PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. — On a recent sunny spring afternoon, four FBS quarterbacks threw footballs in a park located in a quiet Kansas City suburb. It was almost jarring to see even that much live football in one place.
OK, so it was only a May 21 session with their throwing coach, but it was something amid a sportsless landscape. Graham Mertz (Wisconsin), Noah Vedral (Rutgers), Jacob Clark (Minnesota) and Max Duggan (TCU) were all working with Justin Hoover, a local high school head coach who runs the Spin It Quarterback Academy.
“Everybody needs football,” said Mertz, a rising redshirt freshman and one of the Badgers’ highest-ever rated quarterback prospects.
With the NCAA moratorium on athletic activities having expired on May 31, these four needed to throw in the meantime. All of them were connected to the region or Hoover, a rising star in the national quarterback training ranks. Along with the balls, there was a certain urgency in the air. Football is coming back — fast.
Vedral recently finalized his transfer from Nebraska to Rutgers (his third school) without seeing the campus or meeting his Scarlet Knights teammates. “I’ve never been there. I’ve never been to Jersey. I’ve never been to New York,” he said.
With Rutgers being 35 miles from the coronavirus New York epicenter, Vedral said he has already been assured by coach Greg Schiano that he will not lose a year of eligibility if the season is canceled.
“I took that into account,” said Vedral, a graduate transfer with two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Then there is the question — as things stand right now — whether anyone will want to play Rutgers because of COVID-19.
“New York’s getting ready to open up,” Vedral said hopefully. “They’re not nearly at the place the rest of the states are but …”
Mertz probably looked the most like a classic quarterback at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. From nearby Blue Valley North High School, the four-star prospect was ranked as the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2019, per the 247Sports Composite.
Those type of QB recruits don’t land in Madison, Wisconsin — ever. Mertz will have to battle starter Jack Coan, a rising junior, who took the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. It’s clear he can’t wait.
“The NCAA and schools in general need a season,” Mertz reiterated. “I don’t know how they’re going to get the revenue they need to fund every other sport. The world needs football. College athletics need football.”
The football-as-savior discussion will be tabled for now. As balls floated in a same park where families played, it was clear Duggan had the best arm in this super-small sample size. The rising sophomore started 10 games for the Horned Frogs in 2019, getting honorable mention for Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.
“When Max was coming out, I remember seeing him at an Elite 11 regional event,” Hoover said. “At the time, he had Northern Iowa and North Dakota State and maybe Southern Illinois, some FCS [teams recruiting him]. And he lit it up. I don’t know if he got off the plane home, and he had four offers.”
It was almost anonymous progress in a suburban park in the middle of a pandemic with football shut down. Until recently, Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock was working with this group. Hoover and Lock have had a relationship since the quarterback was in high school. Kansas State starting quarterback Skylar Thompson is a regular, a native from nearby Independence, Missouri.
They all will return to a game profoundly changed. They will be tested frequently in some form or another for the coronavirus. They will not be around their teammates as much because the best way to end a pandemic is to separate folks.
Good luck with that mixed in with college life, college bars and college parties. That is, if the season even starts on time.
“What do you do during the season when one player gets a cough on the plane,” Mertz wondered, “and half your coaches are over [a certain age] and have something they can’t deal with? It’s more the people around us.”
Hoover works as a coach with Trent Dilfer’s Elite 11, the gold standard for quarterback instruction. College coaches know Hoover. NFL quarterbacks have learned under him. For seven years, he has run Spin It. His reputation is spreading.
“A 10-second clip is ‘American Idol’ for a high school quarterback,” Hoover said.
If history is kind to these four QBs, there may be memories being made. Porter Park in Prairie Village is within shouting distance of the home of Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff.
“This is the perfect time to focus on the little things,” Mertz said of that day’s casual workout. “During the season, you’re just kind of throwing it to throw it, running your offense. You’re not worried about mechanics.”
“For some of us, it’s not that ‘I need to fix things,’ Hoover told his quarterbacks. “It’s, ‘I need to compete. I need to get the motor running a little bit.”http://www.cbssports.com/”
They assembled for a single purpose but have already gone their separate ways. Clark grew up here but went to high school in Texas. He was on spring break in Mexico when he got the word the coronavirus had closed down the country.
“It’s good to be back out there,” he said. “We’ve been cooped up for a long time. A little stir crazy for sure.”
Mertz drove across town. Duggan drove down three hours from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Vedral is a Nebraska native who started at UCF, came home to the Cornhuskers and now will seek his fortune with Rutgers.
He played eight games for UCF in its undefeated 2017 season. After following Scott Frost to Nebraska, Vedral appeared in seven games in two seasons.
“I would love to just pick the school and everything work out but that’s not the way it is,” Vedral said. “It was efficient this time.”
As for interacting with actual humans and playing football again?
“It’s lot more fun than Zoom meetings,” Vedral said.