Max Browne and Cooper Bateman battle on the field but are friends off it
They were at the Elite 11 regional in Oakland, Calif., and they couldn't help but laugh. Even though it was their first encounter, they had been linked for months, ever since it was announced in March that Browne and his Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline teammates would travel to play Bateman and Murray (Utah) Cottonwood during the 2012 high school football season."Everyone says it's Bateman versus Browne, Cottonwood versus Skyline," Browne said. "We're both laid-back guys and great quarterbacks, obviously. It was fun just to joke around."[+] EnlargeMason Kelley/ESPN.comQBs Cooper Bateman, left, and Max Browne have spent the summer competiting against each other, and that rivalry has led to friendship.
From the moment that Sept. 7 game was announced, both quarterbacks understood it would surround their summers as they followed each other from that Elite 11 regional to The Opening to the Elite 11 finals and, eventually, the game itself.
"Of course, we talked a little bit," Bateman said. "Everything was mostly football related, talking about some of the coaches, some of the players, some of the guys we've gone up against. I can honestly say he's a really cool kid, one of the coolest kids I've met throughout this whole process."
Interaction is inevitable when two highly touted prospects who play the same position end up at the same events. There is a natural competition between the athletes, but as much they want to prove they belong among the top quarterbacks in the country, there is a mutual respect that comes when two people share circumstances.
"It's a fun opportunity," Browne said. "Two great quarterbacks just going at it. There are going to be other great quarterbacks there, but I'm sure we'll get matched up and work together all camp."
When Browne, 6-foot-5 and 214 pounds, was a freshman, he was able to watch as former Skyline quarterback Jake Heaps -- who is currently redshirting at Kansas after transferring from Brigham Young -- spend a similar summer preparing for a nationally televised game against Oaks Christian, which featured quarterback Nick Montana.
Not only did the two quarterbacks battle back and forth, they were roommates at the Elite 11.
"There is some competitiveness, but you have to look at the big picture," Heaps said. "This is a guy that's going through the same experiences you are. You really get a chance to make a connection and have a friendship.
"No one really knows how you're dealing with things. No one really understands what you're going through other than someone else who is going through it. To have a guy like that, and to meet other quarterbacks like I did at Elite 11, that was an amazing opportunity."
Now, after throwing for more than 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, Browne, No. 12 in the ESPN 150, has traded places with Heaps.
"In Max's case, Cooper is going to know exactly what he's going through, and Cooper's going to realize that Max knows exactly what he's going through as well," Heaps said. "It's a very cool fraternity that you enter with each other. I'm sure they'll become friends and have great experiences together."
By the end of the summer, Browne and Bateman will know each other well. They will have shared drills and stories, and by the time they are finished with Elite 11, they might even have shared the same room.
While they come from different schools in separate states, they have shared similar paths to this point. In addition to starting as sophomores, they found success right away -- Browne threw for more than 400 yards in his first start, while Bateman topped 300. They were recruited by many of the same schools before Browne committed to USC in April and Bateman announced in May he will attend Alabama.
"First off, you read all about him, but when you see him in person, he is all of 6-5, 214," Bateman said of Browne. "He's a big kid out there. I was competing with him at the Oakland Elite 11 Regional and I don't think he had an incompletion. He hit guys and hit them right on target."
There is a mutual respect based on what they've seen and read so far, but while they are building a friendship they will always fix their focus on the competition.
"If I see him make a good throw, I'm like, 'I've got to top it,'" Browne said. "It's just the natural ability to go out and compete and be a competitive quarterback. You want to be the best guy out there. You want to throw a perfect ball every time. I'd say I'm going to compete with him, but I'll compete with all the quarterbacks there."
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