While perusing the sports section of The Baton Rouge Advocate in mid-December, I remember chuckling at how an ESPN.com recruiting reporter remarked (in November) that quarterback Feleipe Franks — then a Class of 2016 verbal commit to LSU and one of the nation’s most heralded pro-style quarterbacks — had been fully ‘entrenched’ with the Tigers coaches and was “walking around campus like he was running the place.”
I found the Franks quote/assessment curious for two reasons:
a) Franks (Wakulla High School in Crawfordville, Fla.) hadn’t officially signed with a school at that time.
b) The Adovcate reporter didn’t ask for clarification on the ‘running the place’ comment, as in:
Was Franks an obsessed workerbee who wanted to learn every facet of the LSU offense/way of life, in hopes of becoming the starter sometime in 2016? Or was Franks a stubborn know-it-all, who might have been ostensibly rude and dismissive toward his teammates and coaches, along with the LSU campus at large?
The dual questions no longer have relevancy in Baton Rouge. Franks de-committed from LSU two months ago and subsequently signed with Florida.
But it does raise another big-picture question here: Do SEC fans, on the whole, expect blue-chip freshmen QBs to hit the ground running when fall camp begins?
SEC: NOTABLE TRUE-FRESHMAN QB SEASONS SINCE 1990
1991: Eric Zeier, UGA — (1,984 yards passing, 9 total TDs, 4 INTs)
1994: Peyton Manning, Tennessee — (1,141 yards passing, 12 TDs, 6 INTs)
2000: Casey Clausen, Tennessee — (1,473 yars passing, 15 TDs, 6 INTs)
2003: Chris Leak, Florida — (2,435 yards passing, 18 total TDs, 11 INTs)
2004: Erik Ainge, Tennessee — (1,452 yards passing, 17 TDs, 9 INTs)
2006: Tim Tebow, Florida — (13 total touchdowns)
2006: Matthew Stafford, UGA — (1,749 yards passing, 10 total TDs)
2010: Tyler Bray, Tennessee — (1,849 yards passing, 18 TDs)
2014: Kyle Allen, Texas A&M — (1,322 yards passing, 17 total TDs, 7 INTs)
For this week’s “Dawg Nation Daily” podcast, host Brandon Adams and I had a civil, but lively debate on who was more prepared to start for UGA as freshmen — Matthew Stafford, circa 2006 or Jacob Eason, the Bulldogs’ 5-star signee from Washington state?
As a freshman, Stafford — the nation’s top-ranked pro-style QB in 2006 — played in all 13 games for UGA (nine starts) and modestly accounted for 1,749 yards and 10 total touchdowns (three rushing).
But that invaluable indoctrination paved the way for substantial leaps over the next two seasons, with Stafford (2,523 yards passing, 21 TDs as a sophomore) leading the Bulldogs to a season-ending No. 2 ranking in 2007 … and then accounting for 3,549 yards passing and 26 touchdowns (one rushing) in 2008.
A few months down the road, the Dallas, Texas native became the No. 1 overall pick for the Detroit Lions; and seven years later, Stafford (the fastest QB to 25,000 yards passing in NFL history) has carved out a decorated pro career which might be worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.
(Of course, for that to happen, the Detroit Lions must improve upon their desultory distinction of just one playoff victory since 1958.)
As for Eason, he didn’t wait for the pomp-and-circumstance rituals of National Signing Day in early February. Instead, he signed with UGA shortly after the school named a new head coach (Kirby Smart) and soon immersed himself into workouts, film study — whatever’s permissible under NCAA rules, as a means of preparing for the rigors of learning a new offense (UGA hired O-coordinator Jim Chaney in December) and the physically imposing SEC defenses (big and fast).
Which brings us back to the Franks-related quandary: If Eason is doing everything in his power to get ready for the 2016 season, does a full immersion coincide with the obligation of a freshman ‘walking around campus like he’s running the place’?
In this age of Elite 11 passing camps in high school and full-time, first-year QBs at the college level, it may be the only way today’s prodigies can function.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.