By Dillon Tabish, 4-25-12
||Caption: Photo courtesy of Arizona State University
Just over a month before the NFL Draft, another young quarterback sat down with Jon Gruden to be initiated on national television. The interview was for the ESPN series Gruden’s QB Camp, where the fiery former head coach interrogates and dissects NFL prospects down to their tattoos. At times throughout the series Gruden has reduced confident college football stars into mumbling oafs. In many ways, the popular series has become a young quarterback’s introduction to the hard-knock world of professional football.
In late March, Gruden blitzed his latest sitting target, 22-year-old Brock Osweiler, the 6-foot-7 kid from Montana on the verge of entering the NFL only three years after graduating from Flathead High School and with only one full season as Arizona State University’s starting quarterback.
“You are one of the most mysterious quarterbacks in this draft I think,” Gruden said with squinted, suspicious eyes.
He reminded Osweiler of his decision to leave college as a junior with limited starting experience, a talking point naysayers use as ammo when predicting Osweiler’s future. But others, including ESPN’s NFL Draft specialist Todd McShay, believe he’s a top-five quarterback in this week’s draft, which begins Thursday, April 26 and concludes Saturday.
“You’re sure you’re ready for this?” Gruden said, staring intently at Osweiler. “This is what you want, isn’t it?”
The stories first emerged like myths. They spread across the Flathead Valley, and then Montana, and then the Pacific Northwest. A 6-4 middle schooler who already had the frame of a college athlete was dominating youth sports like a Goliath among boys. He once scored 50 points in a game. That athleticism on the basketball court translated to the football field, too. His abilities, for a kid at any age, were uncommon. Very uncommon.
Brock Osweiler was not a mystery for very long.
In 2006, Division I college basketball programs were already courting the 6-foot-7, 220-pounder before he even completed his first basketball season at Flathead High School. His mystique hit a major growth spurt between freshman and sophomore year when he committed to play at Gonzaga, one of the best college basketball teams in the country.
Had he stayed on that road, there’s no telling where Osweiler would be today. The world of college basketball is full of talented athletes his size. Only a few go on to play in the NBA.
But in football, someone like Osweiler – taller than everyone yet coordinated and agile – is a rarity, especially at a skills position like quarterback.
“You don’t get an athlete like him very often,” former ASU head coach Dennis Erickson told the Beacon last week. “He’s just so athletic for that size. That’s very, very unusual. You don’t see guys like that.”
Until recently everyone believed Osweiler stood 6-8, which would make him the tallest quarterback in the NFL currently and tied for the tallest ever. But an official measurement at the NFL Combine in February revealed he’s really 6-6 7/8. That’s still taller than anyone playing right now. There have only been three NFL quarterbacks in history who were 6-7 or taller, with Dan McGwire the tallest at 6-8. All three had short life spans in the NFL, more ammo used against Osweiler.
“But he doesn’t play like he’s 6-8,” former University of Montana All-American quarterback Grady Bennett said. “To me he’s always had the feet and movement like a 6-3 quarterback.”
Bennett was the head football coach at Flathead when Osweiler was a freshman and sophomore. Even then people were saying Osweiler was too tall to play QB beyond high school. But Bennett competed at the NFL Combine the same year McGwire did. Besides their height similarities, there’s no comparing McGwire and Osweiler, Bennett said.
That’s why Bennett and others told the young kid to be patient about deciding his future.
As the Braves starting quarterback from his sophomore year until graduation, Osweiler wrote himself into the record books and became one of the most prolific high school quarterbacks ever in Montana.
Russell McCarvel, who became the Braves head coach when Osweiler was a junior after Bennett moved to Glacier High, remembers getting phone calls from colleges across the nation, including Florida State, Stanford and UCLA. Everyone wanted to know about this mythical Montana quarterback they kept hearing about.
“Without a doubt, what has set him apart, besides his size, is his work ethic,” McCarvel said. “There’s a lot of big QBs, but his work ethic is outstanding. He’s also got a great thirst for football knowledge. And he wants to be great.”
By junior year, college basketball was out of the picture. On April 30, 2008, Osweiler announced his commitment to play football at Arizona State under Erickson, who first heard of Osweiler thanks to longstanding Montana ties. Erickson played quarterback at Montana State in the late 1960s.
“We watched him his senior year and it was a no-brainer for us,” Erickson said, adding, “He just has a personality that overwhelms people. He’s a true leader.”
On Nov. 14, 2009, Osweiler became the first true freshman quarterback to start for ASU since Jake Plummer in 1993. It turned out to be a baptism by fire. His debut came on the road in the raucous Autzen Stadium against 13th-ranked Oregon where he would get injured early on. He played sporadically throughout the rest of the season with limited success and dropped down the team’s depth chart. Erickson left it up to him to prove he deserved another shot.
On Nov. 26, 2010, ASU trailed UCLA 17-0 and the starting quarterback went down with an injury. Erickson called on the sophomore to fill in off the bench. The kid from Kalispell led the Sun Devils to three straight scores and a 55-34 comeback win.
“The rest is pretty much history,” Erickson said.
The following year Osweiler had the best statistical season ever for an ASU quarterback. The Sun Devils’ season ended in the team’s first bowl game in four years, but Erickson was still fired. Two months later, Osweiler announced he was forgoing his senior year and entering the NFL Draft.
“I thought this day would come,” Erickson said. “I was hoping it would be another year, but there’s no question in my mind he’ll be a heckuva good player in the National Football League.”
There have been 62 players in the NFL from Montana, according to pro-football-reference.com. Flathead High currently has one – Lex Hilliard – while former Brave Mike Reilly is quarterbacking in the CFL.
“He has wanted to be at this level for a long time,” McCarvel said of Osweiler, whom he still keeps in touch with and recently visited.
Having a Montana kid on the doorstep of the NFL is something that brings the state together like a small community cheering for one of its own, Bennett said.
“To have a guy like Brock really go big time and have the success he’s had, it’s good for the community. It’s good for the state. It’s good for football in Montana,” Bennett said. “It just makes everybody proud.”
A brief moment of silence lingered along with Gruden’s question: “You’re sure you’re ready for this?”
“Without a doubt, coach,” Osweiler replied emphatically. “This has been a dream of mine since I was 8 years old, to be an NFL quarterback.”
Osweiler went on: “One of my favorite quotes is ‘the greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.’”
People said he was too tall to be a Division I quarterback. People said a Montana kid would never start for ASU. Now some people are saying he’s not ready for the NFL.
“With my leadership, with my toughness, with my work ethic,” Osweiler said. “I’m going to do everything within my power to prove those people wrong and show what truly matters is the person inside.”
His words echoed the growing legion of fans and believers who think he will have a strong career.
Gruden sat back in his chair listening with arms crossed. His head began nodding like a teammate believing in his quarterback’s game-winning drive. The suspicion seemed to leave Gruden’s eyes. For a moment, he even revealed a smile.
[End of article]