Ask a high school football coach about his reverence for the quarterback position, and they don’t mince words.
By TOD PALMER and SAM MCDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
“Leadership. Give me a leader all day,” Lee's Summit West coach Royce Boehm says. “I think in high school there are a lot of ways to win a football game, but the quarterback is the captain of that offensive ship. A quarterback is what gets that thing ticking.”
If the kid is an athletic signal-caller who can run a read-option offense, even better.
“I know defensively every year, the guy who scares the crap out of me is the dual-threat guy,” said Blue Springs coach Kelly Donohoe, who played quarterback at Harrisonville High School and the University of Kansas.
With that in mind, let’s go inside the head of a high school quarterback. Better yet, let’s let them speak for themselves. The Star posed some questions to a variety of Kansas City area kids who are poised play quarterback — the most scrutinized position in high school sports.
Here’s our participants: Lee’s Summit West senior Thomas Ganaden, Gardner Edgerton senior Jared Hobby, Lee’s Summit junior Drew Lock, Wyandotte senior Dimonic McKinzy, Blue Valley West senior Ryan Ralston, Liberty North junior Brian Sharp, Fort Osage sophomore Skylar Thompson, SM West senior A.J. Verdini and Bishop Miege junior Ryan Willis.
Is quarterback the most important position?
Thomas Ganaden: “In order to make a team run, everybody has to click, but within that, the quarterback has the most to think about the most to execute and the most to read. But it still takes a whole team to win.”
Jared Hobby: “Some of my teammates might not agree, but I think so. You have the ball in your hands every single play and the decisions you make are crucial every play.”
Drew Lock: “As a quarterback, you're going to think that. It starts with me when it comes to scoring. It definitely comes with pressure. That's what I love about it the most.”
Dimonic McKinzy: “I wouldn’t say it’s the most important, but I would say it’s very important for the team. All positions are important. It takes a team to win the game, but obviously the quarterback has a big impact on the game.”
A.J. Verdini: “It’s one of the most important, but when it comes down to it I’d say the offensive line is the most important. Everything starts there. Last year, I only got sacked like twice. They don’t get enough credit, but without them I can’t do what I do, Andre (Maloney) can’t do what he does.”
Ryan Willis: “It is and it isn’t. We are made to put the ball into other people’s hands so they can make a play. We’re the leaders of the team and show our teammates what to do and how to do it. The main part is convincing them that we can do it.”
Does the quarterback get too much of the credit or blame?
Thomas Ganaden: “I don't think so. High schools are taking more of a family approach. If we lose a close game, I think a lot of people could have done something different.”
Drew Lock: “I do think that sometimes. But that’s a good problem to have. I like that being on me.”
Dimonic McKinzy: “Of course, because it shouldn’t only be the quarterback who gets the glory. It takes a whole team. One quarterback can’t go 11-on-one, so that’s why I’m about the team. I’m not about myself.”
Ryan Ralston: “I think they do get too much credit and too much blame, because it’s obviously a team game. But that’s just how it works.”
Brian Sharp: “It depends. Sometimes you’re the guy who deserves the credit for a win or the blame for a loss.”
Skylar Thompson: “Yes. Even if it’s not your fault, it’s still going to be blamed on you. And I do feel like when we win, we get a lot of the credit, even if a wide receiver makes a great catch or the offensive line makes great blocks.”
A.J. Verdini: “I don’t like to take the credit, because that’s not being a good teammate. The blame part of it? Football is a team game — 11 people playing together — but as the quarterback, you make some crucial decisions sometimes. If you throw a bad ball or make a bad read, that’s obviously your fault, but you don’t control the whole game.”
What’s the most important talent for a quarterback?
Thomas Ganaden: “Leadership and the ability to read defenses. If you have both of those at the high school level, that's something they expect at the next level, so you're ahead of the game in a sense.”
Drew Lock: “I’d probably say field vision. You obviously have to have a good arm and throw the ball, but field vision will make a play for you.”
Dimonic McKinzy: “Decision-making is so important — so important — for a quarterback to have to be efficient.”
Ryan Ralston: “You’ve got to stay humble. You’ve got to be able to think fast and forget quickly. You’ve got to be able to overcome mistakes and overcome adversity.”
Brian Sharp: “I think it's a good arm. If you have a good running game, they can key on that. If your quarterback has a good arm, that opens everything up.”
A.J. Verdini: “At the high school level, it’s definitely leadership. A lot of teams don’t throw the ball that much like college or pro teams do, so you’ve got to keep the huddle under control. People definitely look to you for the leadership since you are kind of the face of the team.”
What personality traits best suit a quarterback?
Drew Lock: “You have to have a level head. You can’t let things get to you. You have to be able to forget about a play and come out and throw a touchdown on the next one.”
Brian Sharp: “You have to have good instincts and know what to do. You have to know where everyone is going to be on the field.”
Skylar Thompson: “I’d probably say have you to be a competitor. You have to do anything to win. I don’t care how it’s done, as long as I carry my team to victory.”
