Nearly 100 of the state’s best quarterbacks gathered at Skyway Park on Sunday to compete in the second annual Tampa Quarterback Challenge.
Though the weather was suitable for the opening scene of a melodrama, spirits were high as athletes checked-in for the Tampa Quarterback Challenge on Sunday morning. The roster was made up of quarterbacks in eighth through eleventh grade, many from the Tampa area, but some traveling from as far as Madison County in the panhandle of Florida. Anxious confidence filled the air as the athletes received their Under Armour competition gear and headed to the weight room for their height and weight measurements.
The Challenge was headed by Quarterbacks Coach John Kaleo, who was supported by an elite coaching staff including: Peter Vaas (long-time college coach, most recently, QB coach at the University of South Florida), Carl Franks (former head coach at Duke University), Chris Hart (quarterback, British Columbia Lions, CFL), Robert Marve (former Plant High School quarterback, broke three state season records his senior year, and former Purdue University quarterback), Grant Gregory (former Kansas State starting quarterback), Casey Weldon (former Florida State University quarterback, finished runner-up in Heisman Trophy balloting, 1991), Pete Dinovo (quarterback, University of Central Florida), Reidel Anthony (wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers first round draft pick of 1997 NFL Draft), Larry Ryans (former wide receiver for Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Todd Yoder (former tight end for Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins), and David Saunders (former wide receiver for West Virginia University).
After a brief welcome by Coach Kaleo and an introduction of the elite coaching staff, quarterbacks were released by grade to stretch and warm-up their arms with various drills and instruction—this was their first opportunity to size-up their competition. While the younger participants used this time to get comfortable on the field, the more seasoned quarterbacks certainly began to pinpoint their toughest opponents.
With warm-ups and instruction completed, the preliminary challenges began. This consisted of four different drill stations in which each athlete was scored objectively: fade throws, escape throws, the long ball, and accuracy throws. These were chosen to test participants on the various aspects of being a quarterback such as arm strength, accuracy, throwing on-the-run, dropping back, and throwing under pressure. While all of the drills were designed to separate the talented from the even more talented, some of them proved to be tougher than others to excel at.
Collectively, the athletes seemed to have the toughest time with the fade throws and escape throws, although some athletes did stand out in these drills. The long ball and accuracy throws also gave the point-hungry young men a run for their money, but they certainly left it all on the field. (See “Notables” below.)
After each class performed in all four of the drills in the preliminary round, they joined their parents in the stands to await the results. The points were totaled, and the top two performers from each class were announced and invited to continue on to the Elite 8 competition. Each athlete received a $50 gift certificate to Dick’s Sporting Goods, an engraved Tampa QB Challenge plaque, and a Golden Elite 8 Under Armour shirt. Listed below are the Elite 8 performers and Coach Kaleo’s thoughts on each:
Class of 2018
1st place: Christian Piscopo, Markham Woods Middle School
Coach Kaleo’s thoughts: “Earned Top Performer in the 2018 Class with a great performance at the Accuracy Challenge. He scored 8 points, which was the best for ’18 Class. In the Elite Challenge, he hit the target in the Luck Drill and gained 8 points in the Gauntlet. Finishing with a total of 10 points in the Elite Challenge.”
2nd place: Zachary Johnson, Safety Harbor Middle School
Coach Kaleo’s thoughts: “This future high school quarterback was a consistent performer throughout the Challenge, always grabbing points at each drill. Once in the Elite Challenge, he struck the target like a D1 QB, earning big points in the Math Drill and Luck Drill. He gained 10 pts in the Gauntlet while finishing with a total of 16 pts and winning the title of ‘Elite Passer’ of the Tampa QB Challenge.”
Class of 2017
1st place: Dane Frantzen, Plant High School
Coach Kaleo’s thoughts: “Earned Top Performer in the 2017 Class with a strong arm and consistent performance. He showed off his strong arm with a 54-yard Long Ball and scored 8 points in the Accuracy Challenge. He gained 12 pts in the Gauntlet, which was the best, while finishing with a total of 13 pts in the Elite Challenge.”
2nd place: Larry Dalla Betta, Mitchell High School
Coach Kaleo’s thoughts: “This young QB showed off his touch and accurate arm throughout the Challenge. He scored 7 points in the Accuracy Challenge and 2 points in the Fade Throws. He rose to the challenge in the Elite Challenge, winning the Andrew Luck drill with 4 points and gaining 11 points in the Gauntlet. Finishing with a total of 15 points in the Elite Challenge.”
Class of 2016
1st place: Blake Dever, St. Thomas Aquinas High School
Coach Kaleo’s thoughts: “Earned Top Performer in the 2016 Class with consistency and ball control throughout the Challenge. He dominated in the Escape Throws with 3 points, Accuracy Challenge with 11 points, and launching a 57-yard Long Ball. He gained 3 pts in the Math Drill and 9 pts in the Gauntlet, while finishing with a total of 13 pts in the Elite Challenge.”
2nd place: Chris Oladokun, Alonso High School
Coach Kaleo’s thoughts: “He defended his title like a true champion with a consistent performance throughout the Challenge. He displayed his touch with 5 pts at the Fade Challenge and launched a 60+ yard long ball. He gained 11 points in the Gauntlet while finishing with a total of 13 points in the Elite Challenge.”
