By Gene McGivern
The Ohio State Buckeyes are a household name, and everyone recognizes their quarterback, Terrelle Pryor. Yet few have ever heard of Pryor’s hometown: Jeannette, Pa.
Call it small-town value.
And with its 9,800 residents, Jeannette could be considered a metropolis compared to the hometowns of some other college starting quarterbacks, like Attapulgus, Ga. (population 468); Iron Ridge, Wis. (pop. 994); or Waldo, Ohio (pop. 311).
Where’s Waldo? It’s where locals flock to G&R Tavern for a fried bologna sandwich, and it’s also the hometown of Edinboro University starting quarterback Cody Harris.
Attapulgus, a Native American word meaning “dogwood,” is the hometown of Benedict’s Pat Riley.
Iron Ridge is a burb located near 36 wind turbines that stand 300 feet wide and 260 feet tall. It also gave us Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Austin Neu, the kid who once threw seven touchdown passes to win his high school’s homecoming game.
In his 14 seasons as a head or assistant football coach, St. Thomas’ (Minn.) Glenn Caruso has found some gems as he’s scoured the interstates and the back roads in recruiting.
“There is a sense of pride you get from finding a special kid from a small town. You almost feel as though you won a secret lottery,” Caruso said. “Most of these kids are three- and sometimes four-sport athletes if the school will allow. They have been competing on a myriad of settings since they can remember, and regardless of the size of their hometown or their physical stature, many have become among the giants on our gridiron.”
Of 800-plus four-year colleges, at least 30 starting quarterbacks come from towns of 1,300 or fewer residents. The list includes six players from Texas, four from Minnesota and three from Ohio. It includes 19 NCAA players and 11 from NAIA institutions. It also includes one major-college player – Ryan Radcliff of Central Michigan, who hails from Sherwood, Ohio (pop. 801).
A wider list of Division I starters includes three players from top-10 teams who hail from towns of less than 10,000 residents – Ohio State’s Pryor; Boise State’s Kellen Moore (Prosser, Wash., pop. 5,282); and LSU’s Jordan Jefferson (St. Rose, La., pop. 6,540).
The 2010 Division I group also includes starting signal callers from Eastern Michigan (Alex Gillett, Green Springs, Ohio, pop. 1,190); Penn State (Rob Bolden, Orchard Lake, Mich., pop. 2,225); Ball State (Keith Wenning, Coldwater, Ohio, pop., 4,393); Kansas State (Carson Coffman, Peculiar, Mo., pop. 4,745); Connecticut (Zach Frazer, Mechanicsburg, Pa., pop. 8,790); and Kansas (Jordan Webb, Union, Mo., pop. 9,741).
One of the 2009 Heisman Trophy finalists, NFL rookie Colt McCoy, played high school ball at Jim Ned High School in Tuscola, Tex., (pop. 714) before joining the Texas Longhorns.
Can these small-town guys cut it in a high-profile position like quarterback? Ask legendary St. John’s (Minnesota) coach John Gagliardi, who has made a living out of discovering and developing guys from dots on the map near his headquarters in Collegeville, Minn.
St. John’s is 6-4 in its last 10 games since last November – a slump by Johnnie standards. All four defeats came against teams with quarterbacks from hometowns with 1,300 or fewer residents – Coe, Wisconsin-Eau Claire, St. Thomas and Bethel (Minnesota).
Half of this season’s Division III playoff bracket could include as many as four starting quarterbacks who grew up in towns of 1,300 or less.
No. 4-ranked St. Thomas is 10-0 for the first time in its 105-year football history, thanks in part to junior Dakota Tracy (Geneva, Minn., pop. 449), a 5-foot-10 athlete with a 162.0 QB rating. Tracy is now 13-0 on his career as a starter with 23 touchdown passes in his last 13 games. He once pitched a perfect game and fanned 13 of the 15 batters faced while at New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School.
