QBC-trainee Gardner Minshew at forefront of Mississippi quarterback boom

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By Doug Young, Athletes’ Ink

As a young quarterback growing up in Brandon, Mississippi, current Washington State starter Gardner Minshew had no trouble finding local inspiration for his high school jersey number.

“Steve McNair was a guy I looked up to,” says Minshew. “It’s why I wore #9. He was a Mississippi guy. He was proud to be from Mississippi.”

McNair, the legendary NFL All-Pro from nearby Mount Olive, set a host of passing records during his decorated college and professional career. Now, Minshew is putting up McNair-like numbers at Washington State and this week was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for a career-high 470 yards, on 45-57 passing, in a 59-24 win over Eastern Washington.

On Friday night, Minshew and the Cougars open Pac-12 conference play at the University of Southern California. It’s the biggest stage of a winding football career that has taken him from Brandon to Pullman, but Minshew remains loyal to his Mississippi roots — and his Mississippi training. He believes that the recent surge in college quarterback talent from the Magnolia State is no coincidence.

“I really feel like the coaching has improved,” says Minshew. “There’s a lot of good high school coaching in Mississippi and a lot of good offenses.”

And importantly, says Minshew, there are now quarterback coaches like Alex Williams of QB Country that help athletes develop position-specific fundamentals at an earlier age.

“High school coaches have so many people on the roster to worry about and such limited time to worry about the specifics that quarterbacks really need,” says Minshew,  “Alex helped bridge that gap and developed me from a fundamental standpoint. He’s helped me become a much better player.”

Williams, who runs QB Country’s Jackson and New Orleans locations, acknowledges that Mississippi has not always been a recruiting hotspot for quarterbacks. But players like Minshew, and a shift in football culture, have changed the landscape in a hurry.

QB Country’s current stable of Mississippi quarterbacks features D1 starters Minshew, Dan Ellington (Georgia State) and Jack Abraham (Southern Miss) and a host of high school players with D1 scholarship offers in the 2019 class alone, including John Rhys Plumlee (Oak Grove HS/Georgia Commit), KJ Jefferson (North Panola HS/Arkansas Commit), Hunter Hulsey (Clinton HS/Multiple Offers) and Kinkead Dent (Jackson Academy/Multiple Offers).

“The overall talent pool in Mississippi is getting better and gaining a lot more respect on the national level,” says Williams. “That shines a spotlight on quarterback play and heightens the need and demand for training. When you’re a wide receiver running a 4.3, the numbers speak for themselves no matter where you are. But if you’re throwing, coaches are going to look at who you’re playing with and who you’re playing against. The more respect that Mississippi gets as a state when it comes to overall football talent, the more respect and attention the quarterbacks are going to get.”

QBC Jackson’s Alex Williams with Gardner Minshew

Williams points out that in fact Mississippi has a legacy of producing great quarterbacks — Archie Manning, Brett Favre, McNair to name a few. It’s just that time has passed, and those names may not be as familiar to the new generation.

“Guys like Gardner and Jack [Abraham] being on a national stage — the younger kids see that and aspire to be that,” says Williams. “Kids start picking up the football and throwing it around. When I first started with QBC in Jackson, there weren’t a ton of young players coming out of the woodwork for position-specific training. Part of that is getting your name out there, but another part is that there was no expectation for something like that in the market. Slowly, but surely we started to get inquiries from younger and younger kids. You start getting parents saying, ‘let’s give my son an opportunity to own the position and feel empowered with skills.’ When there is a training presence and a culture for training and skill acquisition, that helps.”

A local training program became a priority for Hayes Dent, when his son — Jackson Academy standout Kinkead Dent — entered high school. Kinkead had always been a talented multi-sport athlete, but by ninth grade his focus shifted towards football and playing the quarterback position. It didn’t hurt that a high school coach shared his belief that Kinkead, with the right preparation, had a chance to one day play at the Division 1 level.

Work ethic and initiative were never an issue. Dent describes Kinkead as “a kid who’s been drawing up plays on the whiteboard in his room since seventh grade.” He recalls looking out the window one day to see his son “rolling a tractor tire around the yard trying to get stronger.” But Dent knew from experience with Kinkead’s siblings, that hard work would likely not be enough.

QBC founder David Morris with Kinkead Dent in Mobile

“Our two oldest kids were competitive tennis players and state champions. You can play hard and practice hard, but in tennis the kids with the best coaches invariably are the ones who land in the top ten and win championships,” says Dent. “Their form is better; the drills they’re learning are better.”

So he scanned the quarterback training landscape and turned to QB Country founder David Morris for Kinkead’s individual coaching.

“We were kind of in a bit of a football wasteland, at least as far as quarterbacks,” explains Dent. “There was no real network, no promotion, nothing really out there. With David and QB Country, all that has changed. In many ways I feel like we’ve hit the football lottery.”

Kinkead, who was recently named Player of the Week by the Jackson Touchdown Club, now has more than a dozen Division 1 scholarship offers.

