Aubrey Solomon is considered the best high school defensive lineman in Georgia. But that role has gotten more difficult thanks to the quarterbacks he routinely faces on Friday nights.
“Those guys are a different breed and they keep getting better,” said Solomon, a Lee County (Leesburg) senior ranked as the No. 4 defensive tackle in the nation by the 247Sports Composite rankings.
“They have the ability to play at the next level, and they’re playing younger. I believe (the quarterbacks) are way better now than when I was freshman. There are just so many good quarterbacks, and they have the ability to pick and choose the attributes they need to be successful. That just makes them better all-around.”
Wherever you turn – and no matter which year you choose – there are elite-level quarterbacks.
Georgia has become a hotbed for passers.
In the Class of 2017, Stanford commit Davis Mills is the No. 1 pro-style quarterback recruit in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite, and Georgia commit Jake Fromm is No. 4. Florida State commit Bailey Hockman is No. 12, Clemson commit Chase Brice is No. 14. Add in Colorado State commit Ryan Glover, who is considered a dual-threat quarterback.
“It’s not going away,” said Barton Simmons, the national scouting director for 247Sports. “Every year a young guy pops up. We’re going to have at least four more cycles where Georgia will be home to one of the nation’s best passers.”
The No. 1 recruit regardless of position for 2018 is Trevor Lawrence, a quarterback from Cartersville who is above pace for the state career passing record. Emory Jones is committed to Ohio State, Justin Fields has 32 reported offers. Cade Fortin is committed to Texas A&M, Jarren Williams is a Kentucky commit and Gunnar Watson is gaining interest.
Keep on going, and the Class of 2020 has prospects such as Harrison Bailey, who already has 10 offers; Max Johnson, the son of former NFL quarterback Brad Johnson; and Tee Webb, who likely will succeed Lawrence at Cartersville.
And then in the Class of 2021, Aaron McLaughlin, who had SEC offers last summer despite not having entered eighth grade; Andrew Van Wie, who threw three touchdowns in the FBU Youth All-American Bowl in January; and Brock Vandagriff, who is already 6-2 and 175 pounds.
“Our state has produced some very good quarterbacks lately,” said Cartersville coach Joey King, whose 13-0 team plays Mary Persons (Forsyth) on Friday in the state AAAA semifinals. “I feel that this is a testament to the quality of football that is being played and coached in Georgia.”
So how did this happen? USA TODAY Sports spoke to quarterbacks, coaches, quarterback trainers, recruiting analysts and scouts. Their answers generally fall into three categories: offenses evolving, more quarterback specific training and development, and the rise of 7-on-7 or passing leagues. Or a combination of the three.THE OFFENSES
King: “I believe it is due to the fact that more Georgia schools are throwing the ball now. Our state is evolving just as the game is evolving.”
McLaughlin, a Class of 2021 passer from North Gwinnett: “I don’t think football is a game of just handing it off anymore and pounding down the field. I think it’s a game where the most efficient offenses throw the ball the majority of the time and spread the field and the coaches in Georgia saw that and changed.”
Fromm, a Georgia signee who finished his senior year at Huston County (Warner Robbins) just 261 passing yards short of current Clemson QB Deshaun Watson’s state record of 13,077: “Georgia high school football as a rule is a competitive league. We’ve always had a lot of athletes so there was a lot of run-first guys, but those athletes have now evolved into pass-heavy offenses. Guys like me and some of the other guys are becoming something to see. It’s put Georgia on the board as far as the quarterback position.”
Quincy Avery, a longtime Atlanta-based quarterback coach: “Offenses are moving toward a spread style rather than the more run-based style they had previously. All you see now is four-wide sets, three-wide sets, ball in the air 35, 40 times a game in high school and even earlier in middle schools. Kids start doing passing leagues in seventh grade.”
Brice, a Clemson commit from Grayson (Loganville, Ga.): “I think from my freshman year, more spread offenses have adapted. I’ve always been a wing-T guy so being under center was pretty normal, but I quickly loved the shotgun. There’s something about being four or five wide that makes a QB get excited. I think more and more are going to the spread is because there’s so much you can do, so many formations and different ways to get the ball to your playmakers.”
