Glimpsing Into the Future: A detailed breakdown of five of the best quarterbacks in the Class of 2018
This is the eighth and final part of Campus Rush's series on the recruiting, development and evolution of quarterbacks.
With The Opening Finals competition taking place at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., this week, the college football world will get a glimpse of the top quarterbacks in the class of 2017. Some of them could make an impact in Power 5 conference title races as soon as next fall. Yet the programs set to add these elite talents to their rosters have already begun looking to the next class of QBs. The rising junior crop of quarterbacks, better known as the class of 2018, features several prospects who've issued verbal commitments to big-name programs. Campus Rush is providing an early look at five of the top QBs in the class.
High school: Cartersville (Ga.)
Commitment status: Uncommitted
Scout.com position rank: 1
The first thing you notice about Trevor Lawrence has nothing to do with his talent, his smooth delivery, the zip on his passes or his toned, 6' 5'' 205-pound frame.
It's his hair, a shoulder-length, brown mane that, absent a helmet to restrain it, would flow in the air at his every drop-back and scramble. Not everyone in this small town 40 miles northwest of Atlanta loves it. One assistant coach who, Lawrence says, would prefer it be shorn down to military standards. Others offer a facile comparison to the popular Remember The Titans character Sunshine, a nickname Lawrence is not particularly fond of. "I haven't figured out a way that cutting his hair would make him a good football player yet," Cartersville coach Joey King says.
When Lawrence begins his college football career in about two years, his celebrity will owe less to a single physical characteristic than what he can do on the field. As the top quarterback in the class of 2018, Lawrence will be adored by one program's fans, and feared by the rest.
After winning the starting job as a freshman at Cartersville, Lawrence completed 233 of his 364 passing attempts for 3,655 yards with 43 touchdowns and only four interceptions last season, according to MaxPreps, while leading Cartersville to the Class AAAA state championship in Georgia. Lawrence already reports more than 20 scholarship offers, and Scout.com recently named him one of the best quarterback prospects it has evaluated over the last decade. According to Scout.com national recruiting analyst Chad Simmons, Lawrence has "future NFL first-rounder written all over" and was "the easiest five-star I have ever named."
In the heart of SEC country, talented prospects rarely fly under the radar for long. Yet Lawrence's elevated stature is somewhat atypical even in an age when recruiting coverage has expanded to everywhere from newspapers to subscription sites to national outlets. YouTube footage of his middle school games has drawn more than 20,000 views, and Simmons noted the fact that Lawrence was "already somewhat known" among SEC programs in a Scout.com article published in June 2014, before he had begun his freshman season at Cartersville.
As Lawrence has risen on programs' recruiting boards and various national rankings, so has his hype—both at a local level, where Lawrence has been asked to sign autographs, according to King, and nationally. King has served as a kind of liaison for college coaches (who are restricted by NCAA rules with regard to when and how much they can contact prospects) inquiring about Lawrence, and he says he's overwhelmed with media requests after visits to schools. "And there'll be like four from the same [outlet] trying to text me, so that's pretty crazy," Lawrence says.
Though Lawrence resides in Georgia, he was born in Knoxville, Tenn., and grew up a Tennessee fan. Lawrence says he "kinda just drifted away from that" as his recruitment took off, but Volunteers diehards undoubtedly hope his prior support for their favorite program will work in their favor when Lawrence makes his college decision. Of course, the Bulldogs, like most other programs, will do everything in their power to land Lawrence.
He said in an interview with SI.com this spring that the programs he's "really interested" in are Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Lawrence also said that he anticipates knowing his college of choice before the start of his junior season, meaning an announcement could be looming in the near future. What has the potential to be a frenzied recruitment with breathless coverage for months on end, therefore, could end relatively early. And in case you're wondering, Lawrence plans to keep his hair—for now. "It gets annoying sometimes, but I don't think I want to go back short again," Lawrence says.
High school: Oaks Christian (Calif.)
Commitment status: Committed to USC
Scout.com position rank: 2
When USC faces Alabama on Sept. 3, the game will pit one team viewed as a College Football Playoff contender against a current underachiever with long odds of winning its own division. Yet the Trojans can take solace in the fact that while their current state of affairs is bleak, a more successful future —something approximating, if not reprising, the Pete Carroll-led reign that bore seven Pac-10 titles and two national championships—is attainable. The ability to sell not necessarily what's happening right now, but what could happen in short order, is one of the reasons USC remains such an enticing potential destination for recruits on the West Coast.
