QB Search Starts in Sunshine State

Much of the heralded recruits from Florida that make national headlines hail from the counties of South Florida. But one of the most fab finds in the Sunshine State in 2004 was quarterback Xavier Lee from Volusia County, up in Central Florida. Turns out that the #2 QB in that county last year is a junior with a 4.26 GPA and a high combination of ability and Stanford interest...

With a small number of seniors set to graduate again next year for Stanford Football, there will again be a small recruiting class come next February's Signing Day.  It is difficult to say which positions are "must needs" when you have so few to give, but it is clear that the Cardinal must sign at least one quarterback after taking none in 2004.  The bar is set pretty high for signal callers at Quarterback U, and bringing an elite kid in after back-to-back signings of Trent Edwards and T.C. Ostrander was a predictably tall order.

But you can recruit after a year where you don't take any QBs, and that sets the table for 2005.  Stanford is casting a nationwide net for quarterback recruiting in this junior class, and one of the top candidates hails from Daytona Beach in Florida.  Pulling a recruit out of that state is a typically difficult task, but this is not your ordinary Florida kid.  He camped at Stanford the summer after his freshman year, and he will do so again this coming summer.  He also has an uncle who lives in Los Gatos, which closes the "family gap" that hurts the Card when they recruit a kid from 3,000 miles away.

Jonathan Garner is a 6'5" 205-pound southpaw slinger from Mainland High School, where he has led the Buccaneers to unprecedented success.  In just the fourth game of his freshman year, he started and helped turn the team around for a strong second round finish in the state playoffs (class 5A).  His sophomore year he took Mainland to the state semifinals while throwing for 1,600 yards.  This past fall he engineered a state championship for Mainland, the first ever for any 5A school in Volusia County.

Mainland head coach John Maronto has coached many years in some football hotbeds, including DeLaSalle High School in Detroit and Massillon Washington High School in Ohio, but he says he sees something special in Garner.

"I've only had one quarterback ever start for me as a ninth grader, and that's Jon," Maronto proclaims.  "In my judgement he has the arm, the this and that - Jon's got those things.  But his win/loss record will speak for itself.  I don't know how many quarterbacks in the country have 35 wins in their high school career, much less in three years.  And I don't know that anybody will match him once he's done."

"That's telling about his leadership abilities," the Mainland coach continues.  "He started as a ninth grader and has taken over.  Some things you can't teach - he's a coach's son, six-foot-five and has a 4.3 in the classroom."

Take for instance the Mainland offense in 2003.  Despite having a very talented Garner under center, they took advantage of a veteran offensive line and dynamite senior running back in Vince Wilson (First Team All-State).  The run/pass ratio for the Bucs was about 3:7 this year, with Wilson totaling more than 2,000 yards on the ground.  Garner saw his passing yardage decline, despite clear improvements in his mechanics, arm strength and field vision.  He threw for "just" 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns.

But he only threw three interceptions all year.  Even more interesting is the area of his game where both he and his coach say he truly excelled, though you rarely hear about it for high school quarterbacks: play-action.

"We're not in the entertainment industry," Maronto delcares.  "We play and throw the ball for efficiency, not stats.  Jon has great target accuracy.  He'll make the long throw and the intermediate throw.  He will put nice touch on the balls where you need it.  He has the right mechanics and ball placement for each throw you want - and he's just a junior."

Garner is also the football equivalent of a "gym rat," staying after practices for extra throws and spending his personal time studying endless hours of film on his opponents.  In the mold of a Peyton Manning, Maronto says, he is one of the great students of the game.

When you consider that Garner has already spent one formative camp experience on campus with Buddy Teevens 20 months ago, and has the academic credentials needed for a Stanford recruitment (4.26 GPA, 1120 SAT from his sophomore year), it is unsurprising that the Card have made strong overtures to the Florida junior.  Garner says that he receives a lot of mail from Stanford, and quarterbacks coach Bill Cubit came to the school in the fall to watch practice just before the state championship game.  After getting a good look in person, and then watching more film, Cubit told Garner's father (Mainland's running backs coach) that Stanford will offer the 6'5" slinger in 2004.

It also comes as little surprise that with his academic profile and his positive camp experience at Stanford, Garner holds the Cardinal number one on his early college list.

"I absolutely loved it out there," he recalls from his 2002 camp experience.  "The coaching staff was great - that is what attracted me the most to Stanford.  They really are people persons; you could talk to them.  The weather was great, too - what a break from a Florida summer!"

The next school Garner puts in his top two might surprise you: Memphis.  Turns out that both his parents are Memphis alums, and Garner spent time growing up there when his father was a head coach at Brighton High School.  The family decided to make a move before his freshman year, and found themselves in Daytona Beach, but the young quarterback still has fond feelings toward the Tennessee school.

His top five are rounded out by Georgia, Iowa and Mississippi.  The Bulldogs are seriously recruiting Garner and have invited him to their summer camp, which he says he will likely attend.  He also plans on attending the Stanford and LSU camps and possibly the Peyton Manning passing camp.  Notre Dame has written and asked him to come to their camp, but he has declined.

"I don't really have any interest in Notre Dame," the lefty flatly explains.

Iowa had Garner and his center, Eddie Tabasky, call together on Signing Day to speak with the Hawkeye coaches, a very strategic and symbolic move to set the table for their recruitment in the coming 12 months.  Ole Miss is another suitor with some reciprocal interest that goes back to Garner's youngest days growing up in Mississippi, where is father was the head coach at Southaven High School.

"My parents would like me close to home, but I like Stanford a lot," Garner explains.  "If it were closer, Stanford would be a definite 'yes' for me already.  But I'll just have to feel things out on the distance issue."

For his achievements and leadership on his Mainland team, Garner was named Second Team All-Area at quarterback, trailing only Xavier Lee, and Honorable Mention All-State.  This despite an injury hiccup during the season, when Garner suffered an AC sprain in the third week of the season.  Ironically he was enjoying his best game, with 115 yards passing and a touchdown in just the first quarter, but on the opening drive of the second quarter he got crushed by a weakside blitz that separated his shoulder.  He did not come back until the sixth week of the season.

Mainland is looking to spread their offense more in 2004, putting Garner in more shotgun situations, which he is relishing.  What he is not looking forward to is a rebuilding on the offensive line and in his receiving corps.  The only veteran returning on his OL is his good friend Tabasky, who at 6'3" and 320 pounds is one of the top rated linemen in Florida in his class.  He also landed a 1240 SAT his sophomore year and will come out with Garner to Stanford's camp.

Two other amazing athletes to watch, though probably not academically recruitable for Stanford, are RB/CB Avery Atkins and DL Matt Lewis.  Both elite talents in the 2005 Florida crop, and combined with the lefty-lefty connection between Garner and Tabasky, this team may surprise again with a run at a state title in '04.

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