Yogi Roth is part Elite 11 coach and part college football broadcaster, with experience coaching quarterbacks under Pete Carroll at USC. He's been with Elite 11 for several years, and LonghornDigest.com had a chance to ask him about this year's competition, and specifically Texas quarterback commitment Jerrod Heard.
LonghornDigest.com: Obviously, you guys have done this for a long time now. What challenges or factors made this year different than the years before it.
Yogi Roth: "I think the interesting part about this year compared to the last 14 years is that this year, for the first time ever, we combined it with The Opening. It was really good to get that great competition, for the players to both throw to and against. You have a guy like [Oregon commitment] Morgan Mahalak, and he hasn't ever started a high school game. So you have him having to elevate his game to such a high level and having to go against that kind of speed for the first time. At the same time, I think we always wish that we had more time with the quarterbacks, and this year, we weren't able to have quite as much 1-on-1. But overall, with the combination of Elite 11 and The Opening, the kids loved it, from what I've heard.
LonghornDigest.com: Which quarterback stood out to you, that you were most impressed with?
Roth: If I'm just being honest about it, and this isn't because you run a Texas site, it's Jerrod Heard. Out of all the kids, when you looked at the list, when you were going to give a guy a pro-style playbook, I think he's the guy you thought might struggle. We try to be on the cutting edge, so we added in spread principles. We added in the gun. We added in pistol elements from a read standpoint, and the one guy we had who never really dropped back, but was the most athletic guy there, was Jerrod Heard. So if there was one guy that we thought could struggle, it might have been him, but not only did he not struggle, he thrived. From Day One, he came out and started taking drops, and then he started working only from under center to get it down. By the third day, it became normal for him. He was able to make the right reads, understand the principles and transition every one of them to the field. He was the most impressive to me, and to see him exceed expectations was awesome to see. Add in his personality, and oh, by the way, he's a world-class athlete, and I couldn't have been more proud of what he did.
LonghornDigest.com: Obviously, you guys had Tyrone Swoopes come through Elite 11 a year ago. Can you compare and contrast he and Heard?
Roth: When you look at Tyrone, he's a young man from a small area who really didn't get exposed to a lot of quarterback coaching. Within the first few days, we could see that he was a sponge and really soaked in everything we were trying to teach him. With the type of athlete and potential that he has, he really has the body and physique to do special things. Jerrod is different in that he's played in Cowboys Stadium. He's played in huge games and made big plays in big moments. He's also a more outgoing young man.
From a player standpoint, I think while both operated in the spread, you look at Tyrone Swoopes and he's a big athlete. When he breaks free, DBs aren't going to be able to take him down. Every time, he's going to get an extra five or seven yards after contact. But Heard, if he breaks free, people might not be able to lay a finger on him.
Right now at Texas, with what they're doing with David Ash, all of a sudden they have what they haven't had since Vince Young — and these guys are different athletes than Vince Young — but just looking at the athletes they have at quarterback. Tyrone has an incredibly high ceiling. With Jerrod, I would have said that he had an incredible ceiling before Elite 11. Now, I think not only does he have that ceiling, but I know he's going to achieve it.
When Ash leaves, it's going to be a battle between he and Tyrone. I really can't wait to watch, because they both could be special players.
LonghornDigest.com: You've often talked about the need for offensive coordinators to build their offenses around what their quarterbacks are comfortable doing. How would you build an offense around Jerrod Heard?
Roth: I think the first thing is, like you said, play to his strengths. I'm going to try and spread people out and create running lanes for him where people are forced to have to tackle him in space. But after I saw him at Elite 11, I said, wow, not only does he have such great talent as a runner, but he can make every throw necessary in an offense. You can use a variety of combination routes, pick routes and things like that to get teams that try to play eight guys in the box. But at the same time, I don't think there's really anything that you can't do with this guy. I saw him not hesitate in hitting a deep comeback. I've seen him drop in a deep in route. I've seen him go through his options and check down to a back as his No. 3. I've seen him do all those things that you want to see out of drop-back passers, but a lot of that he learned in one week of his life. That's something that I'm really excited about.
LonghornDigest.com: It seems like I ask you this every year, but who do you feel were this year's sleepers? Maybe guys who didn't get as much publicity, or who don't have the major offers, but that you think will perform really well in college?
Roth: That's really tough. I would probably say two guys. Manny Wilkins, I really think he's going to be a special player at Arizona State. And the other one is Morgan Mahalik. He really has the intangibles from a fundamental football standpoint, and also has it upstairs to be a big-time player at the University of Oregon. Last year, he sat behind Jared Goff, who looks like he's going to be the starting quarterback at Cal. So Mahalik hasn't ever started a game. But people watching him work out, watching him throw, he reminds a lot of people of Aaron Rodgers. He gets rid of the football and has a release that's so quick, and he's able to display so much accuracy. I think Oregon is a good fit, too. Because if he's not going to play on day one [the tempo] will help him. A lot of offenses get maybe 60 team reps [in practice], but Oregon's getting over 90. Those are extra repetitions that will help him get better and train his mind. In three years, he's a name that you probably want to remember as somebody coming out of this year's class.
But at the same time, if you look at all of [the Elite 11 quarterbacks], I don't know if there's going to be a bust. We've had a few over the years, but you're also seeing a lot of these guys playing early. You look at what Goff is doing at Cal, and the [E.J.] Manuel kid at Florida State. And at SMU, June Jones is absolutely in love with Neal Burcham*.
* Quick Aside: Burcham was Roth's pick for a sleeper in the 2012 class.
My point is that you look at the evaluation process that Trent Dilfer has built up, as well as the evaluation skills of the coaches and how we look at and coach our top 18-24, I don't know how many busts we're going to have. That's what makes that question a tough one, because we really like [all] these guys.