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© June, 2013

by Doug Heslip
Assistant Coach • Team USA

When do you, as a coach, start looking for “that kid?” You know, that kid that is the complete package. That kid who can process information while avoiding defensive linemen whose steady diet is quarterbacks. That kid who can pull the trigger without flinching and can absorb the thunder punch of a defensive end. That kid who can escape pressure with dynamic balance and throw a precision-timed pass through a keyhole for a touchdown. That kid who can display short bursts of speed that involve a change of direction along with a change in the motion of his body to avoid contact. That kid who can display quickness to assess visual, and auditory stimuli to react as fast as possible in the shortest amount of time.

If your quarterback’s mental capacity is vulnerable and he cannot learn from, nor does he have any idea what caused his last interception or fumble, you may have a problem. Your quarterback should be able to come to you after an interception and explain what he did wrong. If he says “I read my key wrong” and can explain why, I can live with this. This shows competence and leadership. When your quarterback comes back to you and says “I don’t know”, I cannot live with that answer. He must be able to breakdown what happened.

Listed below are my “commandments” or qualities that I’m looking for in my quarterbacks. It has taken me more than 10 years of coaching quarterbacks to produce this list.  

Most of us will never work with an NFL quarterback. 6’ 4” quarterbacks that are built like defensive ends and run like a lightning bolt are few and far between. Quarterbacks come in all different shapes and sizes, at least at the high school level.  If he is 5’ 8”, weighs 145 lbs. and does not initially pass the eye test, but when you see him play you start to see some of the qualities listed, give him a chance.


The elements of superior confidence are made up of the following:

1. Fearlessness – Your quarterback cannot become anxiety ridden when faced with an imminent threat. He cannot be overcome by feeling overwhelmed. He must radiate a marked assurance to his team so he will conquer the opponent with a daring courage.
2. Knowledge – My quarterbacks must have an understanding gained through experience. They must display sharp/quick intelligence. Knowledge is cleverness and resourcefulness. Knowledge is also being artful and cunning.
3. Skillfulness – This is using dexterity in physical attributes with grace. It is showing competence to an advanced degree under pressing conditions. A skilled quarterback is a proficient quarterback that can execute fundamental requirements at a high level. When the lights come on Friday night, you, can look at the direct reflection of the hours you put into your leader.
4. Moxie - Defined as the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage, a skilled know-how. One thing that must go hand in hand with a spirit and courage are well conditioned, lightning fast synapses that dial up a high voltage output with radar-lock determination to overcome a hostile environment.
5. Savoir-Faire – Is the ability to do the right thing under any situation. This means your quarterback has to have social skills to be graceful in victory and in defeat. Being the face of the program, he has to be able to face praise and be humble. On the flip side, he has to be able to handle adversity. When he has a bad game, he has to accept it as a learning experience and not blame others for a loss. He must be able to deflect or absorb negative comments and move on.
6. Feet – The feet don’t lie. The feet will give you great insight as to whether he is a fraud or if he is credible. This is also true for quarterbacks. Great footwork will lend itself to pocket presence. The ability to extend the play with nimble feet is an asset that will never be overvalued. Your quarterback does not need super-human speed, just quick feet that can see and deflect pressure as it comes. Watch your quarterback’s feet as he drops back to pass, scrambles, walks, but more importantly when you are speaking to him face-to-face. Footwork can be taught and skilled feet can be developed using a variety of drills. Footwork can be the most overlooked and under-developed aspect of quarterbacking.
If you fall in love with the big-armed quarterback who can throw the ball a country mile, but has no pocket presence due to unskilled feet, you will lose big games against good competition. Anyone can look good against an inferior team. I want to play against top competition so I can evaluate what my quarterback needs to work on.
7. Work Ethic – A persistent, painstaking effort to master the quarterback position. It is taking natural abilities and improving them through practice. It’s knowing when he is pushing himself and a mistake is made that is a result of trying to get better. A mistake is not viewed as failure, but viewed as the product of desire. Does he show a purposeful intent to excel?     

8. Passion – Some quarterbacks have boundless enthusiasm. They have an abandoned display of emotion. This is good as long as they can channel and harness this powerful emotion. Once this has been accomplished some people call it an aura. An aura surrounds a person and radiates belief.
9. Authenticity – Your quarterback has to be worthy of trust. He must conform and prove you can rely on him during the good and bad times of the season. He cannot be deceptive. He has to be genuine with no intent to defraud coaches, players, parents, and the school he represents. Adversity will do its best to compromise the most stoic people. Adversity will destroy some and resurrect others. Adversity is and will always be one of the greatest character builders. Adversity can give you strength or it can cripple.
10. Fun – Let them have fun and enjoy the greatest years of their lives. Fun is a great confidence builder.
Neither the Biggest Nor the Fastest

I have had quarterbacks that fit the bill physically, and who were big, strong, and fast. Although they passed the eye test, none of them would rank as my number one quarterback. That honor goes to Owen Jordan who played for me recently at a high school in Michigan.

Owen was not the fastest. Owen was not the strongest. Owen was not the biggest. Owen was unique in that he was deceptively fast, quick, and very intelligent. Since an early age, Owen understood how to use angles and how to dissect defenses. Owen had a knack to step around pressure while maintaining a throwing platform. Owen reminded me a lot of Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.    

Owen had many of the elements for superior confidence. He faced a lot of adversity during his high school career, starting on the varsity as a sophomore.  His team did not win any games and they were blown out most of the time. Players quit, coaches eventually succumbed to the pressure and resigned. One of the varsity coaches left his position to coach at a lower level prior to the beginning of the season because he knew the talent at the varsity level was minimal. Owen stayed the course and grew stronger from all the strife surrounding the football program, determined to not be beat by factors he had no control over.

He showed a fearlessness leading a severely undermanned team every Friday night. He took his thunder punches and got back up to call the next play. He showed Moxie by keeping his spirit and courage pulsating although his team was defeated by halftime.

Owen’s savior-fair was in overdrive. After every blowout loss, Owen went to school and heard how rotten the team was. He was stoic and never let the heat of the moment dictate his behavior.

Owen’s work ethic and passion to become a collegiate quarterback paid off. He started his collegiate quarterbacking career at Fort Scott Community College. He then moved on to Pittsburg State to compete for the starting quarterback position. Owen took on the challenge that adversity offers and used it as motivation to succeed. He ended up throwing for 1,273 total yards, 254.6 per game, and 11 touchdowns in just 5 games. This fall he will be a senior at Pitt State.

About the Author: Doug Heslip is a Team USA Canton, OH assistant football coach and former head coach at Gwinn High School (MI). He has 15 years of coaching experience and is the founder of the ‘Hitch It and Rip It’ football camps. Heslip also serves as a member of the Congressional Youth Advisory Board. 

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