Rare is the freshman starting at quarterback for a college football program, let alone one in a Power 5 conference. Even rarer is seeing two such cases being in the same Power 5 conference. Going one step further, to an even rarer occurrence? Both QBs hailing from the same high school.
Such may be the case with a pair of 2018 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) alums.
With so many stellar athletes from which to choose, the Ascenders’ depth chart is the envy of many a coach. Case in point: Both of IMG’s quarterbacks from the Class of 2018 likely will be starting in Week 1 for Big Ten schools.
Zack Annexstad, a freshman walk-on at Minnesota, was recently named the starter by coach P.J. Fleck. Meanwhile, at Rutgers, freshman Artur Sitkowski is a heavy favorite to be the Scarlet Knights’ QB1 when the season gets underway vs. Texas State on Sept. 1.
“Zack Annexstad is walk-on by paper; he is not a walk-on player,” Fleck said in a recent news conference, via the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
A Norseland, Minn., native, Annexstad passed on FBS offers from the likes of Cincinnati, Illinois, and Pittsburgh for a walk-on opportunity in his home state. He will join recent Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 NFL Draft pick Baker Mayfield (Texas Tech, 2013) as the only freshman walk-ons to start Week 1 in FBS history.
He started his prep career at Mankato (Minn.) West before transferring to IMG, where he beat out Sitkowski for the starting job.
“In today’s world there are not a lot of quarterbacks that want to compete,” IMG Academy head coach Kevin Wright recently told 247Sports. “Everyone wants the job handed to them, and when it’s not you see them transfer. That’s at the high school level, college level — that’s just commonplace. I think he knew it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Sitkowski, an Old Bridge, N.J., native, had originally committed to Miami (Fla.) before returning to his home state and signing with Rutgers. While a declaration has already been made regarding Annexstad’s status, Sitkowski has yet to be officially named the starter.
“It’s kind of been the plan to get to this point,” Rutgers coach Chris Ash told media recently, via the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press. “We’ll sit down here after this scrimmage, have some conversations and see where we’re at. There’s no set date to say this guy or that guy is our starting quarterback. We’ll do it when we’re comfortable with it and feel like someone has been consistent and taken ownership of the football team.”
Drawing talent from across the country, the IMG football team continually lives up to its billing with its nearly unparalleled performance. The No. 2 team in last year’s Super 25 heads into Friday night’s season opener as this fall’s No. 1 squad.
Granted, IMG Academy is not like other schools, but having two QBs graduate and make immediate impacts on their big-time college programs would be an improbable feat nonetheless.
“He has an enormous challenge,” Fleck said of Annexstad. “I told him this: It’s 51 years of no-championship football here and I said now everybody’s going to think you’re the answer and there’s pressure and expectation … except … he’s a true freshman that we are going to develop to become something. He’s going to make those mistakes, but I trust him mentally.”
Going through the ringer as quarterbacks at one of the nation’s premier prep programs helped get Sitkowski and Annexstad ready for their big moments. One fact is clear — these former Ascenders wasted little time ascending their respective depth charts.