QB Country
QB Country: Quarterback Training & Development

QB Country Blog: Succeeding as an underdog

By David Morris, QB Country Founder

My heart is moved when I hear great stories about quarterbacks overcoming long odds. As a guy who had to earn a scholarship as a walk-on at Ole Miss, I have a special respect for players who have to take the winding road on the path to fulfilling their dreams.

Two recent headlines about underdog quarterbacks got my heart pumping. In the NFL, a former D2 quarterback named Luis Perez who never played a down of high school varsity football and was a competitive bowler for most of his childhood is getting buzz for earning a shot with the LA Rams this preseason. We know Luis well, as QB Country DFW’s Dustin Vaughan trained him for his pro day. He looked like he belonged in his preseason debut and has a real chance to will himself onto an NFL roster.

In the college ranks, Zack Annexstad of the University of Minnesota is only the second true freshman walk-on (Baker Mayfield is the other) to be named the season opening starter for a P5 program. (I was actually the first freshman walk-on to start at QB in the SEC, though my guess/hope is that Zack will have a lot more career starts than I did…my first start was also my last thanks to the arrival of a guy named Eli Manning.) Zack had a great debut for the Gophers, going 10-16 with 2 TDs in a win against New Mexico State. 

These kinds of stories seem improbable, but if you look under the hood you’ll almost always find that success is no accident, it is willed. Underdogs who become big dogs have defining qualities that give them an edge in their climb up the depth chart. From my experience, the guys who pull it off each demonstrate heavy doses of these four essential traits:

Confidence
If you’re going to take the long road; if you’re truly going to overcome the odds, you’ve got to fully own the journey. That takes an understanding that you are doing something different and very special. Most people never experience what you’re feeling, so if they look at you funny when you tell them your big dream, it’s because they probably don’t get it and never will. You’ve got to be comfortable being on an island, being independent and going with your gut.

One of Luis’s former coaches shared that,

“[Perez] has this confidence that is rooted in a belief he can do anything he sets his mind to. He is not cocky in the least bit, but he has the kind of confidence that is the best anyone can have.”

Guys who have “the best kind of confidence” generally aren’t flashy about it. They’re  independent, fearless and self-assured. It’s not arrogance or bravado, it’s just this deep internal belief that what they’re doing (the dream they’re chasing) is the only possible outcome.

Fight
You can’t make it if you’re not a fighter. Successful underdogs not only thrive on competition, they constantly seek it out. They know they’re going to take their fair share of punches, so getting knocked repeatedly to the mat doesn’t phase them. I thought this was an interesting quote from Annexstad’s high school coach at IMG Academy, Kevin Wright:

“In today’s world there are not a lot of quarterbacks that want to compete. Everyone wants the job handed to them, and when it’s not you see them transfer. That’s at the high school level, college level — that’s just common place. I think he [Zack] knew it’s a marathon not a sprint.”

To me, fight means resilience, perseverance, determination and a refusal to lose. These are qualities that will win over your teammates, win you a spot on the team, and quite possibly win you a starting job.

Work Ethic
This one seems obvious, but to me it’s a lot more than getting reps and putting in time. It’s about working with a purpose, seeking information, learning from mistakes and having world-class attention to detail. It’s a given that you’ll need to be the first to arrive and last to leave the field, the weight room and the film room; if you’re a long shot, there’s no alternative. But it’s what you do with that time and those opportunities that will determine the outcome you’re seeking.

Underdogs have a real understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. When I was graduating high school, I didn’t have a single D1 scholarship offer. I got it; as a six-foot, 180-pound kid I knew there were some physical limitations. After praying for a decade to grow, I realized that God doesn’t listen to prayers about height. I didn’t look like an SEC quarterback, I looked more like a kicker. I knew one thing, though. Nobody was going to outwork me. My coaches at Ole Miss figured that out, and so did Luis’s college coaches at Texas A & M-Commerce when they decided to take a chance on a former high school bowler who had jumped nine guys at his juco to take the starting job.

“Talent-wise, there are probably better out there,” said Matt Storm, offensive coordinator at Texas A&M Commerce. “But he’s meticulous, he’s detailed, and he’s going to figure out a way to be successful.”

The quote on Luis’s Twitter profile says it all: “If your best player is your hardest worker, you’ve got a chance to be a good team.”

Passion
None of the over-achieving happens without an intense love and attraction to what you’re doing. There has to be joy, pain, emotion, sacrifice. It all has to be pulsing through your blood and at the core of your being — to the point where people may start to question your sanity. You can’t half-ass big dreams. Either you’re all in, or you’re out. There’s no in-between.

Football has always been my passion. I’ve always loved being out on the field, throwing the ball, playing the game — and now teaching it. I feel really fortunate — blessed — that I get to wake up every day and go out on the field and be part of helping a kid grow. I always tell kids the truth about where they are. Part of the challenge is how we respond to the truth. The truth can’t offend us. The truth must inspire us. And the truth is if you want to do things nobody thinks you can do, you have to understand the commitment you are taking on. You have to be in this thing for the long haul. It will be exhausting. The price is high, but the reward is being able to look yourself in the mirror and being proud of your effort. When I think about it, I often get emotional, because I was one of these kids at one time. Just being part of helping them get where they want to be, sharing my perspective, and helping light their fire is an amazing blessing. What I do is who I am.

I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing had my road been an easier one. My experience with all the hard stuff gave me purpose and resilience. It helped me understand that being a great teammate is the most important thing, more important than being a star. It helped me appreciate the value of hard work, discipline and the long journey.

Luis and Zack have figured that out. And that’ll take them as far as they want to go on a football field — and even farther in life.

Luis prepared for his Pro Day with QB Country’s Dustin Vaughan (top image). Photo by the LA Rams.