It’s been a similar story for Oak Grove’s John Rhys Plumlee, who committed to Georgia over the summer after seeing his recruitment take off during his junior year. Plumlee arrived in high school as a gifted athlete who had played quarterback since second grade, but faced questions about his size and skills.

“I could run above average and make plays with my feet, but I wanted to get to the point where I could intimidate teams with my arm,” says Plumlee. “All my offers were as an athlete, so I knew I had to get better and have a great junior year [if I wanted to play quarterback]. I just didn’t have experience knowing how to get better.”

Enter Morris and QB Country. “David showed me stuff that I just didn’t know,” says Plumlee. “He just has so much knowledge.”

Plumlee’s father, Denton, believes that knowledge — and having access to a coach with the ability to navigate the football world beyond the borders of Mississippi was instrumental in John Rhys’s recruitment.

“From the first time we saw him, David told us [John Rhys] is a player,” says the senior Plumlee. “He worked with his tape, shortened it up, added some things that colleges wanted to see and from that it went from having some people interested in John Rhys as an athlete to 20-plus quarterback offers.”

All the attention, however, has not diminished Plumlee’s resolve. If anything, it’s heightened a sense of purpose and responsibility to represent his home state wherever his journey takes him. As added motivation, he needs only to turn to a neighbor for a Hall of Fame example of where the road could lead.

“Brett Favre lives in the same town as me and my family has gotten to know his family. It’s really kind of neat to talk football with Brett; he’s just a very smart guy with football IQ through the roof,” says Plumlee. “Coming from a spot that has one of the greats — it’s a really cool thing. It gives you something to compete with at a really young age; if he can do it, why can’t I do it? I know that coming from Mississippi, being a quarterback from the South, is a really big thing. It’s special.”

A common theme among Mississippi quarterback prospects is a sense of being an underdog, especially when competing against peers from bigger states like Texas, California and Florida. Arkansas-bound KJ Jefferson, who trains with QB Country’s Thomas Morris, embraces that perspective and believes it’s an attitude that fuels success at the next level.

“We have a lot of talent in the state, but we are also overlooked. That’s why we carry a chip on our shoulder or have that swagger about us,” says Jefferson, who’s led a resurgence at North Pamola HS in Sardis. “We are starting to put out a lot of quarterbacks because the colleges are seeing that we can ball just like the other states — and have better talent, too.”

QBC Memphis’s Thomas Morris with KJ Jefferson

There are few Mississippi quarterbacks who have a better underdog story than Oxford’s Jack Abraham. After being told early in high school by a coach at a prospect camp that he would never play Division 1 football, Abraham went on to become the Mississippi Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year in 2015 and earned a scholarship offer to Tulane. That offer was revoked, however, after a coaching change, leaving Abraham scrambling for other options. Abraham made a brief stop at Louisiana Tech for a redshirt year, before returning home to enroll at Northwest Mississippi Community College. It was there that he got back on the field, regained his confidence and earned a new opportunity with Southern Miss. Earlier this month, he made his long-awaited Division 1 debut, throwing for 242 yards and four touchdowns in the Golden Eagles’ 55-7 season-opening victory against Jackson State.

“I honestly think all Mississippi athletes have a little bit of a chip and an edge to prove, ‘hey, I can do it,’” says Jack’s father, Mike Abraham. “You have to overcome being from a small state, your background to get there. Obviously, some of the greatest to ever play have Mississippi roots. It really starts with the mentality of our athletes as a whole.”

He continues, “Jack had some natural leadership skills early in life, a knack for leading in group settings. You learn more cause you grow up faster as a quarterback; you’re in the spotlight, people are writing things about you in the paper, you face adversity – those types of things. I think football, honestly — it exposes character. Leadership kind of evolves. It’s a huge part of it. If [Jack’s] not the hardest worker, I don’t know if it works.”

It’s an attitude that has fueled Minshew’s success and landed him across the country, outdueling guys from “blue-chip” states. Last year, Minshew was a senior starter at East Carolina putting up solid numbers for a respected, if not brand name program. Using his option as a grad transfer, Minshew left a stable situation at ECU, turned down a third-string opportunity at Alabama (saying “no” to Nick Saban), and took his shot at a Pac-12 school where a starting role was no given.

“My goal right now is to get a shot in the NFL,” he said at the time. “And I think this will give me a good opportunity at that.”

Williams marvels at his pupil’s willingness to trade in a sure-thing for anything but; a new offense, new teammates, new staff — a different level of talent. But he’s not surprised that Minshew has figured it out so quickly.

“The guy is fearless,” says Williams. “He’s one of the fiercest, most relentless people I’ve ever been around. I would never in a million years bet against him.”

The same could be said for a whole new generation of Mississippi quarterbacks, who share a collective sense of pride about their growing accomplishments.

“It’s fun to watch happen,” says Plumlee. “To be able to watch these guys you’ve known since you were little kids and yourself kind of succeed is a really cool deal because you’re doing it together.”

Minshew concurs, “Anytime you see a guy make it from Mississippi, you’re excited.”