Back in 1985, Gatorade established an award honoring the nation's top high school student-athletes. Since then, the Gatorade Player of the Year award has recognized more than 12,500 state and national winners in 12 sports.
Gatorade Player of the Year alumni include household names like Kobe, LeBron, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, Candace Parker, Kerri Walsh and Abby Wambach — a distinguished group, indeed.
This week we're catching up with Brock Osweiler.
Peyton Manning is unquestionably one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, but he will always be oddly linked to one of the league’s greatest busts, Montana native Ryan Leaf, who went No. 2, behind Manning, in the 1998 NFL Draft.
Manning wrapped a remarkable comeback year with an appearance in Sunday’s Pro Bowl, but he’ll be 37 when next season begins, and he’s had neck fusion surgery in the recent past. The end is certainly not here for the 1994 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year, but it’s visible on the horizon.
When it happens, the man stepping in will likely be a fellow Gatorade winner and another Montana native: Brock Osweiler.
If following in Manning’s footsteps isn’t a lofty enough task, Osweiler will also be aiming for the unofficial title of the best tall quarterback ever.
OK, so maybe that last part won’t be all that difficult.
Currently, Dan McGwire is the, um, gold standard of NBA-sized quarterbacks – and a cautionary symbol for NFL talent evaluators. At 6-foot-8, McGwire is the tallest quarterback in NFL history. Mark’s little brother was picked in the first round by the Seahawks in 1991, but made just five starts in five seasons, spent between Seattle and Miami. Scouts who have complained for years about quarterbacks who couldn’t see over the trees complained that McGwire was just too tree-like (in height and agility).
The next tallest QBs in history were a pair of 6-foot-7 signal-callers: Frank Patrick, who never started a game in three years (1970-72) as a Packers backup, and Sonny Gibbs, who completed a three-yard pass for the Lions in 1964.
Osweiler was listed at 6-foot-8 throughout high school and college, but lost an inch, down to 6-foot-7, at the NFL Combine.
Befitting his height, Osweiler was a basketball player first, making a verbal commitment to Gonzaga after his freshman year at Flathead (Kalispell, Mont.). As a junior, he averaged 24.9 points and 14.5 rebounds per game, though Andy Garland of Missoula Sentinel beat him out for the Gatorade Montana Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Garland went on to become a four-time NAIA All-American at Carroll College. Osweiler, meanwhile, decided that 6-foot-8 (or even 6-foot-7) quarterbacks were a lot more rare than 6-foot-8 power forwards and committed to play for Dennis Erickson at Arizona State.
As a senior at Flathead, Osweiler completed 189-of-303 passes for 2,703 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also led the 6-5 Braves on the ground with 760 yards and 13 scores and edged out Capital High’s Matt Miller for 2008-09 Gatorade football honors. Miller, now a standout wide receiver for Boise State, would win the Gatorade award the next year.
After failing to earn a starting job at Arizona State as a sophomore, Osweiler made plans to double up and join the Sun Devils basketball team. Late in the season, however, he came off the bench to throw four touchdowns in a win against UCLA, and his football future was cemented.
In 2011, his only full season as a starter, Osweiler completed 326-of-516 passes for 4,036 yards, with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The tallest QB in the NCAA, he declared early for the NFL Draft and was selected in the second round, 57th overall. He was the fifth quarterback chosen, behind Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden, but ahead of third-rounders Russell Wilson and Nick Foles.
While those other six have earned starting roles, Osweiler has been relegated to sitting and learning behind the durable Manning. He saw the field in just five games this past season, completing 2-of-4 passes for 12 yards, all in a Dec. 30 game with the Chiefs.
Once his opportunity comes, then the discussion of the best in Montana history can also begin. Leaf’s well-documented failures set a fairly low bar, but he’s statistically the best the state has developed, NFL-wise. John Friesz, who had a 10-year career, primarily as a backup, was born in Montana, but went to school in Idaho. Bozeman’s Kevin Sweeney started four games between 1987 and 1988 for the Dallas Cowboys.
Many, however, will argue that Dave Dickenson is the best quarterback in Montana history. He was the only football player in state history to win back-to-back Gatorade Player of the Year (for C.M. Russell in 1990 and 1991; Leaf never won the honor). He won a 1-AA national title at Montana, earned the Walter Payton Award in 1995 and was the 2000 Canadian Football League MVP with the Calgary Stampeders.
The Chargers — dipping into Montana again — signed the 5-foot-11 Dickenson in 2001, but he languished behind fellow undersized QBs Doug Flutie and Drew Brees, then bounced between Seattle, Miami and Detroit in 2002 without ever throwing an NFL regular-season pass. Dickenson returned to the CFL and won a Grey Cup with British Columbia in 2006. His playing career was cut short by concussions, however, and he’s currently the offensive coordinator for Calgary.
Osweiler will always be, at the very least, an NFL footnote, because of his height. Where he ends up on the scale of quarterbacks, ranging somewhere between Sonny Gibbs and Peyton Manning, will be fascinating to watch.