Quarterbacks guru helps young prep stars prepare for next step

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MAUI, Hawaii -- As they sat in a not-so-normal classroom setting among not-so-normal classmates, a very normal argument broke out among the top seven high school quarterbacks in the country, who had come together for the first time at Steve Clarkson's Super Seven quarterback retreat.

With a dry erase board perched against a rock wall a few yards away from the crashing waves along Wailea Beach, the sun-soaked, makeshift classroom suddenly turned into a roundtable discussion in which "The Super 7" took a break from breaking down defenses and focused on breaking down each others' college commitments.

"Why would you go to Cal?" Phillip Sims, who committed to Alabama, asked Austin Hinder. "You know you're only playing for second place. It's USC and everyone else in the Pac 10. That's a weak conference."

"Are you serious? The Pac-10 went 5-0 in bowl games this season," Hinder shot back. "You guys lost to Utah!"

"I thought about Oregon but I like West Virginia," said Barry Brunetti (Memphis, Tenn.), who has committed to be a Mountaineer. "We're going to be contending every year."

"All I know is I want to beat the Huskies every year," said a smiling Hinder, looking at Nick Montana (Westlake Village, Calif.), who has committed play at Pac-10 rival Washington.

The impromptu debate, which also included Oklahoma commit Blake Bell (Wichita, Kan.) and uncommitted Chase Rettig (San Clemente, Calif.) and Andrew Manley (Oahu, Hawaii) was one of the reasons for bringing the best quarterbacks from the Class of 2010 together at the Grand Wailea Resort, where they turned a quaint beachside field normally reserved for luaus into a temporary football field lined with tiki torches and palm trees.

When Clarkson, a sought-after private quarterback coach who has tutored the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Leinart and Matt Cassel, was in college, he always figured he was destined to play in the NFL. As a three-year starter for Jack Elway at San Jose State, he broke numerous passing records and was told by several scouts that he was the seventh-best quarterback available in the 1983 NFL Draft, which would produce Hall of Famers John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. After six quarterbacks were taken in the first round of that draft, Clarkson waited patiently by the phone over the next two days and 11 rounds for a phone call that would never come.

"After that day I began to evaluate my contemporaries. I wanted to see what the scouts wanted, I wanted to see what made them so great," said Clarkson, who asked Jack Elway for tapes of his son, John. "In the case of John, he was even better than they said. But I never had the opportunity these kids have. They get to sit next to their contemporaries. They get to practice, talk and eat with their peers. They get to use them as a measuring stick and some will separate from the pack but they can all learn from that."

Clarkson also assembled an impressive collection of teachers for the camp, including Joe Montana, Matt Leinart, Warren Moon and agent Leigh Steinberg, who spoke to the quarterbacks about playing "the most important position in worldwide sports."

"You are playing the position that people would kill to play," said Steinberg, who represented Troy Aikman, Steve Young and Drew Bledsoe during the height of his career. "If you ever watch a football game on television the camera focuses on the quarterback at the start of the play and at the end of it. It's a quarterback-driven game. There's really nothing like it in team sports."

The allure of the position for some children and quite frankly their parents is partly why Clarkson has become such a sought-after teacher. The three-day camp included not only the "Super 7" (Clarkson's number in college was 7) but also 20 younger quarterbacks-in-training ranging from 9 to 17 years old who Clarkson privately tutors for about $700 per hour. They were broken up into three groups (Super 7, high school, grade school) and rotated through a series of sessions from on-field mechanics to dealing with the media.

"The beauty of this is that they're trying to bring in all aspects of the kid's growth as a quarterback," said Montana, whose sons, Nick and Nate, a freshman quarterback at Notre Dame, have been working with Clarkson for more than two years. "A lot of these things we're talking about, whether it be on the field or off the field, the kids have never heard of and their parents have never heard of. Then mistakes are made along the way and you go, 'Oops, why didn't someone tell me about that?' So hopefully we're able to educate them on what needs to be done for them to become a successful quarterback."

As Leinart took the field, he recalled being a part of a similar retreat when he was in high school and spending time with six of his peers who are now in the NFL with him: Kyle Orton, Derek Anderson, Kellen Clemens, Brodie Croyle, D.J. Shockley and Ingle Martin. He reminded the Super 7 quarterbacks that gathered around him that this was the beginning of their journey and that perhaps five years down the line they could look at their group photo and say they had all made it to the NFL as well.

"It's important to take advantage of this time together and compete against each other," said Leinart. "I guarantee each one of these kids has heard about each other or read about each other, and now is their chance to see how they compare and what they need to work on. They're not rivals here; they're just here to get better."

While each quarterback got better during the camp, learning how to drop back from Montana, follow through from Leinart and elude the blitz from Moon, there was always a friendly rivalry between the quarterbacks during drills and even afterwards as they raced around the hotel's pools and debated football over Oceanside meals.

"This is how Washington is going down the next three of four years," said Hinder, dropping back to pass in a drill against Nate Montana, who simply laughed and said, "Let's go."

"Whatever," said Sims. "You guys are going to be playing for second place behind USC."

"Yeah, and you guys can't even beat Utah," said Hinder. "I wish we could start playing right now."

"Me, too," Sims said. "Me, too."