Class of 2015
1st place: Devon McCoy, Bartow High School
Coach Kaleo’s thoughts: “Earned Top Performer in the 2015 Class with consistent throws throughout the Challenge. He beat the field in the Accuracy Challenge with 13 points and launched a 60+ yard long ball. He grabbed 7 points in the Gauntlet while finishing with a total of 8 points in the Elite Challenge.”
2nd place: Brad Mayes, Berkeley Preparatory School
Coach Kaleo’s thoughts: “He demonstrated poise and accuracy throughout the challenge to grab a spot in the Final 8. He showed off a strong arm with a 61-yard Long Ball toss and 9 points on the Accuracy Challenge. He grabbed 8 points in the Gauntlet while finishing with a total of 12 points in the Elite Challenge.”
The Elite Passer competition consisted of three drills: Do The Math, the Andrew Luck drill, and the Gauntlet drill. Again, each drill was judged objectively based on the accuracy of their throw at a stationary target, and point values were awarded depending on the athlete’s performance.
The first drill for the Elite 8 was “Do The Math,” which proved to be more nerve-racking for the men than anticipated. In this drill, each athlete took a snap, dropped back, and was given a math problem to do in their head with five seconds to use the solution to the problem to throw the ball at the corresponding target (points were given based on the accuracy of their throw—athletes were awarded zero points if the ball was thrown at the wrong target). This drill forced the quarterbacks to think quickly and under pressure while having to make a throwing decision. The pressure of the competition was beginning to weigh on some, but they kept their determination with them in the next drill.
The Andrew Luck drill was next. In this drill, quarterbacks were instructed to drop back, follow a coach’s command, execute a throw on-the-run, then make a pass at a stationary target around a mock defender. Points were awarded based on the accuracy of the contender’s pass to the target. After this drill, some forerunners began to show, but the title of “Elite Passer” was still anybody’s to win.
The final test for these eight quarterbacks was “The Gauntlet”—a series of accuracy throws, fade throws, and throwing on-the-run that went the entire length of the football field. The drill was meant to simulate nearly every situation a quarterback might experience during a game or pressured drive. Perhaps the most involved drill in all of the competition, The Gauntlet was the final opportunity to boost scores before a champion was crowned.
After a brief break to finish tallying scores, a winner was announced. The Tampa Quarterback Challenge is designed to acknowledge and award not necessarily the strongest quarterback, or the biggest quarterback, but the quarterback with the most well rounded performance. By objectively scoring each athlete and placing them in a variety of game-like situations, the Challenge levels the playing field and provides each athlete with the opportunity to showcase their skills.
And the Elite Passer of 2014 is… Zachary Johnson, class of 2018, one of the youngest quarterbacks in attendance at the Tampa Quarterback Challenge. Johnson defeated 97 other talented athletes in a grueling day of competition that certainly put the young men through the ringer. His biggest challenge for the future: trying to maintain his reign in the years to come.
To view all players’ scores from the event, please follow this link: 2014 RESULTS
LONG BALL CHALLENGE
- ’15 QB Akevious Williams – Madison County HS, ’16 QB Isaiah McIntyre – Bloomingdale HS, and ’16 QB Rex Culpepper – Plant HS were the only QBs to post two 60+ yard long ball throws with both of their attempts.
- ’17 QB Dane Frantzen – Plant HS threw a 54-yard ball to best the 2017 group.
ACCURACY THROWS CHALLENGE
- ’15 QB Devon McCoy – Bartow HS topped everyone with a score of 13, throwing to six targets. The next best score was 11 tied by ’16 QB Travis McGee – Lecanto and ’16 QB Blake Dever – St. Thomas Aquinas.
ESCAPE THROW CHALLENGE
- ’16 QB Garrison Bryant – Clearwater HS and ’16 QB Blake Dever – St. Thomas Aquinas HS were the only two QBs to earn 3 points out of 4 throwing the ball on-the-run.
- ’17 QB Hayden Lindsey – Hardee HS and ’15 QB Patrick Mathieson – River Ridge HS tied with 2 points.
FADE THROWS CHALLENGE
- ’15 QB Mitch Grondin – Pinellas Park HS dropped 3 out of 4 throws into the fade net for a score of 6 points to best the field.
- ’16 QB Chris Oladokun – Alonso HS and ’15 QB Tyler Kirby – Zephyrhills HS finished with a score of 5 points and a tie for second.
The Tampa Quarterback Challenge thanks all receivers who attended and assisted the quarterbacks in their drills. Notable receivers in the route-running portion of the Challenge include:
’14 Derrick Ingram Jefferson TEMPLE
’14 Ventell Bryant Jefferson TEMPLE
’14 Tre Watson Tampa Catholic Illinois
’14 Ish Witter Alonso Missouri
’15 Nate Fergurson Gaither
’15 Jahrvis Davenport Robinson
’15 Kezio Snelling Steinbrenner
’15 Derrick Baity Plant
‘16 Jacob Mathis Berkeley Prep
’16 Scoop Bradshaw Plant
’17 CJ Kottman CCC
’17 Bentlee Sanders Tampa Catholic
’17 Adarius Lemond Clearwater