Taking flight

Once considered the home for running backs, Texas has become a top QB producer

Updated: January 15, 2013, 1:13 PM ET
By Max Olson | ESPN RecruitingNation

It's not something in the drinking water, nor is it some closely guarded and well-kept secret.

How Texas, a state once known for Campbell, Dickerson and all those legendary running backs, became arguably today's top producer of quarterbacks isn't a mystery to the state's high school coaches.

"We've evolved," Southlake Carroll coach Hal Wasson said. "With those guys, it used to be Tailback U. That's what it was. Now it's become QB U."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherColts star Andrew Luck and fellow Texas native Robert Griffin III took the NFL by storm this year.

Just look at the numbers. Texas quarterbacks held more than a quarter of the starting NFL jobs this season. How they've flooded the market in the college game might be more impressive.

A total of 97 quarterbacks on FBS rosters in 2012 hailed from the state of Texas. They're spread out over the country, honing their craft at 46 of the 124 FBS schools, and 32 Texans earned at least one start this season.

Baylor's Nick Florence led the nation in passing yards. Texas Tech's Seth Doege ranked No. 2 in touchdown passes. And then there was the redshirt freshman -- you may have heard of him -- who won the Heisman Trophy.

Oh, and Johnny Manziel's record-breaking debut season at Texas A&M came in the same year Texas-bred quarterbacks Andrew Luck (Houston) and Robert Griffin III (Copperas Cove) went No. 1 and 2 in the NFL draft and reached the playoffs as rookies.

The question, then, is only natural: What makes a Lone Star State quarterback any better or different from the rest?

Ask high school coaches and they'll run through the laundry list of advantages they enjoy these days. But make no mistake: This signal-caller surplus is the product of considerable investment and development. Quarterbacks didn't become one of the state's finest exports overnight.

"We're spoiled here," said West Mesquite's Mike Overton, who coached TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin. "We're very fortunate and blessed to have all these resources -- coaches, money, facilities, all of the above -- to have this huge advantage."

The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is responsible for 39 of those 97 college signal-callers. That 40-percent share beats the combined production of Houston, Austin and San Antonio.

The coaches cranking out these signal-callers all know how we got here: They witnessed -- and embraced -- the two passing phenomena that have hit the state.

The first was 7-on-7 football, starting in 1996. The rapid rise of the pass-heavy summer sport made football a 12-month commitment for high school players. It's an invaluable proving ground for quarterbacks, whose arm talent and decision-making is put to the test on every single down.

"I've watched the whole thing change over time," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin told ESPN.com in July. "The ability for the quarterback to be coached and work year-round, that's so important. And for the receivers to play in a system like that, it changes everything."

The other game changer, as Sumlin can proudly attest, was the proliferation of spread offenses over the past decade.

The advent of four- and five-receiver passing attacks meant putting the keys to everything in a quarterback's hands, and it opened new doors for QBs with uncommon size and athleticism.

"The days of the quarterbacks taking a snap and handing it off are kind of done," Wasson said.

Add in a climate that permits yearlong football and the intense competition yielded from having more than 1,800 high schools and you create a stage for quarterbacks to shine unlike any the state has ever seen.

"When we start seventh-grade practice, there will be 40 guys trying out for quarterback," said Randy Allen, who coached Matthew Stafford at Dallas Highland Park. "That's happened at every school where they're running that spread offense."

All that demand helped establish several respected quarterback factories. In Dallas, it's Southlake Carroll, which produced Greg McElroy and Chase Daniel. Since 2002, the Dragons have produced five quarterbacks who earned state player of the year honors. Its latest prodigy, Kenny Hill, is heading to Texas A&M.

"The fact of the matter is Southlake Carroll has, since 2002, been inarguably the best quarterback factory in the country," Wasson said.

Dallas Skyline is another top talent producer in the metroplex. Quarterback DeVante Kincade, an Ole Miss commit, assumed when he started his freshman year that playing the position meant simply throwing to whoever gets open. After four years of thorough coaching, he speaks proudly of the Texas quarterback education he received.   "Basically, it was a job. It was mini college for us," he said. "It's big-time at Skyline. Once we do get to college, it's a different game and tougher and faster. But we already have that mindset and we're ready."   He's also certain, after squaring off against the best 5A programs in the state, that the position he plays has never been more valuable.   "To compete in this state, you have to have a dominant quarterback," Kincade said. "If you don't, it's going to be hard for you. Doesn't matter if it's pro-style or dual-threat, you've got to have that guy who makes plays."

In Austin, two schools stand above the rest. Westlake gave us Drew Brees and Nick Foles. Lake Travis has two in the college ranks today -- Garrett Gilbert at SMU and Michael Brewer at Texas Tech -- and former Kansas star Todd Reesing.

Lake Travis coach Hank Carter says his school has been fortunate, but he's well aware of what sets Texas schools apart. To him, it's the little advantages.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
AP Photo/Mike FuentesTexas A&M commit Kenny Hill is the latest star quarterback to attend Southlake Carroll.

His assistant coaches, for example, work full time at the high school. Doesn't seem like much, but it's the norm in big-time Texas football and creates a better, more unified coaching experience.

Another detail: Athletic periods, the 50- to 60-minute class that lets a coaching staff work with its entire football team. Whether they use it for instruction or conditioning, that time adds up quickly. An extra hundred hours of coaching a year can do wonders for fledgling passers.

"I think that's a big deal," Carter said. "The college recruiters know when they get a kid from Texas, he's been coached up. It's a key to our success. It's funny, I talk to guys from other states and they don't do it the same way. I say, golly, that's different. I love the way we do it in Texas."

So do recruiters. On signing day, the flood of Texas quarterbacks to the college ranks will continue. Texas cranks out, on average, more than 20 FBS-level signal-callers year after year. The 2013 class is no different, with 18 already committed to FBS programs.

Of that group, Kohl Stewart (Texas A&M commit), Cody Thomas (Oklahoma), Chris Johnson (Baylor), J.T. Barrett (Ohio State) and Kincade are all in the ESPN 300.

Any of those 18 could be the next big thing. Odds are, many of them will be. They'll be tasked with continuing their home state's proud new tradition.

"Quite frankly, I think it's going to get even better," Overton said. "I think you're going to see even more skilled QBs that have that dual-threat ability. I mean, that's even more dangerous."

Get ready. The golden age of Texas quarterbacks might only be just beginning.

Max Olson | email

Big 12 reporter