Ryan Willis: “You need a focused person who can lead others in the right direction on and off the field. You have to set the right example — being a hard worker, being the most disciplined, being someone who wants to do good things.”
How does your previous experience help as a quarterback?
Thomas Ganaden: “Experience helps a lot. My first start was against Staley on ESPN last year, and that was pretty nerve-wracking. I feel like if I had that chance again, I would play a lot better, knowing what I know now.”
Drew Lock: “Playing last year is definitely going to make a difference. It's already easier for me in practice. I was a little nervous before every game last year. This year, I'm going to be ready to read defenses and make tight throws.”
Dimonic McKinzy: “It makes a big difference, because now I can see things that I couldn’t as a freshman or a sophomore. I know what’s about to come, because the game feels slower. Now, I get to be more precise.”
Ryan Ralston: “It helps a ton. Looking back on my sophomore year, if I knew half of what I knew now, I’d have been such a better quarterback. With experience, you’re way more calm out there. You know what to expect, whereas as a sophomore or even at the beginning of my junior year, I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t expect the game to be that fast.”
Brian Sharp: “I'll know what's gong on this year. I know the offense better this year. I know what it's like to play under the lights in front of a crowd. I'll just be a more complete player all the way around.”
A.J. Verdini: “I have a lot more confidence going into this year than I did last year. Last year, I had no idea what to expect going into a varsity game. Now, I’m a lot more confident. Plus, I think we have one of the best receiving corps in the state. I have a lot of trust in our receivers and our line. Everything has slowed down for me and the reads are a lot easier to make.”
How about the pressure to replace a standout who graduated?
Skylar Thompson: “It’s really interesting because even though this is my first year starting, I’ve been around the team as a ball boy since I was in the seventh grade. It was really special watching Steven McBee here before me because I was able to take notes for how he led a team. To soak in all those moments, you couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Ryan Willis: “Oh, I’m feeling the pressure. People keep asking me, ‘Are you going to be as good as Montell (Cozart)?’ Are you going to be D-I? You have to keep the streak going at Miege.’ There’s a lot of pressure, even pressure within my family. Everyone in my family has been involved in a D-I sport. My dad played football at K-State, my mom was an All-American in track Iowa State, one sister played basketball at Oklahoma and another played basketball at St. Louis.”
What’s the best feeling as a quarterback?
Thomas Ganaden: “It would be the simplest thing, like a run up the middle when every singe person executes their block, I carry out my fake and it just works perfectly. That play where everything just clicks. It’s a great feeling.”
Jared Hobby: “The Blue Valley West game last year was back and forth the entire time. We scored with three minutes left to take the lead, but they drove down the field and scored pretty quickly. I had a 45-yard post route to Jaylon Radel with a minute left that put us ahead for good.”
Drew Lock: “When you make the perfect read. When you see the defense flow to one side and you hit a guy for a touchdown. I think the best feeling is running down to the end zone to get on his hat and celebrate with him when the points go up.”
Dimonic McKinzy: “Coming into a program and helping build it is the best feeling I’ve ever had. At University Academy, the program was already built and I helped continue it. It’s been a hard process at Wyandotte, trying to bring everybody together and rally behind coach (Eddie) Brown to pull in the same direction.”
Skylar Thompson: “I would say the best feeling as a quarterback is winning the big game. Those are the games when the spotlight is on you. It’s your chance to prove to everyone you can win the big games.”
A.J. Verdini: “Nothing beats winning state last year. Nobody in the Shawnee Mission area had won in 27 years, so that made it pretty special. Also, my brother (Michael Sutyak) played on the 2006 team that lost to Hutch (in the state final). I got to experience that game, so playing Hutch in pretty much the same playoff route they had made it a lot more special.”
What’s the worst feeling as a quarterback?
Thomas Ganaden: “The worst feeling is definitely throwing an interception. You get a feeling like you let your team down on that play.”
Drew Lock: “The worst feeling is when you throw a pick and you have to go to the sideline knowing you messed up that play.”
Ryan Ralston: “Losing is the worst feeling. Throwing an interception has to be one of the worst feelings, but the worst feeling was probably when I got stopped at the goal line in the quarterfinals last year against Miege. We were going to play Aquinas next and we really wanted a shot at them again after losing to them in overtime earlier in the season.”
Skylar Thompson: “The worst feeling is when you made a decision throughout the game that you can look back on and say that's why we lost the game.”
A.J. Verdini: “My sophomore year, I was playing in a sophomore game and we were playing Olathe East. We had an undefeated season the whole year and we lost 48-0. That was a real low point even though it was two years ago.”
What's the most fun offense to play?
Dimonic McKinzy: "I love the spread option, because I’m only 6 foot tall and that lets me see the game better. You always just have a lot of options and can get the ball to guys. I can also my speed."
A.J. Verdini: "I don’t get play it in games very often, but sometimes we run the Wildcat in practice and I like that a lot. That’s always fun to do."
Ryan Willis: "I like any pro-style offense, because I like to sling the ball around. The spread is fine, but I like a balanced offense too, where the run can open up some throws."
What’s the biggest challenge as a quarterback?
