Gary Danielson. Earl Morrall. Craig Morton. James Ninowski.
That's a list of some of the top NFL quarterbacks born in Michigan. If it looks underwhelming, well, that's because it is. While the Great Lakes State has produced some outstanding NFL talent, it's been woefully thin at the quarterback position.
That's a trend that hasn't changed much in recent years, either. Since 2006, there have been just two quarterbacks from Michigan in the ESPNU 150: Robert Bolden (now at Penn State) and Devin Gardner (now at Michigan). Both were members of the Class of 2010. Neither cracked the top 100.
That's likely to change this fall, when De La Salle (Warren, Mich.) QB Shane Morris takes the field for his senior season.
"He's got a great frame for development with already-good height," said Tom Luginbill, ESPN director of football recruiting. "He's a strong-armed lefty who is a very powerful thrower with feet, stature and an authoritative motion."
Put simply: He's got a cannon.
He displayed that arm strength often at last summer's Gridiron Kings 7-on-7 tournament, held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. One of only two rising juniors at the event (the other was highly touted QB Riley Ferguson from North Carolina), Morris' prodigious arm helped his Midwest squad shake a three-year winless streak at the event and advance to the final.
Following a successful junior campaign, Morris is in the spotlight entering his senior season.
"He throws a college- to pro-level pass," said De La Salle coach Paul Verska. "He has a tremendous 10-to-15-to-20-yard route from sideline to sideline and hash mark to hash mark."
Verska and his coaching staff recognized Morris' ability immediately when he was a freshman, but the team already had some talented signal-callers on the varsity roster. Verska didn't want Morris sitting on the sideline, nor did he want to bench an upperclassman in favor of a freshman. So he sent Morris to the freshman team, where the young passer had a great year before returning to varsity for the postseason.
In De La Salle's first playoff game, Morris sat on the bench and watched as the two quarterbacks ahead of him suffered injuries, forcing Verska to call him into action in the third quarter of a 0-0 game. Morris proceeded to lead the Pilots to a 20-0 win over Grosse Pointe South (Grosse Pointe, Mich.), and The Legend of Shane Morris was born.
"My first possession, I fumbled the ball," Morris said. "My next possession, I threw a 50-yard touchdown pass. I remember just looking up at the student section and thinking, 'Wow.'"
Morris started the next three games and defeated Grosse Pointe North and Southfield before falling to Inkster in the Division 2 semifinals.
From that point on, the starting job belonged to him.
College coaches got word of his skill set almost immediately, and within a year, the offers started pouring in. Morris made his decision quickly, opting to pledge to Michigan in May of his sophomore year. He didn't want the burden of schools calling constantly, letters coming in by the dozens every week or constant speculation over where he was going to go.
"Growing up, I was a fan of Michigan football," Morris said. "When I got that offer, it was a huge deal for me. I met coach Brady Hoke, and they really treat everyone like a family member."
Morris' junior season was full of ups and downs. The Pilots had one of the toughest schedules in Michigan. The team finished 9-3, and two losses came to eventual state champions -- Division I champ Cass Tech (Detroit) and Division 3 champ St. Mary's Prep (Orchard Lake). One of De La Salle's wins was against Brother Rice (Bloomfield Hills), which won the Division 2 state title.
Morris finished the season with 1,684 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven INTs. Verska says the team's offense consisted of roughly two-thirds rushing plays to one-third passing -- a ratio that is due to change in his senior season.
"We like to stay balanced, but he'll double his passing yards this year," Verska said. "Honestly, if he doesn't throw for 4,000 yards, something's wrong."
For all the attention he's received as a potential star in the Class of 2013, you wouldn't know it from talking to him. He's lighthearted and affable, he loves mixing it up with his nearly 6,000 Twitter followers (@S_Morris12) and he is constantly looking to improve.
"He's handled it well," Verska said. "He's a mature young man, he has great parents who keep him grounded, and he's the type of kid you hope your son would grow up to be some day. I'm very proud of him."
Verska likes to tease his quarterback about his success. "He thinks he's pretty good," Verska said. "He can dunk a basketball, he's a good baseball player -- all the coaches love him. I like to tell him, 'Nobody remembers who comes in second or third.'"
Morris is using his coach's words as motivation.
"I'm trying to improve on everything," he said. "I work out five times a week. I'm working hard and trying to get better.
"In my mind, I'm never good enough."