Joining Tracy on the Tommies’ QB depth chart are players who hail from St. Paul (pop., 280,000), Miami (pop, 700,000) and suburban Kansas City.
“I’m a smaller guy without the biggest arm or the fastest legs,” explained Tracy, whose hometown has no stoplights. “I just work on being efficient with ball security and a high-completion percentage.”
Bethel is 8-1 and ranked No. 16, and its lone loss came by a 10-6 score at St. Thomas. The Royals’ attack is guided by junior QB Josh Aakre of Dawson, Minn., which is also the hometown of Olympic distance runner Carrie Tollefson.
Mary Hardin-Baylor of Belton, Tex., has won 44 of its last 48 regular-season games. The 2010 edition of the Crusaders, 9-0 and ranked sixth nationally, is led by 5-foot-11 sophomore quarterback LiDarral Bailey of Bremond, Tex. (pop. 876). Bailey has 17 passing touchdowns and 16 rushing touchdowns thus far in his two-year career.
Another 8-1 team, Coe, is ranked No. 15 and looking to return to the NCAA playoffs. The Kohawks’ attack is led by junior QB Brad Boyle of New Sharon, Iowa (pop., 1,276), which is just down the road from an even smaller town known as What Cheer. Boyle has won 19 of his last 21 starts and sports a 168.6 QB rating this fall. In the 2009 NCAA playoffs, Boyle led Coe’s upset win at St. John’s but missed the loss at St. Thomas due to an injury.
Elsewhere in Minnesota, where Kiln, Mississippi’s own Brett Favre is still flinging passes for the professional team, nearly half of the state’s 25 football-playing colleges have smaller-town guys running the offenses. That’s fitting in a state where the NFL’s Vikings have employed quarterbacks like Favre (Kiln, pop. 2000); Todd Bouman of Ruthton, Minn., (pop. 284); Brad Johnson from Black Mountain, N.C. (pop. 7,800); Sage Rosenfels from Maquoketa, Iowa (pop. 6,100); and Gus Frerotte from Ford City, Pa. (pop. 3,400).
Four of the nine college teams in Minneapolis, St. Paul or their suburbs have starters from towns of 2,000 or less: St. Thomas’ Tracy; Bethel’s Aakre; Crown College’s Adam Hayes (Chinook, Mont., pop. 1,272); and Concordia University’s Spencer Ohm (Blooming Prairie, Minn., pop. 1,979). Ohm has 21 TD passes and a 159.6 QB rating in leading the Golden Bears to their best season since 2005.
Seven other teams from the Gopher state also have guys from towns of less than 10,000 residents -- Gustavus (Logan Becker, Easton, Minn., pop. 186); Minnesota-Morris (Derrick Foss, Hancock, Minn., pop. 692); Hamline (Adam Meyer, Cold Spring, Minn., pop. 3,779); St. Cloud State (Phillip Klaphake, Princeton, Minn., pop. 4,754); St. Scholastica (Alex Thiry, Cambridge, Minn., pop. 7,734); Carleton (Vaughn Schmid, Mahtomedi, Minn., pop. 8,110); and Macalester (Trevor Miehe, Holmen, Wis., pop. 8,726). Klaphake has a 161.2 QB rating with 19 TD passes for No. 18-ranked St. Cloud State.
If you took the residents of all 11 hometowns of these Minnesota quarterbacks, you still couldn’t fill the two-year-old 50,000-seat TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
At Gustavus, it’s the third year in a row that a small-town Becker brother has run the Gusties offense. Jordan Becker started in 2008 and 2009, and passed for 3,653 yards and 30 touchdowns while running for nine TDs. Younger brother Logan is this season’s starter and has 10 TD passes and four TD runs while throwing form just under 150 yards a game.
