David Sills is available. Just in case there's a college coach who hasn't heard of the game's next great quarterback, let's review: Sills is captain of his team. Rocket arm. Mad smarts. Breaks down defenses like he's speed reading Dostoyevsky novels.
The most renowned QB teacher in the country says Sills "could very well redefine the quarterback position one day," and "is well on his way to becoming one of the most polished, pro-ready prospects ever to be recruited out of high school."
Just to be clear: David Sills is 12. A sixth-grader, three years away from even playing in high school.
|David Sills, shown here at 11, has been making trips to work with Steve Clarkson since '06.|
"He is being monitored (by colleges) without question," says Steve Clarkson, that quarterback mentor who "discovered" young Sills a couple of years ago.
Maybe more than monitored. David's father, David Sills IV, said the family received a questionnaire from UCLA. That was a year ago. They discarded it. It might have been a mass mailing for a camp. Maybe Rick Neuheisel was that desperate for quarterback help. Who knows?
There was nothing improper about it, but maybe it's time to ask if the David Sillses of the world need to be protected. The NCAA saw fit last month to consider legislation that would label seventh-graders in basketball as "prospects." It would make junior high players -- and recruiters -- subject to NCAA recruiting rules. Currently, players aren't labeled prospects until they are in the ninth grade.
"It's a little scary only because -- we talked about this -- where does it stop?" said Joe D'Antonio, chairman of the NCAA Division I Legislative Council. "The fact that we've got to this point is really just a sign of the times."
D'Antonio said there's a possibility that similar legislation could one day cover football. That would indicate a sea change in the sport. With football players getting bigger, stronger and faster at a younger age, some coaches, some day, will feel it is necessary to recruit middle-schoolers.
"I had never worked with a kid that young," Clarkson said of his initial impression of Sills, "so I wasn't really that interested in returning the call. But (the father) was persistent. Sometimes you have to guard yourself against parents who are overzealous. But I think he was on to something, he just didn't know."
Clarkson was sufficiently amazed to start working with the pre-teen prodigy. Sills isn't the only grade-schooler in the Steve Clarkson Quarterback Academy stable, but he might be the most promising for his age.
"It's going to be a lot easier for them when they are recruited," Clarkson said. "They're doing it at such a young age that they've become perfectionists at it. They talk to older kids. You have all the numerous outlets that cover recruiting. It just became easier to deal with."
College football hasn't quite reached the level of basketball where recruiters routinely have to go through a level of "handlers" to reach a prospect. High school coaches and families still have the most influence in football. But it might not stay that way for long. CBSSports.com and other outlets have chronicled Wichita's Brian Butler.
Remember when Chris Leak got a scholarship offer from Wake Forest when he was in the eighth grade? That was 10 years ago. Wake offered Chris at the same time it did his older brother, C.J. For tweens like Sills, similar attention is coming. It's just a matter of how he and his family handle it.
"Quite frankly, we'll leave a lot of it up to Steve," said Sills IV, a commercial general contractor. "Steve will know where it's appropriate for him to go. I don't think we ever want to get into the whole hoopla."
Clarkson is a 47-year-old former San Jose State quarterback who is arguably the most well-known and accomplished quarterback teacher in the country. Prospects would love to be invited to his academy based in Southern California. His list of clients includes Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, USC's Matt Barkley and pros such as Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Leinart and Matt Cassell. He has worked with the offspring of Wayne Gretzky, Joe Montana and Snoop Dogg.
"Dream Maker" isn't a frivolous label for Clarkson. It's the working title of a possible reality show. Three-thousand prospects will gather on May 16 in the Rose Bowl, American Idol-style, hoping to be one of six athletes who will be selected to be tutored by Clarkson. Two networks are interested, he said.
David Sills IV is no stage parent, but he was struck with the same sense of curiosity three years ago. The former VMI player (for one year) saw his then-9-year-old son developing and wanted an expert evaluation. A friend passed along Clarkson's name. Eventually father and son flew to Pasadena to meet their football future.
"My initial assessment on Day 1 was he was just a kid," Clarkson said of young Sills. "About the third day working with him ... I was going to drop him. I went to our workout with the intention of saying, 'Come back in three years.' That third day he responded to everything."
Now Sills is the 5-foot-8, 135-pound captain of the Red Lion Christian Academy middle school team in Bear. He spends approximately 40 days a year on both coasts being tutored by Clarkson.
The kid's website bio is accompanied by the headline: "David Sills: The Future of the Quarterback Position."
One observer gushed: "After watching an 11-year-old casually draw up a 'Trips Right, Roll 334, Z Tuck, Y Banger, Gap Flip, Action Gas, check with me,' on the washboard, I sat in my seat wide-eyed, tapped the shoulder of the person next to me ... said, 'Wait a second, what just happened here?' It was an extraordinary sight."
You may now catch your breath.
"I don't treat him like a 12-year-old," Clarkson said. "I treat him like a senior in high school. ... If he retains a quarter of what somebody six, seven years older is able to retain, then that puts him three times ahead of the competition."
That there is competition at age 12 is the astounding part. Sills is friends with other Clarkson savants around the country -- sixth-grader M.C. Poe of Nashville and seventh-grader Nick Heras of Boston. Clarkson raves about Kelly Hilinski, a 6-4, 14-year-old eighth-grader from Claremont, Calif., whose academics are so strong he was invited to the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference. His bio proclaims Hilinski might be "the first surgeon in history to spend his Sundays ... as a quarterback in the NFL." Like Sills, Hilinski has received correspondence from UCLA.
"I think they just wanted to say hi," Kim Hilinski said of her son.
Neuheisel might not be aware he has an advantage. Members of the family are already big Bruins fans. Doctors at UCLA replaced a defective aortic valve in Marc Hilinski, Kelly's father, with a bovine valve.
"We moo at him," Kim said.
The pressure and attention that go with a college scholarship haven't been much of a concern in youth football. That's because football's physiology didn't translate as well as it does in basketball. Plus, we think nothing of a teenager turning pro to pursue golf or tennis, but somehow there is concern if a middle-schooler is getting recruited in football.
"Football is difficult because you don't know how big they're going to be," Clarkson added. "In basketball, if they're a great individual player, that's all they need to know. One (basketball) player makes a huge difference for a team."
Things are changing, slowly, but they are changing. Former Washington coach Ty Willingham admitted last year he had offered a scholarship to his first high school freshman. Clarkson helped create the market long ago. Responding to an ad, he began tutoring Danny Klein, who became a record-setting high school quarterback in Carson, Calif. After a newspaper ran a feature story, 130 kids and parents showed up the next Sunday, unprompted, to be tutored by Clarkson.
Twenty years later, his reputation among high school and college coaches is spotless. Sure, he's profiting off teens and pre-teens. So are those private tennis and golf coaches.
"There is a reason people are making money on this stuff," Clarkson said. "There is a need. Colleges are constantly getting limited access to these kids. That also spurns the need for more of these services, more of the private training.
"Ultimately I can see a trend at some point. I do expect at some point to get the early signing day like they have in basketball. Once that becomes official, then I think you'll see a trend to have personnel at least monitor the youth programs. They'll (coaches) probably put a heavier focus on kids to come to their football camps to start the dialogue."
So how does David Sills project before he hits his teenage years? The average 12-year-old has the attention span of Robin Williams. Maturity is an issue. So are hormones. Kids become burned out.
Five-star basketball recruit Elena Delle Donne spent less than 48 hours on the Connecticut campus last year before leaving -- sick and tired of hoops. Delle Donne, 19, said that at age 13 she began doubting whether she wanted to keep playing. Her story resonates with the Sillses. Delle Donne is from nearby Wilmington, Del.
"I don't see (football) as a phase," Sills IV said of his son. "He just really, really loves what he is doing. It doesn't mean that three, four years from now he won't ...
"I don't think he completely understands it, but it doesn't faze him."