Matt Corral is talented enough to play for any program in any conference, but he verbally committed to USC in February—less than two months removed from its two-point loss to an unranked Wisconsin team to end a disappointing 8–6 season—because, he says, "They have everything I want, everything I need. I don't see why else not to go there." Corral has been drawn to the program since they played in the first football game he ever watched, when he was five or six, and Corral recalled with precision a trip to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to watch his older brother compete in a football camp that heightened his attraction.
More recently, Corral watched Michael Pittman, a teammate at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, Calif., and the No. 4 athlete in the class of 2016, according to Scout.com, stick with his commitment to the Trojans and enroll early.
USC was the first program to extend Corral a scholarship offer, but the Trojans have since undergone a coaching change, with Clay Helton replacing Steve Sarkisian. Corral says he had some contact with former USC (and now UCLA) quarterback coach Marques Tuiasosopo but that he has since communicated mostly with Helton or his brother, quarterback coach and passing game coordinator Tyson Helton. USC will need to continue to recruit Corral—he indicated he will take all five of his official visits—but given Corral's longstanding attraction to the program, it seems likely he'll stick to his commitment.
At 6' 2'' 205 pounds, Corral is an accurate passer with a big arm but also possesses the athleticism to escape pressure and find receivers downfield while on the run. Oaks Christian coach Jim Benkert grants Corral latitude to make changes at the line of scrimmage. "And he has a good grasp of how to do that," Benkert says. Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com, says he's impressed with Corral's toughness. "I've seen him just take shot after shot after shot in games and he just doesn't flinch. He'll stand up in the pocket and no matter what, if he keeps standing up in the next play, he won't shy away or sack himself like I've seen some quarterbacks do."
Last season Corral passed for 3,283 yards with 36 touchdowns and six interceptions while adding 414 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns, according to MaxPreps. Corral says he would like to refine his footwork and the touch on his throws, and he mentioned the possibility of working with renowned quarterback coach Steve Clarkson. However much he does improve before he arrives at USC, Corral's pledge could help the program in the short run, as his presence could lure other highly regarded local players—including five-star wide receiver Jalen Hall and four-star running back T.J. Pledger, both top-20 prospects in Scout.com's 2018 rankings.
Corral's commitment also offers some stability for USC at a time after it lost one of the most productive quarterbacks in program history (Cody Kessler), settled for a three-star QB in its 2016 class (Matt Fink) and is still trying to secure one in its 2017 class after watching target Tua Tagovailoa commit to Alabama in May. That the Trojans can pick up a pledge from one of the nation's best quarterback prospects (Corral) despite the expectation that they'll lose their season opener to the Crimson Tide is an encouraging commentary on their recruiting pull: USC got Corral not because of its ability to win football games in 2016, but because it's USC.
High school: Pine-Richland (Pa.)
Commitment status: Committed to Notre Dame
Scout.com position rank: 4
Consider Notre Dame's future at the most important position on the field. This summer two talented upperclassmen—Deshone Kizer and Malik Zaire—will compete in the most highly anticipated quarterback battle in the country. Beneath them on the depth chart waits sophomore Brandon Wimbush, a skilled playmaker with a powerful arm who can elude defenders when he breaks away from the pocket. And in March, the Irish secured a verbal commitment from Cedar Hill (Tex.) High's Avery Davis, one of the top quarterbacks in the class of 2017*.
Yet none of those passers may have as much potential as the one Notre Dame reeled in as part of its 2018 class. Phil Jurkovec, a standout at Pine-Richland High School in Gibsonia, Pa., 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh, announced his plans to play for the Irish in May. His pledge gave Notre Dame a pillar around which to build a class that won't arrive in South Bend for a couple of years, but it also strengthened a quarterback pipeline that may have no equal.
Though Jurkovec has played only one full season of football at the varsity level, he's already distinguished himself as one of the top signal-callers in the country with a blend of athleticism and arm talent that, according to Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz, is complemented by a strong competitive drive. "He wants to be the best at whatever we're doing and that's very obvious in the way that he prepares himself at the position," Kasperowicz says. According to MaxPreps, Jurkovec passed for 2,560 yards and 20 touchdowns with only four interceptions while adding 1,250 yards and 11 scores on the ground in 2015.
