There are programs in California familiar to not only the Pac-10, but also to fans and coaches all over the nation, for their winning ways and ability to consistently produce top talent. Long Beach Poly. De La Salle. Oaks Christian. St. Bonaventure.
Coaching is unquestionably a key factor in those programs' success. A coach who is building a program with a rising reputation in the "other" sunshine state back east is John Davis, now in his fifth year at Clearwater (Fla.) Countryside High School. The Cougars have become one of the most potent offenses on the west coast of Florida, also winning their last three district championships - including 2005 in their debut as a Class 5A competitor. Davis is renowned as an offensive and quarterbacks guru, sending a steady stream of his signal callers on to play college football. He coached his son, Jay Davis, to prep All-American honors at Clearwater Central Catholic. The younger Davis just finished his career at North Carolina State, starting 17 games in his final two years while following in the footsteps of famed Philip Rivers.
John Davis' wizardry took him next to Countryside, where he turned around a losing program and catapulted quarterback Harrison Beck to All-American numbers, Elite 11 status and a nationally contested recruitment that ended with Nebraska ahead of Florida, Florida State, Michigan and many others. In a county where wing-T offenses have long ruled the day, Davis has been a leading light in the new breed of passing attack. But the teacher has leaned upon his pupils to continue to evolve. With his two most recent and successful protégés at North Carolina State and Nebraska, Davis has not been shy about taking trips to Raleigh and Lincoln to learn from Chuck Amato and Bill Callahan - both of whom run West Coast offenses.
"I steal from the best of them. I pick their brains," the coach unabashedly admits. "If something is good out there, I try to take from that."
The continuing evolution of the Cougars' offense to its West Coast style now benefits L.D. Crow, the junior at Countryside who took the reins from Beck in 2005 and recorded a perfect 9-0 debut as a starter before injury ended his junior season. Crow is the next big thing to come from Davis' tutelage, though there are some interesting ironies when noting his strengths versus his statistics.
"He's a dropback passer. Six-foot-three and right at 215 pounds. He's very strong," Davis describes. "He's a dropback guy who has a very, very strong arm. He's very into conditioning and doing all the little things with nutrition and the weight room to make himself better."
"He throws the long ball very well, and he really zips it out on our short routes and three-step drops," the coach adds.
That description paints a picture of a quarterback with a cannon arm who would likely put up big passing yardage numbers and excel at the deep strike. Instead, Crow totaled 1,360 yards on 99 completions in his debut season as a starter last fall. That yardage is nothing to sneeze at, but it does not quite equate to the big arm that Crow possesses.
Where the junior signal caller most obviously excelled on the stat sheet is revealed in his 64.3% completion percentage. Or perhaps his 11 touchdowns versus just two interceptions on the year. Typical of a West Coast offensive quarterback, Crow was very efficient in moving his team down the field and made great decisions.
"He's a student of the game and studies very hard. He does a lot of film work," Davis says of his signal caller. "We try to adjust to the coverages we see. He's picking it up very well."
"He's very accurate," the coach continues. "We had a scrimmage already the other day, and I can't remember a bad throw he made. I think L.D.'s upside is huge."
... even though his passing numbers were not as gaudy as some of the other top quarterbacks in the 2007 recruiting class.
"There are some high school programs who throw every down. If the running game is working, we're going to stick with the running game. And if we have a big lead, L.D. is going to come out," Davis explains.
A somewhat typical game saw Crow throw 7-of-12 for 100 yards and a touchdown before halftime en route to a 38-8 win over Gibbs. He threw only twice in the second half, while Countryside running backs carried 44 times during the course of the game.
"We had three very good running backs last year and gave them the ball a lot," the Cougars' head coach says. "This year we are going to ask L.D. to throw some more."
While Crow will be passing the ball more in 2006, he will also continue to work on his game.
"Obviously he is working on his agility. Now he's not the fastest cat in the world, but he moves around the pocket very well," Davis offers. "He has a quick release and has some zing on the ball. If he goes to Stanford and Coach Harris gets his hands on him, he's going to really take off."
Throwing for better than 64% and more than a 5-to-1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions is sweet music to the ears of Walt Harris, especially when combined with Crow's 6'3" frame and big arm. The quarterback and the Pac-10 suitor know each other well, dating back to an unofficial visit to The Farm last June, and continuing with correspondence through the fall and winter. It was not a great surprise, then, when Stanford and Harris extended an offer to Crow two weeks ago.
"He has size, arm strength and arm speed. He's a great student. He's everything Stanford would want to look for," Davis praises. "The ball comes off his hand very well. Everyone who has come through [in May] who has seen him has liked him and pretty much offered. Stanford offered. Tulane came in and offered. Ole Miss - I'm pretty sure is going to offer. A lot more schools are still coming by."
Up next, we talk with Crow for his perspective on his quarterbacking abilities, as well as his outlook on Stanford and college recruiting.
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