MALIBU, Calif. -- Halfway through the first evening workout at the Elite 11 quarterbacks finals, a nondescript figure strode down the stairs to the makeshift football field at Pepperdine University as the sun began to sink over the Pacific in the foreground.
A magical scene, no doubt, but no thanks to Kellen Moore.
At a few shades under his listed height of 6 foot, the senior returning All-America quarterback, 38-2 as a starter at Boise State, drew no admiring gazes from the 24 high school quarterbacks in attendance.
They're the best of the 2012 recruiting class, and none of them look much like Moore, a bit unkempt and shaggy, if not entirely forgettable.
Actually, one guy looks something like Moore, who's working as a counselor alongside other top college QBs at the weeklong event. Minutes later, as Moore got situated on the field, Nick Patti ran over between drills to excitedly greet the Boise star.
They talked for an instant, and Patti was gone -- off to convert another nonbeliever. Guess where he's committed to attend college next year.
"It's all I hear in the media," said Patti, the only quarterback among 11 Boise State pledges for 2012. "It's all I hear from anyone. But it's all fuel to my fire to go out and prove that you don't have to be 6-5 to be the best."
Moore, of course, has already proved it, following in the tracks laid by notably unorthodox Boise State quarterbacks Jared Zabransky and Ryan Dinwiddie.
It's impossible to argue with the results. Boise is 61-5 under five-year coach Chris Petersen, himself a former undersized QB who rose to prominence after a playing career at Yuba City High School, California Sacramento City College and UC Davis.
The Broncos under Petersen have won a pair of Fiesta Bowls and finished in the top seven nationally three of the past five years. Moore enjoyed the best individual season of all in 2010, throwing for 3,506 yards with 33 touchdowns and five interceptions. He earned an invite to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Patti wants to be the next in line.
"You look at guys like Kellen," Patti said. "It can be done and done in a dominating fashion. He wasn't the most highly recruited guy out of high school, but you don't have to be a huge dude to do it."
And Patti is no huge dude. At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, he's the smallest quarterback in Malibu, and ranked the lowest, too, at No. 119 nationally. But Patti earned his spot here by winning MVP honors at two Elite 11 regional events this spring in addition to the position MVP awards at Nike Football Training Camp events in Miami and Tallahassee, Fla.
It's no stretch to presume he's in contention for the top award again at the finals. The staff in Malibu will trim 24 to 11 later this week and pick an MVP as the camp closes Friday.
"The size is great if you have it, but it doesn't have to mean anything," said former veteran NFL quarterback Ken O'Brien, an instructor at the Elite 11 finals. "Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks out there. It's being able to know when to throw the ball and how to deliver it.
"It's not size. It's what you do with it."
Patti does a lot with it, leading Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla., to a 14-1 record and a berth in state finals last year. He threw for 2,390 yards and 32 touchdowns -- and he wants more. A lot more.
Just watch him in drills. Patti's always near the front of the line, focused on instructions. He's quick to correct the rare mistakes.
Yogi Roth, a former Pittsburgh receiver and Southern Cal staffer who serves as the lead motivational man for the Elite 11 events, described it best. According to Roth, Patti "walks around here like he owns the place."
On the field here and in college, the rankings don't matter. Just ask Gunner Kiel (Columbus, Ind./Columbus East), the No. 1-rated QB nationally who competed in a group with Patti on the first day in Malibu.
"Nick Patti's a great, great player," Kiel said. "He has the intangibles to be a great player. He has great feet. He's fast. He seems like a great leader. He definitely has pinpoint accuracy. I wish the best for him, going to Boise State."
So how did Patti land 2,600 miles from home in Idaho?
With offers this spring from Central Florida, South Florida, Indiana and Lousiana Tech, Patti heard from Boise State out of the blue in early April. He knew of Moore and the Broncos' success but little else, so Patti paid his way to Boise for an unofficial visit.
"It is completely different than what I'm used to," Patti said. "I love it. It's my kind of place."
Patti and Moore met for about two hours during the visit. The connection was immediate, Patti said. He committed in May.
As for the size issue, Moore said it means little. Petersen doesn't search for the underdog QB. It just seems that way.
"I think Pete doesn't care one bit," Moore said. "He just wants to find a guy who's accurate and can make plays. They've never talked to us about it. I've never heard them say this guy is probably more talented because he's 6-4. Who cares?"
Elite 11 instructor Matt James offers an educated perspective. He played quarterback under Petersen at Portland State 20 years ago. James saw it then. He sees it now: Petersen knows what he wants in a QB and refuses succumb to the industry standard.
This year, he wanted Patti.
"I think they look for that kid who might have a chip on his shoulder," James said.
He said it's there in Patti -- the intelligence, competitiveness, quick decision-making ability and hunger.
"There's something to be said for that kind of athlete," James said. "Boise is not going to necessarily take the five-star guy. But they're going to get the guy who knows how to play. They're going to take him and coach him.
"And then they're going to start him in a BCS bowl game."
Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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