Clarksville QB Shines at Elite 11

During a year in which the football talent in Tennessee is particularly deep, Clarksville Northeast High School prospect Barry Cunningham may just be the best quarterback you've never heard of.

Featured in last month's issue of Rocky Top News, readers learned a lot about him and why he's been overlooked. In short: Cunningham, a two-year starter, suffered through a tough junior campaign that saw a very green Eagles squad under a first-year head coach, and running a new offense, move up to Class-5A football and struggle to a 1-9 record. His play was sound but his protection and receivers were not.

"Last year wasn't a good year for us as a football team," said Northeast head coach Paul Watkins. "We were 1-9. The first two years Barry played on winning teams. Last year he grew up in a different way because he had to be a leader when things weren't going very well and he did a good job of that."

The numbers Cunningham put up under duress were more than respectable. He completed 87 of 169 attempts for 1,500 yards, 14 touchdowns with nine interceptions, despite having 49 passes dropped and more sacks than he'd care to remember. When he had protection and the receivers hung on to the ball, he was excellent. In Northeast High School's lone victory last season over Kenwood, Cunningham completed 14 of 17 for 170 yards and two touchdowns.

Another reason you may know little about 6-foot, 170-pound Cunningham, concerns his atypical size for a drop-back passer. However, he compensates with good mobility, excellent vision and a big-league right arm.

That was recently confirmed at the Elite 11 Camp held at Georgia Tech last weekend which showcased some 125 top southern signal callers invited to perform in an array of drills before the discerning eyes of noted talent scouts.

"I think there were 120 or 130 quarterbacks that came down," Cunningham said. "For the first hour we did a lot of station work drills and stuff. The second hour we threw to receivers, just the passing tree and all the routes."

The competition was intense as QBs were shuffled among several groups representing the best to the worst.

"They started off with four groups, divided in their ideas of the top group and the three groups behind that top group," Cunningham explained. "They kind of worked down the top group and added some people to the top group and took some away. Three coaches rated the top 10. On one of the coach's list I was No. 4. On the other I was No. 7 and on the last coach's list I was No. 9. I was in the top ten on all three cards." That's no small achievement considering this was regarded as the best talent in the series of six Elite 11 Camps.

"The coach actually said this was the best group they've had," Cunningham said. "They've been in Miami, Texas, Louisiana, and a couple of other locations. There's six places all together and they have two more."

In fact Cunningham made such a good impression with his passing ability that he was invited by coaches to attend another camp the next day.

"They ask me to come to the Nike Camp in Athens the next day," he said. "I went down there for that, too."

While many of the quarterbacks brought their own receiver to work with, Cunningham threw to volunteer wideouts who came to the camp hoping to gain exposure.

"They had receiver prospects there and some local receivers were there," he said. They asked everybody to bring their own receivers if they wanted, but I worked with the ones they had there."

Despite that handicap, Cunningham advances and remains a candidate to participate in the final Elite 11 Camp in Los Angeles this summer.

"They are going to take the top 10 look at all our game films," he said. "They'll pick the top six out that along with six others to go to California for the Elite 11 Camp."

While Cunningham was pleased to finish among the top 10 in Atlanta, he wasn't necessarily pleased with his own performance."

"I'm never really pleased with the way I perform," he said. "I always think I could do better. I did okay, but I could have done a lot better. With baseball going on it was an adjustment to jump into football but I think I did fair."

That type of drive will serve Cunningham well as the recruiting process unfolds. He figures to be better when baseball season is over and he can concentrate on football. He'll also continue to refine his passing game by attending other camps this summer. He is slated to go to the Manning QB camp for the third straight year and is hoping to make a favorable impression at Tennessee's Seniors' Camp in June. A Vol fan all of his life, Cunningham would love nothing more than to play for the Big Orange, but if the opportunity doesn't present itself, it appears he'll have options.

"Alabama and Louisville had been sending two or three letters a week," he said. "Some of the coaches said they're taking all the players and evaluating them now."

In addition to fine passing skills and technique, it seems Cunningham has great timing.


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