LAS VEGAS -- When Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino offered Kelly Hilinski a scholarship, Petrino said he envisions Hilinski being the next Ryan Mallett.
Sounds like a good comparison. Both are 6-foot-6, pocket passers and Mallet was a third-round draft pick after finishing No. 7 in the 2010 Heisman voting.
One small problem: The comparison did not really sit well with Hilinski.
"He said I remind him of Ryan Mallett," said Hilinski, who is competing in the New Level Athletics Elite 7-on-7, "and I said 'That's great, but I want to be the first Kelly Hilinski to play at Arkansas."
Hilinski is not committed to the Razorbacks, but they are the first FBS program to extend a scholarship to the Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame quarterback. Harvard and Yale have also offered, and a litany of programs are waiting to see Hilinski throw in person before tendering an offer.
Arkansas does sit at the top of Hilinski's list, though.
"They're the first one to offer me so they're my absolute favorite," Hilinski said. "They took the chance and offered me without seeing me in person."
Hilinski's father, Mark, was hesistant to the use word potential because it's sometimes negative connotation, but he feels Arkansas or whichever program his son commits to is getting a quarterback with a lot of untapped talent. Hilinski did not play quarterback until seventh grade. He was a tight end until "I stopped catching and got a little too slow."
To reach that untapped potential, Hilinski is working with well-known quarterbacks coach George Whitfield, which has been anything but a day at the beach.
"We went to the beach and did drops in the water with the waves hitting us," Hilinski said. "... I was like you got to be kidding. I could understand doing stuff in the sand, but the water? We all went in waist deep and wade through water and did drops.
Hilinksi isn't questioning Whitfield's techniques, though, even after face planting into the water the first time a wave blindsided him.
"It gets you out of your comfort zone and that's like playing in a game when you have to throw off balance or play n the fourth quarter," he said. "It's preparing you for the uncomfortable situations you can't really prepare for."
Working with Whitfield has also allowed Hilinski to pick the mind a bit of Andrew Luck, who is alo working with Whitfield.
"He's a greay guy and a hell of a quarterback," Hilinski said. "His football knowledge is unbelievable.
"I talked to him about being a quarterback and holding yourself higher. He talked about doing the best you can, and that's all that really matters. He said people might want to judge, might not like the way you throw, say you're too slow, too tall but just do you."
The doubters are what drives Hilinski, too. Always tall for his age, he was told he was too tall to play quarterback or too uncoordinated or too lanky.
"I've been working hard and made it my dream to tell everyone wrong," he said.