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December 17, 2009
Different paths, same destination
They're separated by over 600 miles, yet Missouri's quarterbacks of the future -- or the two most recent prospects to receive that tagline -- aren't as different as it may seem.
Both James Franklin and Tyler Gabbert come from successful familes. Both Franklin and Gabbert have a father who's been a strong, guiding force in their development as players and men.
And both are pretty damn good quarterbacks.
But, the path each took to becoming a four-star, nationally ranked quarterback couldn't be more unique. For Franklin, his quarterbacking days began recently, when he was a freshman at Lake Dallas High School. Until then, Franklin had played linebacker and receiver, but when he first arrived at Lake Dallas, head coach Michael Young saw a spark.
"Physically, he had all the tools," Young said. "He's a smart kids and his grades showed that. From the beginning, it was clear he was a leader to his classmates. He just had all that intangible stuff.
"He lives, eats, breathes football. He's what you want in a quarterback."
The transition, according to Young, was "really easy." In fact, the hardest part was finding someone to fill Franklin's old position.
"When we made the switch with him, it was tough to lose such a physical player defensively," Young laughed.
Franklin worked out behind center during his first year, but entering his sophomore campaign, Young decided to utilize his talents as a receiver. Because Lake Dallas had an entrenched starter at quarterback, Young wanted to make sure Franklin still contributed to the team.
"James was ready to be the quarterback at the time," Young said. "But we wanted to ease him into the position, using him as a tight end and receiver. We had a better chance to win that way."
Franklin proved ready to make that leap to varsity ball, and by the end of his sophomore season, he was the offensive newcomer in his district. He was a true triple threat, combining for 996 yards receiving, rushing and passing, with nine total touchdowns.
After the season, the player groomed as Lake Dallas' future star finally became the starting quarterback. Going from linebacker to quarterback to receiver, Franklin was finally set at his long-term position.
Two years later, Franklin left Lake Dallas as one of Young's most successful players. In his final two years, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback threw for 4,448 yards, ran for 2,257 yards and compiled 76 total touchdowns. And, in what may be the biggest indicator of long-term success for Franklin at Missouri, he completed 68.8% of his passes.
According to Young, what made Franklin a star quarterback wasn't necessarily his mechanics or athletic ability -- although it definitely includes those things. Instead, Franklin's journey to the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the nation is a sum of all his parts.
"As a quarterback, it helps to know what it's like as a running back, wide receiver, even as a lineman," Young said. "He never played line, but as a tight end, he was able to see what they do, blocking wise. What might be more important was James' time on defense, when he played linebacker and defensive back. He knows the fundamentals of those positions. He knows what to look for."
That's the main difference between Gabbert and Franklin. While Franklin dabbled in other positions, quarterback runs through Gabbert's veins. Since he started football, Gabbert has been the signal caller, following in big brother Blaine's footsteps. When Blaine began to work with renowned quarterback guru Skip Stitzell as a junior in high school, Tyler joined as well.
"He had a lot of natural ability," Stitzell said of Tyler, "what I call a very good foundation. He had a good idea of how to do things. We worked on taking all the mechanics he had, refining them, and introducing some new ones that maybe he didn't have."
The main thing Gabbert did possess was an incredible competitive edge. That came from aspiring to be better than Blaine, according to Stitzell.
"We'd work out together, and I'd have to walk away," Stitzell laughed. "They'd start going at it with each other, talking about who was throwing better, and I'd just say, 'Alright, I'm out of here.'"
That competitive streak didn't just manifest itself in brotherly bickering, however.
"He has unbelievable work habits," Stitzell said. "Between working with me and working with his own personal strength and conditioning trainer, putting in the hours to do that as well as giving the quarterback position priority, he was dedicating all his time to becoming a great quarterback."
When Tyler became entrenched as Parkway West's starting quarterback, the big numbers didn't follow. They didn't follow for Blaine during his days in Ballwin either, though, and when fans criticize the lack of eye-popping statistics, it becomes a sensitive topic for Stitzell.
"It's really unfair," Stitzell said. "Unless you go watch a kid at a good camp, when he gets to throw to receivers of the same quality, it's unfair to criticize a kid's statistics."
It's a valid point. Not taking anything away from Franklin, but he put up numbers on one of the most successful and talented teams in Texas. Put Gabbert on Lake Dallas, and you might very well see similar results.
According to both Stitzell and Young, both quarterbacks have the mechanics to succeed.
"James has a really compact and short release with the ball," Young said. "He's consistent with it."
"Tyler's worked a lot on developing a quick release," Stitzell said. "And anybody that's seen him throw, the ball comes out of his hand very, very fast."
Stitzell compared Tyler to Blaine. While their wind-ups are different, the end result is the same.
"Being a big guy, it takes longer for Blaine to get going," Stitzell said. "But once his arm starts coming forward, the ball comes out like it's coming from a Howitzer. With Tyler, he's got a rattlesnake-quick release."
Now, however, both quarterbacks get the chance to throw to the same receivers, line up behind the same offensive line, and work under the same coaches. Franklin and Gabbert enroll at Missouri in January, and both are gunning for a spot on the depth chart -- the higher, the better.