Hayes, who carries a 3.90 grade-point average in social studies and biblical studies, has thrown 70 career touchdown passes for Crown, which sits in a quiet town of 2,300 residents 30 miles from downtown Minneapolis. His hometown of Chinook, which sits on Highway 2, has 1,271 residents, no stoplights, and no fast food. It now has an 8-man high school team. Its school mascot is the “Sugarbeeter,” since the local sugar beet factory paid for the football jerseys back in the 1950s.
Valley City State’s Trent Kosel hails from Edgeley, N.D. (pop. 515). Edgeley is known as “The Gateway to Wind Energy” as the home of North Dakota’s first wind farm. Kosel was the quarterback on the 2004 Edgeley-Kuhn High 9-man state championship team. That 12-0 squad had seven on its 32-man roster go on to play college football. At Valley City, Kosel threw six touchdown passes this season on Senior Day.
Gettysburg College brings to mind a famous address. Gettysburg’s QB, Kyle Whitmoyer, also has a well-known address – Arendtsville, Pa. (pop. 848). Located in Adams County, one of the natio’’s leaders in apple production, Arendtsville is the site of the annual National Apple Harvest Festival. Students from Arendtsville attend Biglerville High School, which has the nickname of “Canner,” named after the town’s canning plant.
West Georgia’s Brandon Behenna hails from Sharpsburg, Ga. (pop. 339), which has produced Dallas Cowboy tight end Keith Brookings and child actor Rusty Stevens, a.k.a. Beaver Cleaver’s pal Larry Mondello.
Louisiana College’s Will McLaughlin comes from Dierks, Ark., (pop. 1,230), where the annual Pine Tree Festival has attracted country music stars like Reba McIntyre and Hank (Are you ready for some football?) Williams Jr.
Incarnate Word’s Paden Lynch comes from D’Hanis, Tex., (pop. 548), a town that SID Wayne Witt pinpoints as being “eight miles west of Hondo, 11 miles east of Sabinal, and 33 miles east of Uvalde.” According to Witt, no college recruiter had ever visited D’Hanis until the fall of 2007. That’s when Lynch got onto the radar of Incarnate Word, which was building its first recruiting class for its inaugural season of 2009.
Coach Steve Johnson, who has 152 victories in 22 seasons at Bethel, loves to recruit small towns. He cites the abundance of leaders, a strong work ethic, and pure athletes. Johnson describes his current QB, Aakre, as “a guy who you like to have in your huddle. He’s a leader, and he tells guys, ‘Hop on board, let’s do this.’ “
Johnson still recalls his three-hour drive home from Dawson on a 2008 recruiting trip to watch Aakre play a playoff basketball game. The coach was pulled over three times by state troopers or county officers, resulting in three… warning tickets.
The Bethel coach learned two things: There’s talent in those small towns. And if you really get lucky, you catch Sheriff Andy Taylor on patrol instead of Deputy Barney Fife.
Gene McGivern is the sports information director at St. Thomas (Minnesota). St. Thomas student Jake Navarro also contributed to this story.
