By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
What do NFL stars Matthew Stafford, Tim Tebow, Andrew Luck, and McKinney Boyd quarterback Curtis Ladd all have in common? They all competed in the ESPN RISE Elite 11 quarterback competition.
The Elite 11 is the most prestigious high school quarterback driven competition in the country. Starting in 1999, the event has become a national sensation that draws the best young quarterbacks from across the country to compete in regional events, in the hopes of being invited to the finals. Among the 25 quarterbacks invited to the finals, 11 will be chosen to represent the Elite 11, as well as the top overall MVP of the entire competition.
More than a handful of elite quarterbacks in the NFL have made their way through the Elite 11, as well as a few current starting QBs in the college game. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, who helped guide the Cardinals to the Sugar Bowl win over the University of Florida in January, and Notre Dame’s Everett Golson, the Irish starting quarterback in the BCS National Championship game, both are members of the Elite 11 Class of 2010.
While Ladd has not received a “golden ticket” to the Elite 11 finals at the Nike headquarters in Oregon, the soon-to-be senior Bronco recently competed in the Chicago regional. With 13 final invites left to be handed out by the Elite 11 coaches, headed up by former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer and Elite 11 director Brian Stumpf, Ladd will look to earn his “golden ticket” on May 17 at the San Francisco regional.
“Hopefully I can take what I learned in Chicago and take it to San Francisco,” said Ladd. “Hopefully I can earn an invite.”
Listed at 6-foot-1-inch and 190 pounds, Ladd is regarded as an “undersized” quarterback. While NFL stars like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees have shifted scouts’ beliefs a bit that smaller guys can play the position at a elite level, many teams still desire the quarterback who is tall and big enough to withstand some hits.
When you combine his size and a quick glance at his numbers from last season, there is no wonder Ladd is regarded as an underrated player in the area. With an all-state running back in Bryan Driskell standing in the backfield, Ladd attempted just 165 passes all season for 1,018 yards and eight touchdowns. Meanwhile, Driskell carried the football 247 times for 1,882 yards, while Ladd and four other players combined for another 166 carries, giving the Broncos a 2.5-1 run-to-pass ratio last season.
While the graduation of Driskell will balance out the run-pass ratio next season, Boyd head coach Don Drake said that looking at stats doesn’t paint the entire picture when it comes to Ladd and his abilities as a quarterback.
“So many things are stat driven and I don’t always believe in that,” said Drake. “Either a kid can play or he can’t, and the statistic piece of that doesn’t always tell the story. You have a 5,000-yard rusher in the backfield with you and we are throwing the football 15 times a game. Some of the other guys are throwing it 40-50 times a game, and my kid is every bit as good as the kid throwing for 3,000 yards despite him throwing for just over a thousand. It is just because his opportunities are going to be limited based on what we chose to do from an offensive stand point with which we had.”
Ladd helped guide the Broncos to a 6-4 record in the regular season last year before losing to Jesuit in the Bi-district round. However, midway through the season Ladd injured his right wrist in a game versus Plano West, but continued to play the entire season. After the season was over, it was determined that he needed to have surgery to repair damage in the wrist, sidelining him from playing on the Bronco baseball team in the spring.
Drake said that Ladd had been throwing for a little over a month now, and said that he didn’t think the injury affected his play for the second half of last season. And while he was cleared to participate in the Elite 11 regional and the Nike Football Training Camp, a separate camp that “help elite high school players advance their football and training knowledge in order to maximize their ability,” Ladd said his arm strength is still a work-in-progress.
“There was so much throwing up in Chicago that about halfway through my arm started dying,” said Ladd. “The NFTC was outdoors and we had to throw against the wind, and it was a pretty good wind that day. So every once in a while I kind of floated one up there.”
Like hundreds of high school quarterbacks around the country, Ladd grew up watching the competition unfold every summer on ESPN. He watched the event during his freshman year and dreamed of one day making it out to the finals, or at least competing in a regional. His dad started the process of getting his name involved in the process, as prospective quarterbacks have to submit film of themselves to be evaluated and reviewed by Dilfer and the Elite 11 staff in order to be selected to compete.
While Ladd couldn’t compete in the Dallas regional in early April because his wrist wasn’t fully ready, he accepted the invitation to compete in the Chicago regional on May 3. Side-by-side with the country’s best high school quarterbacks, Ladd said the entire day was filled with drills and challenges that every good quarterback has to be able to do on the field.
“There is a lot of throwing with five and seven step drops, under center, shotgun, and roll outs,” said Ladd. “There is everything that a quarterback would have to do in a real game, and just the situations that the coaches put us in were top notched. The coaches were top notched because all of them were former NFL players so they know what they are talking about.”
Dilfer was in attendance and spoke with Ladd on several occasions, telling the Bronco QB that he did well in the drills. Most importantly, Ladd said he felt he rose to the challenges that Dilfer and the other coaches placed upon him to play “big” and step up to the spotlight and compete.
“He told me that I had everything to play the position, but I just had to play big because he knows I’m underrated,” said Ladd. “I am considered underrated there because all of the other quarterbacks there have like 20 offers, but his biggest question he had for me was whether I could play big and step up to the situation to the drills and everything and stand out. I felt like I met those goals.”
Despite no “golden ticket” to the Elite 11 finals, Ladd will prepare for the next two weeks for the San Francisco regional on May 17. After he tweeted to Dilfer, “See you in SF! Going to get mine there,” the former Super Bowl winning quarterback tweeted back, “You did great Curtis. You are an awesome player. Keep working on what we talked about. You’re even better in pads.”
Not only is Ladd looking to get a shot at the Elite 11 finals, but also he currently has no offers to play college football in 2014. While Rice University and all the Ivy League schools are in the process of looking at him, Ladd hopes the competition and his senior season can find him a destination to play college ball in two years.
With spring ball just getting underway at Boyd, Drake is in the process of moving forward with an offense minus Driskell in the backfield. As he enters his senior season, Drake is excited about the leadership opportunities Ladd has in front of him to really be “the man” in the Bronco offense.
“He is now the older guy, and even last year as a junior I thought he did a great job of leading the football team,” said Drake. “But as a junior he had other guys around him that were older and he could allow them to lead, but now he looks around and he is the old guy. He has to be that guy who steps up and takes on that role.”
Ladd will enter his third season under center for the Broncos, which means that spring camp for Drake won’t be filled with getting his quarterback to understand or grasp the offense they are trying to run. Instead, Drake and Ladd are focused on trying to propel the offense with some younger players in the skilled position roles.
“It is great coaching a kid who has a great grasp of what we are doing because he is so much further along with the number of snaps and plays he has taken,” said Drake. “We are on the tail end of the learning curve and not the beginning of it. We can communicate and watch film, and it is great to know that he gets it. I am looking forward to what he is going to be able to do for us this year just because of his composure and understanding that goes into making a really special type of player.”
Even his former running back is looking forward to big things from Ladd and the Bronco offense in 2013.
“Curtis is a headstrong leader,” said Driskell. “He always looks so comfortable in games in the most crucial situations, which is something to be admired. Our offense is pretty high tempo and we relied on Curtis a lot sometimes when we didn’t know the plays, but he always made sure everyone did know. He has great potential. The offense will be in his hands.”
The Broncos’ annual spring game is May 30 at McKinney Boyd. Stay tuned to TSB for the latest news and information on all the MISD spring football action.