Scouting Combine Quarterbacks: Titletown and Tua
From first-round picks to developmental prospects, there will be 17 quarterbacks at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Get to know them in this three-part feature.
Cole McDonald, Hawaii (6-4, 220)*: McDonald threw for 8,010 yards and 69 touchdowns in two seasons as the starter. In 2019, he completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 4,135 yards with 33 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He closed his career with five touchdowns in the bowl game to give Hawaii its first 10-win seasons since 2010.
McDonald was lightly recruited and figured he was headed to Division II as Signing Day approached. “I was actually still up, working on a school project, and I decided to pick up the phone,” he wrote for AthletesForGod. “On the other end was Nick Rolovich, the head coach here at Hawaii. But he wasn’t calling with a scholarship offer. He was calling me to let me know he was thinking about it. ‘I’m not sure if I want to offer you yet,’ he told me. ‘I’ll call you back.’ I started freaking out. I had been chasing after this dream for years, going from one game and one camp to another looking for a shot, and now it was finally within reach. It was halfway across the Pacific Ocean, and I didn’t even know their record from the previous year, but I didn’t care.” Family means everything to McDonald. As detailed by WestHawaiiToday, he played through a knee injury and internal bleeding. It is how his grandfather would have played. “My grandpa is a tough Irish dude,” McDonald said. “He simmered down quite a bit. He was one of those old-school guys that if you’re talking bad, he would settle it with his fists. But he’s a respected man. He has the best respect for everybody and care for people on a person level.”
Steven Montez, Colorado (6-5, 230): In four seasons, Montez threw for 9,710 yards with 63 touchdowns vs. 33 interceptions. He approached the 3,000-yard mark in each of his final three seasons, with 63.0 percent accuracy, 2,808 yards and 17 touchdowns vs. 10 interceptions as a senior. He set school records for touchdowns and passing yards. He started the final 35 games of his career.
His father spent a year as a quarterback for the Raiders. “Any question that I have, (my dad) already had and got it answered,” Montez told the Denver Post. “It’s good just to have an extra person who knows the game of football and knows it to the level that we’re playing it at.” With a degree in strategic communications, he considered transferring for his final season. “Towards the earlier part of my career … I was always kind of just infatuated with the college experience and trying to have fun with my friends and just not really taking a whole bunch of responsibility,” he told BuffZone.com. “I just feel like as I got older, I realized that that stuff was a lot less important to me and I could still have fun with my friends and get the college experience without doing all those extra things that I was doing.” The El Paso native was shaken by the mass shooting in his hometown that left 22 dead. “To me El Paso represents the Hispanic culture in general, its like 95 percent Hispanic,” he said at Colorado Media Day. “It’s all about putting out for my people and putting out for the people who supported me back when I had no offers, back when I was just starting to play high school football and nobody even knew my name.”
James Morgan, Florida International (6-4, 213): Morgan spent three years at Bowling Green before going to Florida International for his final two seasons. He threw for 5,312 yards with 40 touchdowns vs. 12 interceptions during those two years. His best year was 2018, when he completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 2,727 yards with 26 touchdowns vs. seven interceptions.
Morgan grew up in the Green Bay suburb of Ashwaubenon. “It was absolutely awesome,” he told the Draft Network. “My high school was a couple of blocks away from Lambeau Field and my house was about 10 minutes away from it as well. (I was a) huge Brett Favre fan growing up and absolutely loved watching him. He had some magical moments at Lambeau. It was a fantastic atmosphere for me and it was at a young age that caused me to fall in love with football. Ever since then, I really wanted to be a quarterback.”
He graduated from Bowling Green with a degree in pre-law, which allowed him to play at FIU immediately. His coach at Bowling Green called him a “gym rat.” His coach at FIU, Butch Davis, said: “James is a really special kid and he has a chance to be the best I’ve ever coached at quarterback. Having the program led by him, it helps me sleep at night, because not only is he going to do his job, he’s going to be trying to help lead the other guys.” At FIU, he worked toward a master’s degree in public administration. “Football places daunting challenges in front of you and asks how you will respond,” he wrote for FIU Magazine. “Whether it be a talented opponent, an extremely tough run or lift, or the pressure to perform at a high level week in and week out, at some point you will be pushed to your absolute limit. The same discipline that has taught me to get the through physical pain and exhaustion has been critical to my academics. Just as my entire playing season is planned out almost to the minute—accounting for practices, meetings, watching film and game day—so has that approach worked to the advantage of my studies.
Shea Patterson, Michigan (6-2, 202): In two seasons at Michigan, Patterson completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 5,661 yards with 45 touchdowns vs. 15 interceptions. He threw for 3,061 yards as a senior, though he was better as a junior (64.6 percent, 22 touchdowns vs. seven interceptions), when he was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
Patterson started his career at Ole Miss, where he threw for 3,139 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2016 and 2017. With the Rebels banned from postseason play, Patterson was allowed to transfer. Patterson didn’t rescue the Wolverines, though, leading to something of a complicated final resume. “I'll go to battle with this guy any day of the week,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said before the Citrus Bowl game vs. Alabama. “This is Sugar Shea Patterson right here. Just to see his confidence throughout the year continue to rise each and every week, his preparation, his performance. This guy's a player, man. He's been playing at an extreme high level for us and he's been the leader of our offense, leader of our team. And, like I said, I'll go to battle with him any day out of the week versus any team in the country.”