Jared Hobby: “The hardest thing is putting it all together in the game. Going through practices, we break it down and go through things one by one, but during the game it all comes at once. You’ve got to bring everything together.”
Dimonic McKinzy: “Keeping everybody on the same page is a really hard thing to do. Everybody has their own personality with what they want to do and how they want to go about things. That’s a big challenge.”
Skylar Thompson: “Your team feeds off your energy and what you bring to the table every day, so you have to have a positive demeanor every single day because your team takes on your demeanor. If your team is having a bad practice, it's on you to change that.”
A.J. Verdini: “It’s hard to realize what plays need to be made. I had an issue last year where I always wanted the home run ball. I always wanted to throw the deep ball to Andre. I had to learn to take what I could get and not always try to get the touchdown.”
What are you focusing on when you watch film?
Thomas Ganaden: “On my own, I probably watch 45 minutes of film each night before I do my homework. I’m looking at plays that we’ve run against teams that play similar defenses. It helps me (prepare) for what that next team might do.”
Drew Lock: “Coach (Eric) Thomas and me, we watch a lot of film. I like to see the tendencies a defense has and how much they call certain coverages.”
Brian Sharp: “A quarterback looks at everybody. He looks at himself first and sees what he’s doing wrong so he can correct it. He looks at the wide receiver to see if he’s running the right routes. He looks at the defense to figure out what they're doing. It’s everything.”
Skylar Thompson: “I am looking for the way I carry myself. I always want to be a positive (example), even if the game isn't going my way or I'm missing throws.”
Ryan Willis: “Coach (Jon) Holmes is big on watching film. He really wants me to watch it a lot. He has me set up on a Hudl account and I’ve already been going over things with him for different coverages and different reads. He’s huge on it. We did it once a week during the summer, but I’ll watch film pretty much every day during the season probably an hour every night.”
Name a big misconception about playing quarterback?
Thomas Ganaden: “Everyone is always talking about how you're just standing there and throwing the ball, but there's so much more to it mentally. There's a lot put on you mentally, and I think that's what people underestimate about the quarterback position.”
Jared Hobby: “I walked into a pretty big spotlight after Bubba (Starling), so I knew there would be a lot of pressure. I wasn’t expecting as many people coming around still and being on TV as much as we were. Our season opener has been on TV the last two years, so I’m getting used to it, but I definitely wasn’t expecting that.”
Drew Lock: “We're not the guy flying around and running all over the field, but we're more athletic that you probably think.”
Dimonic McKinzy: “Honestly, I didn’t know how much studying was involved. I’m a quarterback who was used to just playing. I had to learn how to study from guys who’ve already been where I’m trying to go. You have to constantly work on the things that make you a better quarterback — footwork, accuracy, decision-making. There’s a bunch of stuff.”
Ryan Ralston: “I didn’t realize how information you had to know, how much studying you had to do and how fast the game really is.”
Brian Sharp: “It’s a lot harder than it looks. Most people think you sit back there and throw a ball all day. It’s the American dream to be a high school quarterback, they think. But I go through a lot of preparation. I watch film, work on routes, get my timing down. You have to work hard at it, just like any other position.”
Skylar Thompson: “I feel like a lot of fans judge you before they know what you really do. There's a lot stuff that falls on you as a quarterback. You're the guy that has to get everybody going and get them going.”
A.J. Verdini: “Our first couple games last year, I didn’t do too hot. I knew people put a lot of the blame on you, but I didn’t realize how much of the blame was put on you until after we lost to Free State. I was walking through the halls with my hood up, trying not to look anybody in the eye. They’re all looking at you like, ‘You’re the kid who messed it up.”
Name another high school quarterback whom you admire?
Thomas Ganaden: “Drew Lock, me and him kind of play the same. He’s a great quarterback and he’s a year younger than me. He’s a great athlete. We grew up together, so we're always competing. It’s fun. He’s one I really look at.”
Jared Hobby: “The Wyandotte kid (Dimonic McKinzy) is pretty good. He was at one of the camps I went to this summer and he was pretty impressive to watch.”
Drew Lock: “I really liked Montell Cozart at Bishop Miege last year. I watched him play a game where they were down by a ton and he just kept his poise and brought his team back in the game.”
Ryan Ralston: “All the EKL quarterbacks are great. The kid coming in at Miege (Ryan Willis) has a good arm and I really like the way the kid at Aquinas, (Danten) Cosentino, does things.”
Brian Sharp: “I watch a lot of games with (Staley’s) Trent Hosick last year, who’s at Missouri now. But he was just the guy for Staley. He was their everything. He ran the offense, told everyone else what to do. He was the guy I liked.”
Skylar Thompson: “I know Drew Lock at Lee’s Summit really well because we play basketball together in the summer. He’s an awesome kid. He’s a year ahead of me, so I look at him and say that’s who I want to be next year. It motivates me.”
A.J. Verdini: “I really like Dimonic (McKinzy). We both work out with the same quarterback coach, so I’ve worked out with him a couple times. Dude’s just so good and I absolutely admire how he plays. He doesn’t let anybody control how he plays.”