Jurkovec grew up watching Notre Dame and became enamored with the program's tradition and winning track record. "The old-time greats, like Knute Rockne," Jurkovec says. He also enjoyed the play of former Irish All-American wide receiver (and current San Francisco Giants starting pitcher) Jeff Samardzija. Jurkovec has visited the school several times, including when he announced his commitment in May, and developed strong relationships with head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford.
"By going up there and talking with the coaches and meeting everybody and seeing everything that Notre Dame has to offer really backed up everything that I thought about the university," Jurkovec says. He adds, "[Notre Dame] was definitely kind of my dream school, so getting the chance to play there was something I couldn't really pass up."
Like Zaire, Wimbush and Davis, Jurkovec is also classified as a "dual-threat quarterback" by multiple recruiting services. But at 6' 5'' 200 pounds (he's also a talented basketball player) Jurkovec is considerably taller than those three QBs. "He seems like more your classic, pro-style quarterback even though he can move pretty well," says Pete Sampson, the editor of Scout.com Notre Dame affiliate Irish Illustrated. Jurkovec probably won't be in the running for the starting job as a freshman, which is a testament to the program's consistency and quality of recruiting at the position.
"It's kind of like, you look at Notre Dame's quarterback position from here until 2021 and whoever's starting is going to be really, really good," Sampson says. "And not a lot of teams can say that."
Notre Dame fans will watch intently as the competition between Kizer and Zaire unfolds in the lead up to their season opener at Texas on Sept. 4. In the meantime, it may be difficult for them not to look forward with enthusiasm about who's in line to battle for the starting quarterback spot in future seasons, including one who won't even be on the roster for two years.
*It's remarkable that this is what Notre Dame has a year after the quarterback who led it to the 2013 national championship game, Everett Golson, transferred amid a competition with another QB on the Irish's roster (Zaire) to the program that won the title one year later (Florida State).
High school: Bartram Trail (Fla.)
Commitment status: Committed to Auburn
Scout.com position rank: 6
The comparison is impossible to avoid. Joey Gatewood is a highly regarded quarterback recruit from the Southeast. He is built like a player who has no business lining up at that position. He is committed to Auburn. There's a lot of Cam Newton in Joey Gatewood.
Yet one crucial component of the parallel almost failed to materialize. Before he pledged to Auburn last December, many observers believed Gatewood, who attends Bartram Trail High in St. Johns, Fla., was leaning toward Florida State. The spring following his freshman season, there was speculation Gatewood would announce his intention to join the Seminoles. Corey Bender, a Scout.com recruiting analyst who covers the state of Florida, says after Gatewood received a scholarship offer from the program in April, "It was kind of a wait-and-see approach with him to see, 'When's he going to commit to Florida State?'"
But Gatewood elected to wait, a decision that paid off when he visited Auburn that June and, in his words, "I was just, like, 'dang.'" Gatewood says he was attracted to the Tigers in part because of his fit in their spread offense, and it didn't hurt that Gus Malzahn—the coach who unleashed Newton to tremendous effect during his sensational, national championship-winning season at Auburn—likened Gatewood to the 2015 NFL MVP. "He did say I was the closest thing that he's seen to Cam," Gatewood says.
Gatewood also says he developed a close relationship with Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. "We have a bond, you know? It's hard to explain."
While Gatewood isn't set to step on the plains for another two years, his commitment was a boon for a program that enters the 2016 season reeling from a disappointing 7–6 campaign and with a coach (Malzahn) who will be a fixture on summer hot seat lists. While alternating last season with an upperclassman quarterback who reportedly has drawn interest from FCS programs, Gatewood passed for 713 yards and six touchdowns while adding 871 yards and six scores on the ground, according to MaxPreps, to help Bartram Trail reach the Florida Region 1-7A finals.
Bartram Trail coach Darrell Sutherland says Gatewood also can be used at other positions in an offense Sutherland describes as a "spread triple-option" while noting that "we throw it quite a bit." Gatewood says he plans to work with a quarterbacks coach this summer and hopes to improve his ability to read defenses. Progressing in that area would make the Newton talk a little less ridiculous at this stage. Says Bender, "I think the biggest thing with him is just his dual-threat ability for a kid his size. He does a good job of getting outside the pocket, does a real good, nice job of throwing on the run."
Eager as Auburn fans may be to pencil in Gatewood as their starting quarterback a few years from now, it's not assured that he'll actually sign with the program. For one, should Auburn deliver another subpar season, a coaching change conceivably could lead to a decommitment. Gatewood says other programs continue to pursue him, he mentioned wanting to "check out" LSU and Ohio State and, when asked about his pledge to the Tigers, Gatewood replied with the sort of ambiguous recruitspeak that suggests that his recruitment may not be over.
