For the better part of two decades, the Southeastern Conference played football every Saturday with Cobb County players manning nearly every position except one — quarterback.
That trend seems to be coming to an end, and in a big way.
As kickoff approaches the new high school and college seasons, Cobb County currently has four quarterbacks on SEC rosters and possibly of two starters. Former Lassiter quarterback Hutson Mason will be behind center at Georgia, and former Marietta standout Anthony Jennings is in a battle with Brendan Harris to be the LSU starter.
Another former Lassiter signal caller, Eddie Printz, is a backup at Missouri to Maty Mauk, and former Wheeler standout Elijah Staley is a freshman at Mississippi State.
Of this group, only Mason, who set the high school single-season passing and touchdown records for the state of Georgia (4,560 yards, 54 TD) is a senior. The others all have at least three full seasons ahead of them.
The remaining three will likely be joined next year by at least two more from Cobb in North Cobb quarterback Tyler Queen (Auburn) and Harrison’s Lorenzo Nunez (South Carolina).
So there is a good chance, for the next few years, that nearly any SEC game that comes on television may be showcasing one of the county’s players. But why all of a sudden has Cobb County become a cradle for SEC quarterbacks? The coaches who helped these players to get there all say it started with a change of offensive philosophy. With county offenses moving to a more spread attack and the game becoming more specialized the best players have been turned into quarterbacks.
“In the years past, the high school quarterback position wasn’t as demanding,” Marietta coach Scott Burton said. “Now, everybody has to be more of a student of the game. Every position is so much more aware and more savvy. Coaches are teaching them the next level.
“If you don’t have a good quarterback you can’t win.”
Burton added the entire package has shown recruiters the county has the elite talent they are looking for.
“It’s not just the quarterbacks,” he said. “The area has high-quality high school football, and it’s become an attractive place.”
For a long time, Cobb was known as a running county. The Wing-T was the offensive system by choice, and it created difficulty for quarterbacks trying to get to the next level.
“Recruiters don’t have to guess anymore,” North Cobb coach Shane Queen said. “When everyone was back running the Wing-T, they had to ask, ‘Can a quarterback in one of our systems run a pro set?’”
Not since former Marietta standout Eric Zeier led the offense at Georgia has Cobb had a big-time quarterback directing an SEC offense. And now, not only does potential quarterback need the talent, they need the size to go with it. Which is why Mason is 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and the others are just as big, if not bigger. Tyler Queen is 6-4, 235, Nunez checks in at 6-3, 200, Printz is 6-2, 215, Jennings 6-2, 215 and Staley at 6-6, 235.
Coaches say the size is important, especially for those dual-threat players like Queen, Jennings and Nunez, who are asked to run the ball. Often, the quarterback has become a team’s all-round best athlete.
“It used to be a team’s best player was the tailback, and the quarterback just turned around and him the ball,” Burton said.
Shane Queen and Wheeler’s Mike Collins give a lot of credit to the players for the amount of offseason work they do to remain at the top of their games.
“I think it’s a lot in the preparation,” Collins said. “Passing leagues, 7-on-7s, camps. There are a lot of opportunities to develop.”
Mason and Jennings are two of the biggest examples of that extra work paying off.
Despite having a breakout junior season where he threw for 3,705 yards and 31 touchdowns, Mason was not being highly recruited heading into his final varsity season. He earned a spot on a reality show called “The Ride,” in which the winner earned a spot in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He didn’t win, but he parlayed the experience into his big senior season and ended up at Georgia.
Jennings surprised many when he beat out 85 other quarterbacks to be the Atlanta Elite 11 quarterback camp Regional MVP, and earned a spot in the Elite 11 finals. At the time, he had offers from North Carolina, Cincinnati and Mississippi, but the notoriety helped garner him extra attention. Within two weeks of advancing to the Elite 11 finals, he was offered by Oregon, Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin and LSU.
The passing and instructional camps have also been a big help to Nunez.
Now entering his third season as the Hoyas’ quarterback, Nunez’s numbers have been less than stellar during the season. Last year, he threw for 1,148 yards and five touchdowns, but he didn’t have a supporting cast around him like Tyler Queen (2,172 yards, 22 TD), Mason, Jennings, Printz or Staley.
Harrison coach Matt Dickmann has said Nunez is one of the most gifted athletes he’s coached. Nunez’s case is one where the college recruiters recognized his talents through the passing camps rather than the game tape. It’s why he had offers from Ohio State, Clemson, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Miami and others, including South Carolina.
How long can this new trend continue? As Cobb County offenses continue to move more and more to the spread, quarterbacks will have more opportunities to make a name for themselves. McEachern’s Bailey Hockman is a 6-2, 215-pound 2014 CBS MaxPreps Sophomore All-American. He already has offers from Florida State, Oklahoma State and Tennessee, with Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State showing interest.
With that kind of talent, the trend may continue for awhile.