Heard it From Hoard: Column 87
In recent years, the nation's most highly touted high school quarterbacks have flocked to traditional powers like USC, Florida, and Notre Dame.
Isn't it time they started looking at Cincinnati?
I asked Tony Pike what he would say to a stud high school QB who was thinking about attending Cincinnati.
"I just say, 'Watch a game,' Pike said. "What kind of quarterback wouldn't want to come in and throw the ball 35 to 40 times a game and you're in a no-huddle shotgun situation. To me, it's a dream system for any quarterback. If you want to throw the ball and have fun you should come here."
"The fun takes place on Saturday, but it requires great preparation and attention to detail," Coach Kelly told me. "It requires you to be held to a greater standard because you get the keys to a pretty exciting car. And if I'm going to let you drive it, then you had better earn it."
Brian Kelly's track record in developing QBs (with considerable help from offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn and quarterbacks coach Greg Forest) is nothing short of remarkable.
Let's start with Pike who earned BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Week honors after throwing for 362 yards and 3 touchdowns in Monday's 47-15 win at Rutgers.
Despite two great seasons at Reading High School, Tony was not heavily recruited - his only offers came from Cincinnati (then coached by Mark Dantonio) and Toledo. When Pike made his first start for UC last year against Miami, it was the first time he had started a game in 4 years, 10 months, and 12 days.
Now after starting 11 games under Brian Kelly, Pike is the best passing quarterback in the BIG EAST and is on Mel Kiper's radar as a likely selection in the next NFL draft.
Two years ago, Ben Mauk transferred to UC after throwing 4 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in three years at Wake Forest. In addition to his mediocre numbers, "Bionic Ben" arrived in Cincinnati with a titanium plate and eight screws in his upper arm and his shoulder held in place with three anchors.
In one season under Coach Kelly, Mauk threw a school-record 31 TD passes and was only intercepted 9 times.
Before arriving at Cincinnati, Kelly played a redshirt freshman at quarterback in his final year at Central Michigan and Dan LeFevour was named First Team All-MAC after passing for more than 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. Now a senior at CMU, LeFevour leads active college quarterbacks in career completions, and total offense, and ranks second in passing yards.
Finally, going back to his days at Grand Valley State, BK mentored two quarterbacks who were finalists for the Harlon Hill Award (the Division II Heisman), including Curt Anes who won the award in 2002.
So how does Coach Kelly do it?
"The quarterback position is more than what you do in the classroom," Kelly told me. "You have to develop them physically, and you have to teach them how to handle games. The only time to do that is out on the practice field. Then in the games, we make sure they can handle our offense by coaching them hard and demanding excellence every time they go out there. I don't know that there's a magic formula other than we demand a lot out of them and they know that and relish that opportunity."
"It's the way they break down the game," Pike said. "They set up pass concepts and the runs plays so that you don't have to read four or five different keys each time. The biggest thing that you learn is if you stay in the system, you're going to throw completions and that guys are going to be open."
Pike only wishes he could have run Coach Kelly's offense for four years instead of two.
"It would be light years ahead of where we are now," Tony said. "At this point there's still stuff we're tweaking and still stuff we're putting in, so the guy who gets to play for Coach Kelly for four years is going to be a special quarterback."
Now that's a recruiting pitch.
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I hosted Coach Kelly's radio show for the first time this year on Thursday night and was extremely impressed by the turnout . . . not to mention the Montgomery Inn ribs (it had been a few months).
There are a couple of nuggets worth mentioning.
First, safety Drew Frey won't play on Saturday vs. SEMO due to injury. He's expected to be back for the Oregon State game.
It sounds like redshirt freshman Cam Cheatham will start at cornerback with Brad Jones moving to safety. Look for true freshman Reuben Johnson and Chris Williams to get a bunch of snaps at cornerback as well.
Also, Coach Kelly said that members of the UC staff spent 3 days at the University of Florida in the offseason studying how the Gators use Tim Tebow as a running threat out of the shotgun. I asked BK when he decided to add the "Bearcat Formation" to the offense (we can't call it the Wildcat) and he said it was in the Orange Bowl when the Bearcats had trouble scoring in the red zone.
"We were stopped on the goal line when we could have made it 20-14 and we couldn't get it in by running the football. We felt like we needed to have a big, physical presence. We don't have a big 240pound fullback in our program, so we needed to have a player that could play physical and we found one in Travis Kelce. He's 250 pounds and played quarterback before we moved him to tight end and he gives us that presence. We knew we could put in an offense that was similar to what Tebow does at Florida - we just needed to go find out more about it and it worked out pretty well. Some of the best jokes are stolen jokes and some of the best plays are stolen plays - and we clearly stole a couple of those."
In case you're wondering, Coach Kelly said the Tim Tebow "jump pass" is part of UC's arsenal.
The Florida staff also studied what Cincinnati does on offense. The UC staff shared some of their screen pass plays with the Florida staff and the Gators used three of them in their season-opening win over Charleston Southern.
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Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad on the run.