Tempe High coach Brian Walker has been involved with high school football off and on since he played for legendary coach Karl Kiefer at Tempe McClintock in the late 1980s.
Yet when Walker is asked whether he’s ever seen a high school quarterback with a stronger arm than Tempe junior Emanuel Gant, he doesn’t even pause for a split second.
“No,” Walker said. “He throws hard.”
There are times during practice when Tempe’s receivers, after having another one of Gant’s bullets whistle through their hands or dent some of other part of their body, will walk back to the huddle and ask Gant to take something off his throws.
“I tell them, ‘It’s not going to be that hard in the game. I’m just messing with you guys,’ ” Gant said.
Arm strength isn’t the sole measure of a quarterback just as a 98 mph fastball doesn’t define a pitcher. Accuracy is as important — if not more so — than velocity.
Gant is the entire package. In leading the Buffaloes to a 4-0 record, he’s completed 60.2 percent of those passes — that number would be higher if his receivers hadn’t dropped some catchable balls — and thrown for 348.3 yards per game, with 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Any list of the state’s top quarterbacks — Scottsdale Desert Mountain’s Kyle Allen, Tempe Marcos de Niza’s Josh Eckley, Scottsdale Saguaro’s Luke Rubenzer, etc. — has to include Gant, who has been Tempe’s starter since he was a freshman.
“He’s definitely a talent,” Walker said. “He definitely has the tools to be a Division I quarterback.”
Unlike some of the state’s other top quarterback prospects, Gant wasn’t groomed to play the position. In fact, he didn’t start playing football until the sixth grade — baseball was his first love — and he didn’t start playing quarterback until the eighth grade.
“I was always bigger than the other kids so I had to play up two years,” Gant said. “I thought I was going to be a fullback or a lineman.”
Once he cocked his right arm, however, he was a quarterback, and he has progressed each season under Walker, who in three years has transformed Tempe from a 1-9 club into a team that could challenge for the Division III title this year.
Gant had a 50 percent completion rate as a freshman and threw for 2,912 yards as a sophomore. But his 24 touchdown passes were countered by 14 interceptions, including five in a 41-25 loss to Chandler Seton Catholic last October. After the season, Walker told Gant he was too confident in his arm and as a result was trying to do too much.
“He would just force balls thinking he could make plays when he didn’t have to,” Walker said. “We spent a lot of time talking about taking pressure off himself. Now he’s a smarter quarterback.”
Still, it’s the NFL-quality arm that distinguishes Gant. Walker said he’s one of the few high school quarterbacks he’s ever seen who can throw a corner route from one hash mark 25 yards up the field to the other. Gant’s passes don’t flutter though the air, either. They’re lasers, even 30 or 40 yards downfield.
Let’s put it this way: I’ve watched Allen, Rubenzer, Eckley, Scottsdale Chaparral’s Connor Brewer and every other big-name high school quarterback over the past four years. None of them come close to matching Gant’s fastball.
“I’ve just always had the arm strength,” Gant said. “I try not to think about it because it can get me in trouble sometimes. I’ll get lazy and not put all my mechanics together.”
Not surprisingly, Gant’s arm and ideal size — he’s 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, although Walker would like him to play at 225 — has attracted a lot of attention nationally.
Gant said he’s received letters from every Pac-12 school, several SEC schools, including Auburn, as well as some Big Ten and ACC schools.
There’s just one issue: Gant is further along athletically than he is academically, Walker said.
“We have quite a few people talking to him trying to help him out,” Walker added. “But teenagers can be teenagers.”
Hopefully, Gant will get his work done in the classroom. A chance to play for a Top 20 program — and get a free education — is right in front of him.
Meanwhile, do yourself a favor and catch a Tempe High game. Your jaw will drop.
Reach Bordow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow.