FRESNO STATE offered a scholarship to Josh Rosen when he was a 15-year-old freshman at St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, Calif., before he had even started a varsity game at quarterback. After his sophomore year Oregon State, Michigan and Tennessee offered. As a junior Josh threw 39 touchdown passes and earned Rivals.com's No. 1 ranking for pro-style quarterbacks in the 2015 class. Now he has more than a dozen scholarship offers, none of which he can officially accept until next February, but in the hyperintense world of quarterback recruiting, he needs to decide soon. "You can't hang around until the end," he says. "Coaches want you to commit early and build a class around you."
The quarterback cycle moves so fast that by some measures Josh's decision is already considered late. Coaches usually reserve just one quarterback scholarship per year, so the dominoes fall fast. That puts both sides on edge. "Quarterback recruiting," says Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, "[is] one of the hardest things to do." The early pledge of a quality signal-caller also has a ripple effect. "If you get one," says Duke coach David Cutcliffe, "it networks itself, literally to the point where [other recruits] may be calling you. Youngsters know who is going where immediately."
In the 2015 class, No. 4--rated pro-style quarterback Ty Storey of Charleston, Ark., committed last June to Arkansas, and No. 2--ranked dual-threat quarterback Blake Barnett of Corona, Calif., pledged to Notre Dame in November. In January, No. 2--ranked pro-style quarterback Ricky Town of Ventura, Calif., flipped his commitment from Alabama to USC after the Tide hired former Trojans coach Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator. But some coaches wonder when is too early. Consider the case of David Sills, the Delaware native who made headlines in 2010 by committing to USC as a 13-year-old seventh-grader. A few weeks ago the Trojans recruited over Sills, the No. 12 pro-style quarterback in 2015, by taking Town's commitment.
Early commitments raise a question: Can you determine if a player has the character and maturity to be the cornerstone of your program before he gets his driver's license? "We're declaring [quarterbacks] potential superstars in the ninth and 10th grades," says Cutcliffe, "earlier than any other position." Duke coaches have already identified 18 elite quarterback recruits from the 2016 and '17 classes, but the rush to recruit doesn't necessarily mean a rush to offer. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald insists that his assistant coaches "date the kid before we ask him to marry us"; Fitzgerald equates a verbal commitment to an engagement and a signing-day declaration to a wedding. "We'd rather be a day late and right than a day early and wrong," he says. "There's a lot of schools doing it very differently."
The proliferation of summer seven-on-seven tournaments has led to earlier offers to quarterbacks, and Mullen says Bulldogs star sophomore Dak Prescott is proof that evaluating a quarterback in the flesh is critical. Prescott didn't flash perfect throwing form at Mississippi State's camp, but he led all attendees in chest bumps and vocal encouragement. Mullen offered him a scholarship, and, sure enough, Prescott played through a severe shoulder injury to lead the Bulldogs to a comeback overtime win against rival Ole Miss in late November. "What you see on recruiting film is one tenth of what you need to see," Mullen says. "The ability to lead and have the it factor, it's hard to coach that."
Josh Rosen shows some of those extras too: He boasts a 4.2 GPA and once held a top 10 ranking in junior tennis. He even insisted on handling his recruiting himself, coming home to surprise his family with nuggets such as, "Got an offer from Michigan today." Both of his parents were competitive ice skaters; his mom, Liz Lippincott, graduated from Princeton and is a great-great-granddaughter of University of Pennsylvania business school founder Joseph Wharton, and his dad, Charles Rosen, is a noted spine surgeon who graduated from Penn. Watching Josh juggle offers and coaches, Lippincott jokingly compares him to Jerry Maguire. But all the negotiating will likely end with Josh playing for one of his future neighbors. UCLA coach Jim Mora is remodeling a house two blocks away from the Rosens in Manhattan Beach, and Josh is friendly with three of Mora's four children. More important, UCLA will have an opening at quarterback after Brett Hundley's likely departure following the 2014 season. "The stars have aligned themselves nearly perfectly," Josh says. "I'd be kicking myself in a few years if I didn't pick UCLA."
The decision, not surprisingly, will come very soon.
THE TOP 250
Where do the best players come from? This map plots Rivals.com's top 250 players, and states rise off the page relative to the number of blue-chippers they produced. The red dots indicate the 21 quarterbacks who were among the top 250, with conference-by-conference highlights broken out in the boxes. All 21 QBs chose a school in one of the power conferences.
[The following text appears within a map. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual map.]
The 6'4", 230-pound Palo Alto native and Stanford commit is the No. 2--ranked pro-style quarterback and one of three top signal-callers bound for the Pac-12, along with Morgan Mahalak (Oregon) and K.J. Carta-Samuels (Washington).
Thorson, the 6th-ranked dual threat, will look to keep things moving at Northwestern, as will Michael O'Connor (7th-ranked pro-style) at Penn State, the only top quarterbacks off to the Big Ten.
In the SEC the competition is as tough in the living room as it is on the field. Nine of the top 21 quarterbacks are SEC-bound, led by Allen, the No. 1 pro-style, who's headed to Texas A&M.
At 6'4" and 216 pounds, Hansen is a pure pocket passer who could remind Sooners fans of Sam Bradford. In the Big 12 he'll compete against top incoming quarterbacks at Oklahoma State (Mason Rudolf), Texas (Jerrod Heard) and West Virginia (William Crest).
Three elite quarterbacks are headed to the ACC, but Clemson stole Watson, the top-rated dual threat, from neighboring Georgia, while Miami grabbed California prospect Brad Kaaya and North Carolina plucked Caleb Henderson out of Virginia.
Rest of recruits
Check out additional recruiting maps broken down by conference, university and position group, as well as in-depth signing-day analysis and ongoing recruiting news and updates at SI.com/mag
Photograph by LOUIS LOPEZ/CAL SPORT MEDIA
MAJOR LEAGUE Rosen (3) appears UCLA-bound in 2015, while class of '14 teammates headed to the FBS include: Damien Mama (75) to USC; Chandler Leniu (4) to Cal; Jaleel Wadood (2) to UCLA; Malik Dorton (44) to USC; Naijiel Hale (7) to Washington.
NICOLAS RAPP (ILLUSTRATION)
STEVE DYKES/USA TODAY SPORTS (CHRYST)
JUAN LAINEZ/MARIN MEDIA/CAL SPORT MEDIA (THORSON)
SOOBUM IM/USA TODAY SPORTS (ALLEN)
CLIFF WELCH/ICON SMI (HANSEN)
JASON GETZ/ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION/AP (WATSON)