"I'm 100 percent committed, but if a school really wants my attention, I'll see what they got," Gatewood says. Still, according to Gatewood, his "main focus" is on Auburn and courting other class of 2018 players. At the very least, that could buoy the Tigers' haul in the short term; skill-position prospects, in particular, could be intrigued by the idea of teaming up with a quarterback of Gatewood's caliber. Whether the class ultimately will include the Newton-lite lynchpin from whom those prospects would benefit on the field is not clear. For now, though, Auburn's QB recruiting outlook is bright, if somewhat uncertain.
High school: Sachse (Tex.)
Commitment status: Uncommitted
Scout.com position rank: 8
Jalen Mayden is one of the most talented prospects in his age group at a pivotal position. He resides in a football-crazed state where cities spend $60 million to erect stadiums for high school games and whose marquee program, the University of Texas at Austin, has, for much of this decade, struggled just to tread water while searching for a viable replacement for Colt McCoy. And two of Mayden's former teammates, twin brothers Devin and Donovan Duvernay, recently joined the Longhorns after defecting from Baylor. While it's tempting to connect the dots and envision Mayden in a burnt-orange-and-white uniform in a few years, his recruitment may not be as straightforward as it appears.
Mayden has two older brothers who played at the same high school (Sachse), for the same coach (Mark "Red" Behrens"), and neither of them joined the Longhorns. Granted, James Mayden, a junior wide receiver at Rice, was a two-star prospect who did not report an offer from the program, according to Scout.com. But Jared Mayden was rated the No. 4 cornerback in the class of 2016 and the No. 1 prospect at the position in that class in Texas, and he ultimately signed with Alabama after previously issuing a verbal commitment to a school on the other side of the country, Oregon, and excluding Texas from the list of top seven schools he released last summer.
Jalen Mayden indicated that location will not be a big factor in his decision—"I wouldn't mind leaving [the state of Texas]," he says—and he's garnered attention for his robust list of trips to various camps and schools this summer. Texas, which already has secured a commitment from a highly regarded quarterback in its 2017 recruiting class, Westlake (Tex.) High's Sam Ehlinger, has yet to extend a scholarship offer to Mayden, but Mayden does not hide his affinity for the Longhorns. "Texas, I just, I like their tradition," Mayden says. "It's never really going to change; it's going to be the same with or without me. I really like that."
Whichever program does land Mayden will be bringing in a talented playmaker who, even though he bears the dual-threat designation from recruiting services, can carve up defenses with his arm. "He's a big, strong kid, but what I really like about his game is that he's a cerebral guy," says Greg Powers, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com, adding that Mayden is "more of a thrower than he is a runner." Says Behrens, "[Mayden] is a workaholic and he does a great job. And it's not just in the physical part. He's a studier, he's a film studier and he's looking at video on the opponent and what he can do to take advantage of any weaknesses they may have."
Mayden says his favorite quarterback is New England Patriots star Tom Brady. "I like how he stands tall in the pocket with a wide base and he delivers the ball fast," he says. To sharpen his passing skills, Mayden works with a private quarterback coach, and he says two of the points of emphasis in their sessions are "really getting the drive off the back foot and creating more torque." Last season, in Texas's largest classification (6A), Mayden passed for 2,496 yards with 32 touchdowns against nine interceptions while running for 513 yards with four scores on the ground and was subsequently named the Co-Sophomore of the Year on Scout.com's All-Midlands team.
While he's accurate as a thrower, the result of Mayden's lack of precision in another competitive venue could stick with him for some time. According to Mayden, he acquired the nickname Moose after struggling to shoot the animal in an arcade game. His current Twitter name is "Moose™". "I'm not that great of a shooter in the game, but I was just telling them in [a groupchat with friends] about it, and they all were laughing at it. And they just started calling me it." Mayden indicated he's not close to announcing his college decision, but he says he would like to release a list of five programs before the start of his junior season at Sachse.
Texas looks set to break in a promising freshman quarterback this season in Shane Buechele, and Ehlinger is rated one of the top passers in the class of 2017. Either one of those QBs could be the one Texas has been looking for since McCoy left campus. That said, Mayden will remain a recruit of considerable interest for Longhorns fans, and that interest will only rise if he continues to hone his dual-threat skill set and builds on his promising 2015 campaign. "Stay tuned," Mayden says.