The Jim Harbaugh Quarterback Academy kicked off with a full day of camp activities on Sunday and concluded on Monday as skill position players participating in the wide receivers portion of the week's camp events joined the fray. Together, the two days afforded Stanford's coaches with an opportunity to work with a wide array of high school players who came to the Farm to learn from college coaches, test themselves against fellow prospects, and get a taste of the kinds of practice drills and classroom sessions that define life as a college football player.
The QB Academy kicked off in style on Sunday morning when Pro Football Hall of Famer and San Francisco 49ers great Joe Montana addressed the group of quarterbacks gathered for the camp. Montana's son Nick Montana represented Concord (Calif.) De La Salle HS at the camp and looked to be one of the top prospects in the class of 2010 in attendance.
The balance of Sunday morning's workout was spent on position drills on Stanford's practice field. After breaking for lunch and classroom tutorials, the quarterbacks participated in an afternoon workout that culminated in a series of skills competitions in Stanford Stadium, the site of the concluding camp activities on both Sunday and Monday.
The skills competitions in the stadium on Sunday afternoon, like the other camp activities, divided the quarterbacks into age groups that roughly approximated levels of skill and experience. Stanford Head Coach and Quarterbacks Coach Jim Harbaugh supervised the top group of quarterbacks, the older campers who tended to be 17 years old and entering their senior years of high school.
The skills competitions included: throwing a football over the top of the goal posts and trying to get as close as possible to a garbage can in the middle of a circle on the other side of the goal posts; a timed obstacle course that incorporated high-stepping, running around "cones" (markers on the ground), straight-ahead sprinting, and hitting a down-field target on the run; an accuracy drill that emphasized hitting catching partners in the chest; a longer distance accuracy drill in which the quarterbacks had to throw the ball through the uprights at increasingly difficult (i.e. closer to the end zone) angles while standing on the sidelines; and a long toss competition that measured the sheer distance of the quarterbacks' longest throws.
For the most part, the nature of the camp did not lend itself to neat evaluation of the quarterbacks by spectators. While the coaches could instruct and observe the participants from up close while building rapport with the individual campers, spectators were of course limited to observations from the outskirts of the practice field. More importantly, there were at least three groups of players at any given time with over a dozen players in each group and no obvious uniform designation that highlighted the players' names. Eventually, however, patterns emerged and it became possible to focus on a smaller group of standouts in the top group that worked primarily with Harbaugh.
Four players in particular stood out in my eyes:
Taysom Hill from Pocatello (Idaho) Highland Senior HS came in already as the recipient of a Stanford offer and consistently stood out among the quarterbacks in attendance. Ranked by Scout as the #25 quarterback and #239 overall prospect, Hill has been offered by a range of Western programs in addition to Stanford. Physically, he presented a stout, relatively thick frame. In the skills competitions, he consistently placed in the top three or four among all quarterbacks in the top group. In particular, Hill showed a competitive streak in making the finals in the short distance accuracy drill and surprised by winning the long toss with a 61-yard launch that followed a 55-yard effort. He also showed impressive athleticism and fluidity in a backpedaling drill earlier in the day on Sunday that he reinforced with one of the top times in the obstacle course, though his final throw sailed high of the target in that competition.
Josh Nunes from Upland (Calif.) joined Hill as a 4-star Stanford offer recipient in attendance at the QB Academy. Arguably the highest-profile recruit at the camp, Nunes came in with a laundry list of top offers and has been slotted by Scout as the #17 quarterback and #117 overall recruit in the country. Known as one of the top drop-back pocket passers in the West Coast, Nunes consistently threw good balls and like Hill carried himself confidently. He looked to have a couple of inches of height on Hill and a lankier, projectable frame. Nunes initially led the long toss competition after a 60-yard effort but was passed by Hill and could not regain the lead when he threw a wobbling ball that fell far short. While Hill came in with the bigger reputation for quickness and athleticism and looked more explosive throughout the drills, Nunes was not far behind in his performance in the obstacle course. Nunes has been prominently linked to Stanford throughout the recruiting cycle and competed evenly with Hill throughout the camp but interestingly committed to the Tennessee Volunteers a day after returning from his visit to Stanford.
Courtney Dalcourt from Franklin (Ky.) Franklin Simpson HS fashions himself as a quarterback and camped at the QB Academy but is likely a better college prospect at another position. He stood out athletically throughout the position drills and provided objective validation for that eyeball impression with the best time in the top group in the obstacle course. On the other hand, he does not throw as good a ball as top quarterbacks like Hill and Nunes and does not currently have the footwork one would expect out of a college quarterback.
Daryle Hawkins from Omaha (Neb.) Central HS was the wildcard surprise of the group. A raw, lanky quarterback, Hawkins has been a wide receiver at the high school level and is just learning the quarterback position at the elite level. Like Dalcourt, he was one of the better athletes there. Both advanced to the finals of a 40-yard dash competition held on the practice field on Monday when the position player prospects joined the quarterbacks. While Hawkins was a new name for me, he is a top track athlete in Nebraska and as a junior was the state champion for his division in the triple jump, runner up in the high jump, and third place in the hurdles. He has a solid academic profile and is a name to keep in mind as a sleeper for the 2009 class.
One name missing from this quartet is Nathan Scheelhaase from Kansas City (Miss.) Rockhurst HS, the Gatorade Player of the Year for Missouri as a junior. He is currently ranked by Scout as the #15 quarterback and #130 overall prospect in the class and was initially expected to join Hill and Nunes as the highest-profile campers. After a hectic June itinerary of camps and unofficial visits, however, Scheelhaase skipped the camp activities. He did participate in the major Monday Night Ball event in Stanford Stadium after the QB Academy had wrapped up, giving the Stanford coaches their first opportunity to size up Hill, Nunes, and Scheelhaase all in the same setting. Scheelhaase did arrive on campus in time to watch the Monday afternoon activities at the camp. He was joined in the afternoon by other visiting recruits, including 4-star offensive tackle Joel Gray, 3-star tight end Ryan Hewitt (who committed to Stanford the next day), and Josh Nunes, who was out of pads for the afternoon workout. By the time the workout moved into the stadium on Monday, Taysom Hill was also pulled out of the camp and spent the duration of the workout talking with Nunes on the sideline. At various times during the afternoon, the visiting recruits spoke with Stanford Offensive Line Coach Chris Dalman and the Cardinal's star wide receiver Richard Sherman. Harbaugh was very active coaching the quarterbacks during the camp activities on Sunday and Monday morning, but he too spent some time speaking with recruits on the sidelines on Monday afternoon. Stay tuned for a report on Monday Night Ball later this week.
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