In this blog post, I want to look at the importance of a player's surroundings as relates to their success. Too often, we look at a player's success or failure as a final statement on their capabilities. However, any coach worth his salt will tell you that a player being win the right system and right teammates can succeed, and even good players who lack that situation can fail. As Winston Churchill enlightened us, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts."
Let's start with Mark Sanchez. I was never Sanchez's biggest fan, all the way back to when he was drafted by the Jets who traded up to get him. However, how quickly we have all forgotten that he was a part of back-to-back AFC Championship game visits, and in many of those games or games leading up to, he wasn't just a "system" quarterback. He made game winning plays, and in the process became the Jets record holder for post-season touchdowns and is 2nd in post-season passing yards. He was in the right situation; solid defense, good defense, experienced receivers.
Let's point out that he's not the first to benefit from that combination. When Ben Roethlisberger stepped into the starting role, he had the same basic template - a good defense, a good running game, and experienced receivers. In Sanchez's situation, when he lost those assets he ended up with a new offensive coordinator and less than ideal weapons. The media claimed he had regressed. I would put it more on the system and situation. I don't think he got worse.
The same goes for Kurt Warner. He was a star in St. Louis, then moved on to the New York Giants, where he faltered. He went from a good situation to a bad one. Then, his career revived when he went to Arizona and made another trip to a Super Bowl. The situation makes all the difference. There are countless high draft picks who failed for reasons other than their own personal vices (see Jamarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf). Guys like David Carr and Joey Harrington are players who by all indications had great work ethic, leadership qualities, arm talent, toughness, etc. However, a bad situation led to little success, and eventually backup duties.
Let's apply the same tenant to high school quarterbacks: does situation play a large role in success? The answer would have to be a resounding yes. Quarterbacks who end up playing for bad teams with smaller team rosters have less guys to help them be successful and football is, in the end, a team sport. But, beyond the obvious lack of surrounding talent issue, there is also a more prevalent system issue. In the NFL, offenses require largely the same skill set, and while there is some diversity, it doesn't nearly compare to that which we see in high school offenses. From the Wing-T, to the spread option, to a pro-style, to triple option, to traditional, to spread passing games, high schools have a vast diversity in what they ask a quarterback to do. How does this affect a high school quarterback?
My first concern would be the skill set they learn. A quarterback who asked to learn an offense that doesn't teach the requisite skill set for the next level of play may see his future options severely depleted. If a quarterback never learns basic throwing mechanics, footwork, and passing concepts because his team runs exclusively an option offense, what are his chances to learn what he needs to be successful long term?
My second concern would be recruiting. College coaches look primarily at tape for their evaluations of high school prospects, and if that tape doesn't show the skills they need for their offense, they aren't going to waste their time on that prospect. And, as combines and camps become a bigger part of recruiting and gaining national recognition, lacking the skill set most of the combines try to showcase will become even more evident. A lack of throwing mechanics and accuracy, rough footwork, and patchy fundamentals will be exposed.
My third and most important concern would be for the quarterback's experience. How much fun would it be for a player to play his entire career wondering what he could be while trapped running an offense that doesn't suit him? It would be terrible to have to look back on what could have been without a true answer.
So, what can we do about these issues? Both coaches and players have to consider the situation. High school football coaches, notoriously some of the most stubborn on the planet (myself included), need to do a good job of adapting their offense to the skill set of the players they have, most notably the quarterback. And players need to look at their opportunities and see which one puts them in the best situation to reach their goals, whether that be having a positive high school experience or getting prepared to play at the next level. The truth is, there are always additional options and opportunities if you look. Instead of walking into a program, thinking it's all you have and trying to make the best of it, search out other opportunities which might give a better chance at success.
It is amazing the difference the right situation can make. Here's to hoping as many players as possible find a good one for them.
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SPU's Alex Drayson writes the SPU Football Performance Blog.