2010 College football starting QBs/hometowns
|Population||Town (HS)||Player||Team Affiliation|
|100||Elwell, Mich. (Alma)||Dan Wernick||Culver-Stockton (Mo.) NAIA|
|186||Easton, Minn. (Blue Earth Area)||Logan Becker||Gustavus (Minn.) (NCAA III)|
|275||Talala, Okla. (Oologah-Talala)||Jordan Barrett||Southwestern (Kan.) (NAIA)|
|311||Waldo, Ohio (Marion Pleasant)||Cody Harris||Edinboro (Pa.) (NCAA II)|
|339||Sharpsburg, Ga. (East Cowetta)||Brandon Behenna||West Georgia (NCAA II)|
|363||Evant, Tex. (Evant)||Aaron Doyle||Tarleton (Tex.) State (NAIA)|
|449||Geneva, Minn. (New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva)||Dakota Tracy||St. Thomas, (NCAA III)|
|468||Attapulgus, Ga. (Attapulgus)||Pat Riley||Benedict (S.C.) (NCAA II)|
|508||Goessel, Kan. (Goessel)||Garrett Hiebert||Bethel (Kan.) NAIA|
|515||Edgeley, N.D. (Edgeley)||Trent Kosel||Valley City (N.D.) State (NAIA)|
|548||D’Hanis, Tex. ( D’Harris )||Paden Lynch||Incarnate Word (Tex.) (NCAA II)|
|642||Pembina, N.D. (Pembina)||Tanner Carpenter||Mayville (N.D.) State (NAIA)|
|654||Fairfield, Mont. (Fairfield)||Derek Lear||Montana State-Northern (NAIA)|
|692||Hancock, Minn. (Hancock)||Derrick Foss||Minnesota-Morris (NCAA III)|
|704||Adair, Okla. (Adair)||Kenny Davis||Northeastern (Okla.) State (NCAA II)|
|801||Sherwood, Ohio||Ryan Radcliff||Central Michigan (NCAA I)|
|848||Arendtsville, Pa. (Biglerville)||Kyle Whitmoyer||Gettysburg (Pa.) (NCAA III)|
|876||Bremond, Tex. (Bremond)||LiDarral Bailey||Mary-Hardin-Baylor (Tex.) (NCAA III)|
|994||Iron Ridge, Wis. (Hustisford)||Austin Neu||UW-Eau Claire (NCAA III)|
|1,000||Skidmore, Tex. (Skidmore-Tynan)||Darby House||Bethany (Kan.) (NAIA)|
|1,149||Caddo Mills, Tex. (Caddo Mills)||Jeremy Fowler||SW Assemblies of God (Tex.) (NAIA)|
|1,169||Battle Creek, Neb., (Battle Creek)||Curtis Thompson||Peru (Neb.) State (NAIA)|
|1,190||Green Springs, Ohio (Clyde)||Alex Gillett||Eastern Michigan (NCAA I)|
|1,230||Dierks, Ark., (Dierks)||Will McLaughlin||Louisiana College (NCAA III)|
|1,233||Byers, Colo. (Byers)||Bobby Adamson||Ottawa (Kan.) (NAIA)|
|1,244||Camp Point, Ill.||Mitch Neikamp||Illinois College (NCAA III)|
|1,250||Gunter, Tex.||Travis Zambiani||Austin (Tex.), (NCAA III)|
|1,272||Chinook, Mont. (Chinook)||Adam Hayes||Crown (Minn.)(NCAA III)|
|1,276||New Sharon, Iowa (North Mahaska)||Brad Boyle||Coe (Iowa) (NCAA III)|
|1,341||Dawson, Minn. (Dawson-Boyd)||Josh Aakre||Bethel (Minn.) (NCAA III)|
Others/Interesting Town Names
|Population||Town (HS)||Player||Team Affiliation|
|1,979||Blooming Prairie, Minn. (Blooming Prairie)||Spencer Ohm||Concordia-St. Paul (NCAA II)|
|2,768||Eufaula, Okla. (Eufaula)***||Ethan Sharp||Central Oklahoma (NCAA II)|
|4,247||Muleshoe, Tex. (Muleshoe)||Wesley Wood||Eastern New Mexico (NCAA II)|
|4,393||Coldwater, Ohio (Coldwater)||Keith Wenning||Ball State (NCAA I)|
|4,745||Peculiar, Mo. (Raymore-Peculiar)||Carson Coffman||Kansas State (NCAA I)|
|4,989||Locust Grove, Ga. (Luella)||Cody Haffly||Wingate (NCAA II)|
|8,790||Mechanicsburg, Pa. (Mechanicsburg)||Zach Frazer||Connecticut (NCAA I)|
|9.741||Union, Mo. (Union)||Jordan Webb||Kansas (NCAA I)|
|***Eufaula is the home of ex-Sooner standouts J.C. Watts and Lucious, Lee Roy and Dewey Selmon|