From his first stint as a coach, a student assistant spot with Michigan from 1996-97, Scot Loeffler has gained a reputation for developing quarterbacks.
It began shortly after that start at Michigan, with current New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, continued with current Jacksonville Jaguar Chad Henne and carried on with Patriots backup quarterback Tim Tebow when Loeffler coached Florida's quarterbacks from 2009-10.
The string of quarterbacks continues with Loeffler's new commitment for 2014, Cedar Cliff (Pa.) three-star Andrew Ford. While Ford has a long way to go to match the success of the first three quarterbacks mentioned, what they already have in common is Loeffler's relating to them. Even before Ford pledged for the Hokies Sunday, he was long in communication with Loeffler. Will that put him on track to join Loeffler's other NFL proteges?
The first connection stems with Ford's coach at Cedar Cliff, Jim Cantafio. The coach has two NFL quarterbacks under his resume, having worked with Henne and before that, Kerry Collins, who went on to star at Penn State and play in a Super Bowl with the New York Giants.
Cantafio said Loeffler recruited Henne as a sophomore. And since then, Cantafio and Loeffler have maintained a friendship.
"Coach Loeffler is a close friend of mine," Cantafio said. "He coached Chad Henne at Michigan for four years. I've known Scot for over 10 years now and he's the best, the best that I've seen and the best I've been around. He is one phenomenal quarterback coach."
Shortly after Loeffler became Virginia Tech's offensive coordinator in January, Cantafio reached out to him about a southpaw quarterback he was coaching who could sling it downfield but could also put a light touch on the ball when he needed to.
Loeffler reached out to Ford and over many phone conversations this spring, they talked football. They talked about what Loeffler had planned for the Hokies' offense, what Ford could do on the field and maybe, just maybe, how the two could come together.
Of course, Loeffler was also up front about his quarterback needs. It was no secret that Loeffler's top target for a long time had been Norman North (Okla.) four-star David Cornwell, No. 66 in the Rivals100. Loeffler had been the first to offer and had a tight bond with Cornwell. And after Cornwell, there was Stratford (SC) four-star Jacob Park, No. 195 in the Rivals250. Virginia Tech had also offered three-star quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Zack Darlington and Loeffler liked both.
Ford understood the situation. He'd heard the same from other schools interested in him as they waited for the top quarterbacks to decide where they'd commit to. Still, Ford was intrigued enough to make the five-hour trek to Blacksburg for the Hokies' June 2 camp and work with Loeffler.
Ford realized he had a lot of what Loeffler was looking for and vice versa.
"He's gonna be using that pro system that he's been using wherever he's been," Ford said. "He said that a lot of the things that I do in my film is a lot of the things that he's done in the past with his quarterbacks. Right there, from an X's and O's standpoint, I think we're on the same page. Just from the intangible factor, as a quarterback, you've gotta be a leader. You've gotta be smart and his offense is probably one of the most complex in the country. You have to be a junkie and that's what I am."
But Ford still had to wait. He had offers from Pittsburgh, Temple and UMASS and a handful of other conditional offers, but he waited on the other quarterbacks ahead of him.
On Friday, after visiting Virginia Tech, Cornwell committed to Alabama. Park followed suit shortly after, cancelling a visit to see the Hokies and pledge to Georgia. The week before, Rudolph committed to Oklahoma State. Also on Friday, Darlington went to Nebraska.
After the dust had settled, Ford had an offer from Loeffler. On Sunday, after contemplating his options, Ford committed to the Hokies.
Of course, just like in his recruitment, Ford will be the overlooked one when he joins Virginia Tech next spring (Ford plans on graduating high school in December and enrolling in January). In February, the Hokies signed Rivals250 quarterback Bucky Hodges and left-hander Carlis Parker, whom coach Frank Beamer compared to Michael Vick. Quarterback Mark Leal will be a senior next season for Virginia Tech.
"For me, I knew wherever I was gonna go there were gonna be great quarterbacks on staff," Ford said. "Whether they were three years older than me or coming in the year after, I knew at the Division I level, I'd have to compete at the highest level. Looking at the depth chart didn't really determine my decision too much. I'm actually gonna be enrolling early, so I'll be in for spring ball. Coach Loeffler told me he'd give me every opportunity with the first team reps. It's really all on me. They have senior that's gonna be there. It's not gonna be rushed, but I'm gonna have my chances at the same time."
Throughout the recruiting process, Cantafio has done whatever he could to help Ford. He called coaches, pushed his film and stayed on Ford to focus on his game. There was never any worry he would land with a top program, so the way it's turned out has been a bonus.
"He can run, he can throw the heck out of the football and he really can light it up," Cantafio said of Ford. "He's been under the radar. Everyone was out there getting the big stud from Oklahoma, the Parks kid from South Carolina. As soon as the big boys all committed, he became a hot commodity in a hurry. We're just lucky."
The work is only beginning for Ford. He's still working on his game, plus getting himself physically ready. Then, there's the recruiting his doing for Virginia Tech, trying to get others to join him in Blacksburg.
"Honestly, at this position you have to improve on everything," Ford said. "I think there's some things I do pretty well, but I'm nowhere near where I need to be to be a starting quarterback in the ACC in two years. I'm excited I made my decision, but first and foremost I have to focus on my senior season. But at the same time, it's taking the little things, working on the little things and not taking anything for granted it's what's gonna help me in the spring."
If there's anything Cantafio takes away from this recruitment, it's that connections are crucial. He and Loeffler would have remained friends regardless, but it helped that they knew each other. And that also helps in knowing what Cantafio needs to do to get Ford ready to play for Loeffler and the Hokies.
"I'll tell you right now, what we do offensively, like Scot Loeffler told me on the phone, he feels so comfortable knowing he's gonna get another one of my quarterbacks," Cantafio said. "How many quarterback coaches on the college level get a chance get a chance to coach a high school coach's two quarterbacks. He knows Andrew will be prepared from the passing game standpoint because he calls his own plays, he audibles and that will prepare him for college and make the transition easier. What we'll focus on is when he reports to Tech in January, he'll be 205 pounds. It's eating a good diet, working in the weight room and putting on another 10 pounds."
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