Alexander: A guide for aspiring prep QBs … and their parents

Yogi Roth, the Pac-12 Network’s college football color analyst, recalled talking to a college head coach about the book he was writing about the world of recruiting rankings and the athletes who are affected by them. He mentioned that there would be a chapter involving parenting, and mused that he wasn’t sure parents would read it.

The coach’s response:

“Every parent that says they don’t need the advice is exactly who needs to read it.”

I’d go further. That book, “5-Star QB,” is available through Amazon, a self-published work that Roth wrote in collaboration with Joey Roberts, with whom Roth has worked on the Elite 11 summer quarterback camps, and with help from editor Bob Bancroft.

It is a 566-page guidebook to the recruiting process and experience and the scrutiny that goes along with the rankings of high school players. It discusses what happens when the prep superstar heads off to college and realizes he’s no longer the only alpha male in the quarterback room, how that athlete handles the emotional and social stresses that come with high expectations both during the recruiting process and afterward, and how the parents of those prodigies can make things either easier or harder.

It concentrates on quarterbacks, and much of the book consists of the stories and advice provided from 54 past quarterbacks who held a 5-star rating at one time or another from the various scouting websites that rank high school players. After all, as Roth noted, as adults most of us might not remember the name of our seventh-grade math teacher, but most of us can remember who played quarterback for our high school team. (Guilty as charged, by the way.)

And this isn’t really a spoiler alert: Not all of those past 5-star quarterbacks were stars on the college level, much less the NFL. Only one former 5-star has led his team to a Super Bowl victory, and that was the Rams’ Matthew Stafford – 13 seasons into his career, and with his second team.

But much of what is written between those covers – not only the testimonials from those former players (and current ones, including Pac-12 quarterbacks Caleb Williams of USC, Bo Nix of Oregon and Tanner McKee of Stanford) but helpful nuggets of advice from current and former college coaches, administrators, and other influential figures from the college football world – likely applies to not only players at other positions on the football field but recruitable athletes in other sports, as well.

And this goes way beyond the mere mechanics of one’s sport or position, because many of the issues that those prospective college athletes face come away from the game. Maybe the biggest takeaway should be the necessity of prioritizing mental health issues, because a good number of those 54 quarterbacks contributed stories of not succeeding, of struggling with being benched or dealing with what we on the sidelines might consider failure.

Consider this passage from former Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns. He didn’t start a game for the Cardinal until his senior year (2017), was benched in Week 7, and noted: “Here’s the craziest part: I actually felt a sense of relief when I got replaced because of how much stress I was facing.” And then his quarterback coach, Tavita Pritchard, directed Burns to one of the program’s sports psychologists, and Burns noted how helpful that was not only in the immediate aftermath but to this day.

“It’s easy for it to be a book of all the traumatic stories the guys have gone through, because it is that, because they’ve vented and they’ve shared and they offered wisdom,” Roth said during a Zoom conversation Friday morning. “But it’s also a book of, when you get this opportunity, here’s some tools, here’s an approach to your mindset going into a (campus) visit.

“There’s just some facts there that these guys all aren’t gonna play. But they’re all gonna deal with expectations and hype and outside influences and pressures, now more than ever.”

And this is a reminder that these are adolescents, still learning about life, only to be suddenly thrown into the maelstrom of expectations.

It starts in high school, as young as 15 or 16 for some, and the rankings and attention might be exciting at first but undoubtedly gets old as the demands and the questions pile up. But college football’s fan base devours for information about the next great stars, particularly those who might be coming to their schools. The rankings and recruiting websites that feed those appetites are part of a mammoth industry.

And while the expectations don’t always pan out, “the projection placed on those players of, ‘they were supposed to be this,’ that’s never gonna change,” Roth said. “Because nobody who does rankings is like, ‘Yo, my bad. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put that on you at 15.’

“… Every one of the guys I talk to, they’ve had challenging times when they haven’t lived up to other people’s expectations that they never asked for.”

You develop perspective later in life, and most of those who answered Roth’s questionnaire – 54 of the 134 quarterbacks who have been rated 5-star since the system began in 1999 – seem to have adjusted well.

But that gets back to the parents, and their responsibility to help their child navigate this process. And sometimes – often, actually – that means taking a step back.

After all, as Roth noted, “If you Google how to be a ‘5-star parent,’ nothing pops up.”

In other words, Mom and Dad, it’s not all about you.