With rise of personal coaches, can anyone still be the QB?
RALPH D. RUSSO
Jul. 24, 2015
Jackson Burkhalter and Sheldon Layman are slinging a football around a grassy field on a muggy fall evening in Mobile, Alabama, under the watchful eye of David Morris, who spent most of his college football career as Eli Manning's backup and is now tutoring aspiring QBs.
The young quarterbacks throw flat-footed and from their knees, dropping back and rolling out. Neither is in high school yet, but both have been working with Morris for years.
Personal training starts early for most quarterbacks and it can be costly. It is a booming business, with some parents spending thousands of dollars per year to refine their sons' skills and keep up with the competition. Morris and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer are among those who are trying to make sure that quarterback doesn't become an exclusive position, only attainable by kids who have access to high-level training.
"Everybody should have an opportunity to be the quarterback. It shouldn't be who your dad was, who your high school coach was and how much money you have," Dilfer said.
Five years ago, Dilfer became the face and driving force behind Elite 11, a quarterback competition for top high school prospects. Dilfer said all 18 Elite 11 finalists who competed in Oregon earlier this month have had at least some exposure to a personal quarterback coach.
His latest push is toward a do-it-yourself approach to quarterback training, using online services such as ecoachsports.com to give players inexpensive access to his methods.
"What I'm trying to do is ... give the parents and the community the information that out there exists. A methodology, for lack of a better term, of information that will help you reach your potential without the crutch of a personal quarterback trainer all the time," Dilfer said.
"But the goal behind it all is so they're not paying $100 an hour going to a quarterback coach."
Dilfer entered the quarterback development "space" — as he calls it — in part because he saw a broken business, where self-proclaimed experts were charging hundreds of dollars an hour to parents who felt the training had become a necessity.
"There's definitely that sense of feeling for sure," said Steve Layman, father of 14-year-old Sheldon, who will be a freshman playing with the varsity at McGill-Toolen High School in Mobile. "I do feel you have to do the individualized position training to keep up. If not, you're going to get passed."
Layman started Sheldon working with Morris, founder of QB Country, which now has eight locations around the South, when his son was in fifth grade.
Layman estimates between sessions with Morris and other personal coaches, along with travel to various passing camps around the country, he spent about $10,000 last year on Sheldon's football development. That includes about $2,000 for regular sessions with Morris.
"You've got to look at it as an investment," Layman said. "What does it cost your kid to go to college today?"
Burkhalter is 13 and going into eighth grade this fall at St. Paul's Episcopal School in Mobile, where Alabama quarterbacks AJ McCarron and Jake Coker went to school.
His father, Todd, who played at Auburn in the 1980s, has not yet run up the type of bills on Jackson's training that Layman has for Sheldon's. It is moving in that direction, though.
"I think at some point, you tend to sort of get in a stream," Burkhalter said. "If everybody's in a stream you're sort of intersecting with them and saying how do you do this in terms of the training and the camps."
Tanner Morgan, a rising junior from Ryle High School in Union, Kentucky, skipped the training fees and went the ecoach route, getting hooked up with northern Virginia-based quarterback coach Paul Troth and saving his father an eight-hour drive.
Now, Morgan submits a video of himself to Troth and Troth responds with coaching videos that Morgan and his father, Ted, credit with helping him to get his first scholarship offer from Wake Forest. Troth said players can submit three videos for $35.
"I don't want to be out here just taking people's money. I feel like I provide a high-quality service but at the same time I know that the most talented kids oftentimes are the ones who can't afford it," Troth said. "I'd love to be able to teach those kids."
Morris, who threw 46 passes in four years at the University of Mississippi, has also decided the best approach to make it in the quarterback coaching business is to build a brand that is not reliant upon being the guru to the stars. He partnered with D1 Training so QB Country would have facilities for its network of coaches to use, spanning from Memphis, Tennessee, to Orlando, Florida.
"The bread and butter is middle school and high school," he said. "That's what we do. That's what I want to do.
"I didn't want to price out people. What we do is a little pricey, but it's not going to price the majority of the people out. It's not like we're 500 bucks an hour."
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP