At this year's Senior Bowl, Bucs coach Jon Gruden had an idea. It came while eating a lunch of buffalo wings and shrimp and sweet tea — "at least that's what I was drinking," said Doug Williams — with his staff.
"He said, 'Let's do a camp for the high school quarterbacks in Tampa Bay,' " said Williams, who thought it was just talk brought on by Gruden's leftover enthusiasm from scouting college players.
"I didn't take him serious at all."
But Gruden was serious. And on Saturday, after clearing the one-day camp with the NFL and NCAA, more than 50 prep signal callers watched film, participated in drills and watched some more film at One Buc Place.
• • •
Pasco and Hillsborough county athletic directors Phil Bell and Lanness Robinson stayed for the film session and part of the drills. (Pinellas County athletic director Nick Grasso wasn't in attendance.)
"If you're a high school quarterback in Tampa Bay, and you get an invitation from Jon Gruden, how do you miss this?" said Bell, a longtime Bucs season ticket holder.
Not many did. Hillsborough sent 27 quarterbacks, Pinellas sent 12, and Pasco had just 11.
• • •
The morning film session drew rave reviews from the players, most of whom said Gruden made it one of the more entertaining sessions they've ever sat through.
"He's good," said Freedom freshman Josh Grady. "My coach (Marquel Blackwell) makes it pretty entertaining too, but (Gruden) was good."
The session was a preview of most of the drills the players later went through.
"When I first came in, I thought he'd just talk and show film and it would be boring," said Chamberlain senior-to-be Dontae Aycock. "But he made it more fun."
The drills later were primarily drop and throws, with some footwork drills thrown in. But the players got to throw to Bucs players Micheal Spurlock, Chad Lucas, Taye Biddle, Charles Spiller and Daniel Fells.
• • •
Plant's Aaron Murray was the biggest name at the camp, and when he and Gruden had a short conversation after the outdoor drills, about a half-dozen television and NFL cameras surrounded the scene.
Gruden offered Murray a four-year deal with a $3-million signing bonus, but the senior-to-be had to head out for another practice. Today, Murray will compete in an all-star 7-on-7 tournament at USF.
(We're just kidding about Gruden making any offers.)
• • •
Most of the area's top quarterbacks were there, including Aycock, Wharton's Andrew Clifford, Tampa Catholic's Christian Green and Hudson's Zack Wynn.
A majority of the quarterbacks seemed to be younger players coming off their first full seasons and looking for a boost heading into spring practice, such as Grady, Land O'Lakes' Stephen Weatherford, Gulf's Madison Burr and Pasco's D.J. Clower.
And quarterbacks looking to fill some big shoes next season also were well represented, with Largo's Ryan Eppes, Jefferson's Quentin Williams, Boca Ciega's Darren Skinner and Mitchell's Cody Van De Boe in attendance.
"I saw a lot of good players out here," Gruden said.
• • •
Gruden, a former quarterback who is considered something a position guru, said he hoped the message that got through was that quarterbacks need to set the tempo, whether it's on the sideline, in the huddle or on the field, and that communication was essential.
To sum it up: Quarterback is the most important position. Work hard at it. Love it. Own it.
"That's what I got out of it," said Hillsborough's Tarean Austin, who will be one of the area's top throwers next season.
"I learned that you have to know the importance of your position. You are the leader of the team."
Wesley Chapel's Joey Licalzi will be trying to win the starting job in the spring. He said he left One Buc Place realizing that communication with coaches and teammates is vital.
"You have to trust the people you play with,'' he said.
John C. Cotey can be reached at (813) 909-4612 or firstname.lastname@example.org.