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Friday, January 13, 2012
Updated: January 16, 2:36 PM ET
Offseason rules factor into QB success

By Brandon Parker
ESPNHS

As Bob Wager tore through Buzz Bissinger's classic book "Friday Night Lights" in 1992, his calling became glaringly clear. So clear that the then-22-year-old graduate assistant football coach at Springfield College in Massachusetts traded in his car for a motorcycle, packed a few bags, scrounged together $500 and made the 1,800-mile trip to the mecca of high school football -- Texas.

"That's the reason I moved down here. I knew the greatness of Texas high school football, had read 'Friday Night Lights' and all that, but I was still shocked when I moved down here," said Wager, who has been the head coach at Martin (Arlington, Texas) for the past seven seasons.

"It's a football-crazy state and produces great players, but I didn't know why. Once I was here and got to the heart of it, in my opinion, it's spring football and the competitive environment that makes the difference. Kids are built to make the transition into college football more quickly."

Indeed, it's no accident that states like Texas, California and Alabama regularly churn out the most coveted football prospects, especially quarterbacks. Of the top 25 signal-callers in this year's ESPNU 150, seven hail from Texas, five reside in California and the nation's No. 1 quarterback, Jameis Winston, is from Alabama.

In these states, there's no such thing as an offseason. Kids travel to combines across the nation, they have quarterback coaches on speed dial, and the 7-on-7 events seemingly never end. Plus, they can work out in pads and helmets whenever they'd like.

Wager's Martin team won this past summer's Red Bull Game Breakers 7-on-7 tournament in a field that featured teams from around the country. The coach credits some of the chemistry built at the event for his team's 12-2 record and Class 5A Division I state quarterfinal appearance this past fall.

"Not to knock other states, but it's just a different culture," Wager said. "Players are more developed because the commitment is greater."

Another major factor in Texas' favor: During the offseason, athletic teams have a period built into their daily school schedule to use as the coach sees fit. Rather than a PE class, the athletes have a 60-minute block that allows them to do conditioning, practice or study film with their coaches and teammates.

"While some kid in New England, where I came from, is doing a unit on tennis, mine are doing power cleans twice a day," Wager said. "It's by design and not by accident Texas football is what it is. It's like apples and oranges with some other states."

Not everyone has it as good as Texas. The team Martin faced in the final of the 7-on-7 tournament was Clairton High from Pennsylvania, a state where offseason traveling is allowed, but practicing in pads is not.

"Getting out of Pennsylvania helped us with our confidence," Clairton coach Tom Nola said. "Coming in second showed us we can play with anybody."

Nola's words speak volumes, considering his players already had plenty of reason to be confident. Clairton, despite fielding just 28 players on its roster, has won the past three Class A Pennsylvania state titles and 47 straight games, a streak that is tops in the nation. But playing -- and beating -- top-classification schools from Florida and Texas boosted the Bears even higher.

Pennsylvania might not have it as good as Texas, but it has more freedom than many other states, where official offseason workouts of any kind are banned altogether.

"Having the combines and events offered in the offseason now are very beneficial as far as the quality of quarterbacks that are cultivated," Wager said. "And that's why you see guys being plucked from Texas and states like California -- it's because they're ready to play."

One big reason they're ready to play? Because they were allowed to play.

Brandon Parker covers high school sports for ESPNHS magazine and ESPNHS.com. Follow him on Twitter @brandoncparker or email him at brandon.c.parker@espn.com.