Erik Richards, national scouting director for U.S. Army All-American Bowl and FBU who is based in Georgia: “It changed at the youth level first. There just aren’t a whole lot of good linemen and coaches saw they could move in bigger (chunks of yardage). You had quarterbacks proving they could throw at the youth and middle school level. Those quarterbacks continued to develop and got training. They moved up to the high school level and were more equipped to throw the ball.”
TRAINING AND COACHING
Richards: “For years, there was no supplemental quarterback training in Georgia, but you had that in Texas, California and Florida. Then Quincy Avery and Tony Ballard came to the forefront and were two of the first ones in Georgia that started offering private individualized training. Davis Mills was one of Tony Ballard’s first clients in the sixth grade. Now these kids here are afforded the same opportunities that kids in California and Florida had for years. They can get QB private training without flying halfway across country.”
Ballard, a longtime quarterback tutor in Georgia: “It’s about development. Everybody knows California has been pretty much a hotbed in terms of quarterback because the development has been there at such a young age. With early development and early training, that presents an opportunity for these kids to play pretty early as ninth graders .. You can tell a lot early in terms of the throwing motion. If a kid has a good throwing motion and work ethic, that tells me there’s something there. Then you can look at developing footwork and the ability to retain information and physically. … I like to get a kid in fifth or sixth grade and help them develop. If you are looking for an overnight success, you’re going to fail, especially at this position.”
Bailey, who started this season as a freshman at Marietta and was seventh in the state in passing yards: “There are great quarterback coaches around here. Coach Tony and some other guys are good at what they do. The players they work with are putting up numbers on Friday nights and doing their things. I’ve been working him since my fifth-grade year. He’s made me the player who I am and taught me everything I know — from my read coverages to my footwork and there have been tremendous changes. I thank him every day.”
Mills, the Stanford commit who starting working with Ballard in fifth grade: “I think it’s a little luck to have all that talent in one area. But also just the community in Georgia and growing up here, people are held to high standards in youth leagues, and then I was held to a high standard by (Ballard). He pushes me to be my best every time I work out with him and keeps me on the right path to push for success.”
King: “I don’t think it’s due to outside quarterback tutors at all. There are plenty of competent high school coaches that are doing a fantastic job molding quarterbacks to fit their systems.”
7 ON 7
Avery: “Any time you get an opportunity to play against real defenses in a competitive environment makes you more prepared. It allows you to see things and process it. You subtract the linemen, but everything else remains constant at the quarterback position. You get to go in with an aggressive mindset and really focus on what you’re trying to do. You don’t have to worry about getting hit, but 7 on 7 prepares you for when that happens and the quick decisions you have to make.”
Ballard: “I was really against 7 on 7 for years. I never wanted to be a part of it, but my quarterbacks wanted to do it. … Two years ago, I was asked to be part of it and put a team together called FSS, Fundamentally Sound Sports. We use it as a mechanism for training and an opportunity to develop these kids with things they can use on Friday night as well as 7 on 7. For the quarterbacks, there’s no (offensive) line so it happens very fast. You want kids to learn how to go through the progressions and have that clock in their heads. The ball has to be out. It can hurt footwork because a lot of these kids don’t get into drops. We push our quarterbacks to do everything under center in 7 on 7 – the three, five and seven step drops – and emphasize progressions. It also allows guys to throw in small windows.”
Bailey: “When you’re playing the top kids from around the nation, it takes decision-making to a whole other level. If you are even a step too slow or throwing it high, it will get picked. It helped me get used to the speed and timing and knowing when to get the ball out now or throw it away. It really helped in my transition to high school.”
And as long as the quarterbacks keep coming through, so will the competition that drives them all.
“I always like to check up on some guys and see how they’re doing,” Brice said. “I’d say there’s a friendly competition among some of us… especially if we’re going head to head. But that’s what makes it fun. Having that competition and determination to do your best and play at a high level.”