Quarterback U begins new era

Delaney Ryan/Daily
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By Zach Shaw, Summer Managing Sports Editor
Published June 22, 2015

Jedd Fisch huddled his team up. With a bit of the game under their belt, Michigan’s passing game coordinator was ready to push them to the next level.

It wasn’t enough to just throw hard, he explained to the team. They needed to be selective, pick their spots and find a way to win.

“Let’s get creative, we’re quarterbacks!”

The group trotted back out to the field. There were no receivers, linemen, pads or even footballs, but the intensity was in full bloom. These quarterbacks had a dodgeball game to win.

Welcome to Quarterback U.

Michigan has been known for years for its ability to produce successful quarterbacks. Whether it’s the versatility of Rick Leach and John Wangler, the grit of Jim Harbaugh, the precision of Elvis Grbac and Todd Collins, the cannons of Chad Henne and John Navarre or the creativity and charisma of Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner, the Wolverines have been able to turn productive quarterbacks into professional athletes in each of the past five decades. That’s no coincidence.

It was also no coincidence that such tradition was on display Saturday, with many Michigan greats on hand for the dodgeball, baseball and soccer festivities in Ann Arbor’s Aerial Assault, a camp dedicated solely to quarterbacks.

But the inaugural camp wasn’t just fun and games. The A4 camp kicked off the newest era of Quarterback U, in which Harbaugh and his staff will pull out every stop imaginable to mix old school and new school to concoct Michigan’s greatest leader yet.

That mission began in a big way Saturday, as the Michigan greats were joined by 15 NFL quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler and Greg McElroy, “QB gurus” such as Ken Mastrole and Dowell Loggains and the Michigan coaching staff, littered with coaches with NFL and college experience.

“As many resources as you can possibly have,” Harbaugh said.

And while outsiders — and maybe a few campers — would laugh at the idea of playing baseball or dodgeball at a one-day camp for quarterbacks, the games had as much of a point as the fine-tuning or speeches about the position — as Michigan has said time and again that the most successful quarterbacks are athletes who can learn to lead at anything, including other sports.

“You could tell some guys didn’t really know how to throw a baseball,” said Collins, who led the Wolverines in 1993 and 1994 before a 15-year NFL career. “I played three sports in high school and most of us were multi-sport athletes, but now there’s an increase in specialization and most of these guys are training year-round.

“You need to be athletic to play quarterback.”

The campers also had to listen, because like everything else in his life, Harbaugh made the camp a competition. In his quest for the new model of Michigan quarterbacks, any dissenters were shown the door.

“Hopefully that doesn’t offend anybody that this will be a competitive environment,” he said. “I hope everybody is OK with that. Because if you’re not, guess what? You’re playing the wrong position. You’re literally playing the wrong position if that’s an issue.

“You touch the ball every snap, so it’s important that you learn to win and do well. Most importantly, it’s important that you learn to compete and you embrace it.”

Ultimately, Michigan four-star 2016 commit Brandon Peters succeeded in enough of the drills and competitions to win the all-around title. But the quest for a championship-caliber quarterback will rage well beyond the camp.

That’s why Michigan’s roster will boast at least 10 quarterbacks in the fall — more than any team in a power-five conference, because, to Harbaugh, you can’t put a price on a quality leader.

“While other positions don’t put quite as much pressure on the quarterback position, anybody can tell you that’s played the position, you should already know by now that playing quarterback matters. There’s a lot riding on it.”

Added Jack Harbaugh, who was the quarterbacks coach when Michigan began earning the label Quarterback U with Dennis Franklin in 1972: “The quarterback position is like no other position — there’s only one of you. You have four defensive backs, you have three or four linebackers, you have four defensive linemen, but there’s only one quarterback.”

Saturday was only the beginning of Michigan’s quest, as the relentless recruiting tactics of Harbaugh and his staff won’t quit even if the results come.

The quarterback factory has been remodeled, and the result is a model unlike anything else in the country. No other school has had a camp like this, no other school has Michigan’s history and no other school has brought it all together on one field before.

“If you’re a quarterback leaving high school, where else do you want to go to get to the NFL or maximize your talent than here?” Collins said. “I’m a little bit biased, but there’s truth to it.”

Years from now, Quarterback U graduates will litter the NFL. They’ll have the arm of Henne, the craftiness of Robinson, the toughness of Collins, the fire of Harbaugh and the desire to do anything it takes to win, no matter the level.

You can bet they’ll be damn good at dodgeball, too. Welcome to Quarterback U.