight acceptable. And it doesn’t make Clarkson justifying charging $1000+ lessons across the country for 12-year-olds an acceptable practice, either.
Sure, maybe David Sills really will be the future of the quarterback position, and maybe the other three pre-teens Clarkson has focused on will all become collegiate studs with bright, shiny futures in the NFL. Or maybe two of them will suffer knee injuries and the other two will decide they’d really rather play the guitar or, better yet, the tuba. Who knows.
All we’re sure of is that putting the pressure of national attention and exposure on middle school quarterbacks is completely unfair, both to them and to any of the future athletes they’ll compete with to earn college scholarships and, potentially, starting jobs on the field. At some point, children need to be allowed to grow up at their own speed, and organized elite quarterback camps is a speed that none of us should really be comfortable with at age 12.