Drew Lock mastered a 100-plus-page playbook, picked apart defenses with a no-huddle offense and had defenders playing downfield out of honor to his arm.
All at the veteran age of 11.
Lock’s full-time career as a quarterback began in 2008, on the field behind Campbell Middle School in Lee’s Summit, where he surprised opponents and astounded coaches. Lock, who now stands 6-5, was already pushing 6 feet but used more than his size to stand out — he analyzed defenses and found their weaknesses. He even called audibles.
During the Lee’s Summit Football Association season that year, Brad Phillips and Greg Laddish stood on the field and watched what they thought was the best middle-school arm they’d ever seen.
Phillips and Laddish were the coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, for the Lee’s Summit Tigers sixth-grade team. As they watched the prodigious quarterback with messy hair make 40-yard throws look easy, Laddish leaned over to Phillips.
“I hope we don’t screw him up,” Laddish said.
The Missouri Tigers open the college football season on Saturday against Tennessee-Martin with Lock under center as a Heisman Trophy candidate and potential No. 1 NFL Draft pick. That sixth-grade season, which ended with a championship, laid the foundation for Lock as Missouri’s starting quarterback.
“I think that year can say a lot for us and our outside development and football development,” Lock said.
Most sixth-grade teams ran between five to 20 plays, as it’s an age where kids start to understand more complex football. By the end of the season, Lock’s team was running more than 100.
“Our playbook seemed to be just as crazy as the playbook I had in high school and college,” said Zach Drake, a wide receiver on the team who later played for Missouri State.
Laddish installed a pro-style offense with a tight end in order to prepare the players for Lee’s Summit High School’s offense. Lock’s arm allowed him to throw passes more than 40 yards in the air, and the team took full advantage.
“I knew after our first game that that was going to be his calling,” Laddish said. “He’s got something special that you cannot coach. He would come off the field after series and he would tell me what we should be running. At sixth grade, you don’t have that.”
Lock’s accuracy allowed him to put the ball in places defenders couldn’t get to. Phillips said most sixth-grade quarterbacks are taught to throw to certain areas of the field, with the receivers being taught to run there.
“It was pretty much the ball is going to be thrown to your chest on the run no matter where you were,” said Kole Pace, a tight end on the team.
Lock’s teammates were also some of the most athletically gifted in town for their age. Backup quarterback Michael Briggs later played football with Drake at Missouri State. The center, Ryan Dodd, is now a football captain at Pittsburg State, and running back Noah Arni played baseball at Central Missouri.
Lock said that because his teammates were such good athletes with high acumen, they didn’t have to worry about teaching fundamentals, which allowed them to focus on complex plays. The team would gather for film sessions with coaches, a rarity for their age, and they watched college games together.
“They expected highly of us,” Briggs said. “Sometimes in sixth grade, you see guys babying the kids, just to make them feel comfortable. I think our coaches did a good job of challenging us and making things more complex and tougher to understand. We were a little ahead of the game.”
On Oct. 4, 2008, while watching Chase Daniel lead Missouri to a blowout victory over Nebraska, Lock’s team saw MU run an option play. Daniel studied the right defensive end before deciding to run or pass.
Lock’s father, Andy, a former Missouri offensive lineman and assistant coach for his son’s team, broke the play down and brought it to practice Tuesday. The following Saturday, the younger Lock ran it in a game.
“We ran the option quite a bit,” Lock said. “I remember the first time we ran the option, I pitched it to Noah and he took it all the way. It was freaky, teams were like, ‘What are they doing running the option out here?’”
Lock’s defining moment came when the team was facing fourth and 19 from the opponent’s 40-yard line. Phillips is fuzzy on the specifics of the score and time of year but remembers the play vividly a decade later.
Phillips called a jet sweep to the right. Lock watched the linebackers overshift to the right and audibled out of it. He kept the ball and rushed left for a touchdown.
On the sidelines, a puzzled Andy Lock asked what the play call was and said he’d talk to his son after hearing he didn’t follow orders.
“Well, let’s find out what Drew saw,” Phillips told the elder Lock.
After Lock explained his reasoning to the coaches, they were left speechless.
“At that point we just said, ‘That’s exactly what we’d want you to do,’” Phillips said. “We can’t make those adjustments.”
The Tigers went 6-0 in the regular season and won most games by at least two to three touchdowns, according to multiple players. But when games were close, the team would unleash “Racecar,” a six-play, no-huddle offense.
Wearing an armband for the only time in his career, Lock would call out a play numbered one through six. Racecar consisted of two pass routes, two run plays and two hot routes, which are shorter passing routes. The result almost always ended with a touchdown.
“It threw a defense off,” said Ryan Laddish, a tight end and wideout on the team. “You could tell they’ve never seen a hurry up before.
“We were the only team our age that could run that.”
The team’s closest game came in the championship against rival Lee’s Summit West. Lock helped the team score early on the option play he stole from Daniel. The Tigers pulled away with a touchdown Lock threw to Briggs on a post route.
Lock said the complexity of the team’s playbook gave him experience heading into high school and did wonders for his development as a quarterback.
But that wasn’t the most the most important thing Lock took with him.
After being thrown into the fire as a true freshman at Missouri in 2015 and struggling the first two years of his career, Lock said he’s often thought of the toughness he developed from being on that team with high expectations.
“I’ve been through a lot of things, taken a lot of hits, taken some lumps in the road,” he said. “If those guys didn’t instill it in me, I wouldn’t be tough. That’s stuck with me.”