Luke Rubenzer’s first quarterback coach was the guy he backed up at Scottsdale Saguaro two years ago.
Every Sunday, Teddy Ruben would work with the freshman’s footwork and throws. Eventually, Rubenzer began receiving private lessons from former college and pro quarterback Dennis Gile.
That led to camps, including impressive workouts at Nebraska, Notre Dame and Northwestern after a break-out sophomore season in which he completed more than 70 percent of his passes.
A tad under 6 feet tall,Rubenzer has to go the extra mile or many miles to get seen and get a shot at college football scholarship.
“If I go to Notre Dame and do well there, other coaches are going to see me,” the junior said. “Notre Dame is a high-profile place. They’re going to check me out, see what Notre Dame is looking at, get the name out there.
“I never sent tape to North Carolina State, but they’re sending me letters.”
Paradise Valley senior Ryan Finley, who committed in March to Boise State, worked with quarterback guru Terry Shea last spring when Shea was working with Robert Griffin III before the NFL draft. Shea, who is stationed in Kansas City, came to Griffin, who was getting personal training at the Athletes Performance, which trains some of the country’s elite college and pro athletes.
Finley, 6-4, 190 pounds, said just a few sessions with Shea and working out with Griffin developed him to where he is now, leading the state with 1,274 passing yards in four games.
“The biggest thing, talking to (Griffin), he let me know it’s never going to be easy,” Finley said. “It’s always going to be hard, so you have to always be working, always know you’ve got to get better.”
This is an exceptional year for high school quarterbacks in Arizona, which has been producing some pretty good ones for a while now.
Brett Hundley, All-Arizona two seasons ago at Chandler, led UCLA to a 36-30 win over Nebraska with more than 300 yards and four touchdown passes. Former Phoenix Arcadia star Colby Kirkegaard recently started his first game for Wyoming.
Just last Saturday, three former Scottsdale Notre Dame quarterbacks — Sean Renfree (Duke), Will King (Redlands) and Jordan Gehrke (Scottsdale Community College) — started in college games. Renfree was 24 of 34 for 274 yards and three TDs in Duke’s 54-17 win over North Carolina Central, while Gehrke, who starred at Notre Dame Prep the past two seasons, led SCC’s upset of Eastern Arizona College, completing 32 of 49 for 324 yards and five TDs.
“To be an elite quarterback, you need to be training year-round, because if you aren’t, someone else is,” said former Phoenix Shadow Mountain coach Mike Giovando, who works with young quarterbacks in the Valley, some time sharing groups with Gile.
Four quarterbacks already have surpassed 1,000 passing yards this season. After Finley, Mesa Red Mountain senior Mason Thorman has thrown for 1,168 yards, Peoria Liberty senior Tyler Rogers has passed for 1,060 (with no interceptions and 14 TDs) and Rubenzer 1,026.Rubenzer leads the state in total yards with 1,426 with Finley (1,340) second, Rogers (1,320) third and Thorman (1,290) next for 11-man teams.
Giovando and Gile are just a couple of coaches throughout the Valley who give lessons to quarterbacks. There are several others. What they charge, however, is a small pittance compared to Shea, who charges a $3,000 training fee, according to his Web site.
A four-day training session includes leadership training, quarterback meetings, on-field training, film study/analysis. His clients included Blaine Gabbert, Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford and Josh Freeman, all starting NFL quarterbacks. All of those guys, he said, trained with him in Phoenix before the NFL draft.
Besides Finley, Shea also worked with Texas freshman Connor Brewer, who led Scottsdale Chaparral to the past three state championships. Shea has had high school quarterbacks, including a freshman from Florida, fly out to work with him.
“You marvel at these 14- and 15-year-old quarterbacks who can pass the ball,” Shea said. “Coaches are not waiting around to pass the ball. Now they come off the bus passing the ball.”
One reason for the emergence of great quarterbacks is the evolution of the high school offense in the past few years with many teams running advanced college concepts that, Saguaro coach Jason Mohns says, “allow quarterbacks to dominate the football more than ever before.”
“We’ve been lucky in Arizona to have some top offensive minds at the college level to learn from,” Mohns said. “We learned a ton from (UCLA offensive coordinator) Noel Mazzone when he was at ASU and have also spent a lot of time with ASU’s new OC Mike Norvell. You’ve also got one of the top offensive gurus in Rich Rodriguez in Tucson. I know many high school staffs travel out of state to colleges to learn from them in the off-season. We were lucky enough to be invited by Gus Malzahn to spend a week at Auburn last year (before he took the Arkansas State head coaching job) working a camp and learning from their offensive staff.”
Quarterback play in Arizona, overall, is improving, Chaparral coach Dave Huffine believes. And much of that is due to year-round training and finding help on the side. Pop Warner teams put their best athlete and quarterback and make him a dual threat.
Tempe Marcos de Niza junior Josh Eckley is tearing it up with his arm and feet. Scottsdale Desert Mountain junior Kyle Allen already has eight scholarship offers and has Ohio State following him closely this season.
Some are predicting Chandler sophomore dual threat Bryce Perkins will become a bigger prospect than Hundley. An athletic 6-3, he looks like RGIII with his dreadlocks and swagger and build, and has early offers from ASU and UCLA. Yet, he is waiting his turn, playing behind senior DarellGarretson, who committed to San Jose State.
Gilbert Higley has a 6-3 left-hander, Tyler Bloom, waiting in the wings.
Phoenix Brophy Prep’s Tyler Bruggman (Washington State), Finley, Garretson and Rogers all should come out of the 2013 class with football scholarships to four-year programs.
Rogers said Utah has started to recruit him hard, especially after he out-dueled Finley in a 65-31 win Sept. 6 when he completed 17 of 28 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 63 yards and two more scores.
Rogers, who is 6-3, 190, is one of the rare elite quarterbacks who didn’t travel to college camps to get his name out, even though he was invited to Purdue, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah State.
He stayed home, ran track in the spring and worked with his high school coaches, who include former Glendale Ironwood High and Northern Arizona star Jason Murrietta. That could be why he doesn’t have a major college offer yet.
“Let’s face it, the hardest position to get recruited is quarterback,” Liberty coach Dan Filleman said. “You’ve got to be in the right situation. There is money, time, trying to still be part of this program to fit our schedule.”
Dave Rubenzer, Luke’s dad, said he believe the money invested in his son’s development at quarterback will pay off in the end.
“I didn’t want to invest all this money early on,” Dave Rubenzer said. “It is why we used a guy like Teddy (Ruben). You don’t want to invest too much until you realize he’s got the ability and the mind to play quarterback.”
Told by recruiters how important it is to be seen throwing at summer college camps, Dave Rubenzer already is making plans for a Texas sweep with stops at Rice, Texas Christian and Southern Methodist, before his senior season cranks up.
After this season, Rubenzer will get back with Gile to continue smoothing out his mechanics.
“You’ve got to get out there and get your name out,” Dave Rubenzer said. “It’s a different world than it used to be.”