He led Calvary Baptist in Shreveport, La., to back-to-back state championships before going to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for his senior year. He played baseball in high school and was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 39th round in 2018. He spent spring break in 2019 at spring training. “I have a major love for baseball,” Patterson told the Star-Telegram. “Just to even get this opportunity – obviously, it comes with an understanding that right now my goal is to pursue football – if there’s any opportunity after that to play baseball with this organization, it would be a dream come true.”
Before all of that, he was a fullback and linebacker in Toledo as a fourth-grader. “I had no aspirations of playing quarterback,” he told the Toledo Blade. “I always wanted to hit the quarterback.” A brother, Nick, has committed to play at Michigan in 2020. His grandfather, George, played for the Detroit Pistons.
Nate Stanley, Iowa (6-4, 243): Only the second player in program history to be a three-year team captain, Stanley ranks second in Iowa history with 8,302 passing yards and 68 touchdown passes. As a senior, he threw for 2,951 yards with 16 touchdowns vs. seven interceptions and 59.4 percent accuracy.
His 27-12 career record includes 3-0 in bowl games. That was a point of pride. “That the team played well, that’s what every win has been about to me,’’ he told the Quad City Times. “It’s never been about me. Any success we’ve had is a result of the work that everybody on the field puts into it.’’ Stanley was a three-sport star at Menomonie (Wis.) High School. He is the school’s career scoring leader in basketball and could throw a 90-mph fastball. "When he was 12 years old, it was very apparent this is a gifted kid,” Menomonie coach Joe LaBuda told the Star-Tribune. "He was way bigger than everybody else. He threw the ball way harder than everybody else. Kids were terrified at the plate because he threw so hard." As a high school senior, he won the Pat Richter Award as the best male athlete in Wisconsin. “There’s nothing like lining up on a Friday night, playing football with your friends,” he told the Gazette. “There’s nothing like hitting a game-winning shot or free throw in basketball. There’s nothing like being up on the mound, one versus one against the hitter. Whatever I was doing at that moment, that’s what I wanted to do. I just wanted to help my team really be successful and do that any way I could.”
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (6-1, 218): Tagovailoa threw for 3,966 yards with 43 touchdowns and six interceptions on 69.0 percent accuracy in 2018 and 2,840 yards with 33 touchdowns and three interceptions on 69.3 percent accuracy in 2019. Including some playing time in 2017, his three-year total was 7,442 yards and a superb 87 touchdowns vs. 11 interceptions.
His final game came on Nov. 16, when he suffered a dislocated and fractured hip against Mississippi State. The injury threatened his career but surgery was successful and he reportedly will be able to start football activities in a month. "It's a unique situation," he said upon declaring himself eligible for the draft. "With my hip, a lot of the guys and general managers and owners that I've gotten to talk to have said the same thing. They kind of look at this injury as a knee injury almost, even though it's not, in a way that, 'Are we going to take a chance on this guy or would he be able to possibly do a pro day before the draft?' The biggest thing they want to see is that we can move and be back to how we were playing prior to the injury." Amazingly, he called the injury a blessing. “I’m grateful that it happened, though," he said on ESPN’s “Golic and Wingo” radio show. "I think it’s a blessing in disguise for me. It helped test my patience. It’s helping me with my faith, as well. It grew us stronger as a family, as well.”
His father, Galu, rode his son hard – too hard, some would argue. In an interview with ESPN, Tagovailoa said: "If I don't perform well or I don't perform the way I'm supposed to, I'm gonna get it after.” Asked to clarify, he said, “Just know that the belt was involved and other things were involved as well. And it's almost the same with school. If I don't get this grade ... I'm gonna have to suffer the consequences.” He’s a natural right-hander but his father, a lefty, taught him to throw left-handed. "It just became fluent and he just grew into it," Galu Tagovailoa told AL.com. "That's the crazy part about it. I never thought I could make him adapt to that. As we constantly kept putting the ball on his left hand, eventually he grew into throwing the ball with his left." While his relationship with his father was rocky, his grandfather was beloved. When “Papa” died of pneumonia in 2014, Tagovailoa considered giving up the game.
His mentor was Marcus Mariota, also from the same Hawaiian high schools and with Polynesian roots. Mariota noticed the 8-year-old had some special ability. “Tua was out there throwing with the younger kids,” Mariota told AL.com, ‘and I think all of us high school kids were looking like ‘He’s pretty good. Who is that?’ It ended up being Tua and he actually came over and started throwing with us high schoolers and I think we all looked at each other and said he was going to be pretty good one day. I’m excited for him. I think he’s done a great job representing not only himself, but the whole state of Hawaii.”