Spring Break(out) for Guarantano?
The steady instruction followed by the simple phrase, "nice shot" and it happened again and again.
It happens fairly often when you work with famed quarterback guru George Whitfield. Just like he does every spring, the heavily-revered Whitfield is working with a group of college quarterbacks in San Diego while they spend their spring breaks thinking slants and skinny posts over sand and sun.
"I'm always taken aback when youngsters say they would rather come out to San Diego and work on footwork or motion and train as opposed to Cancun or Cabo," Whitfield said. "These guys only get a week and only so much limited time off."
That's where you find Tennessee redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano this week. It's the only kind of sweat and sacrifice that he knows. And after a long fall knowing he wouldn't play, it's game on with spring practice set to kick off next week.
"The first thing that Jarrett told me was I have to earn the job, and then No. 2 was I have to be able to contribute so we can win," Whitfield said. "Just clear cut goals. Him being the youngest out here has been good for him."
It's not the first time Whitfield has been around Guarantano. They have seen each other several times over the last few years, and each time, Whitfield grows more impressed by the New Jersey native.
"I personally think he could have made the Elite 11 as a junior," Whitfield said. "Obviously it's an all senior event and that's how talented he was then. Then he comes back and makes the Elite 11 as a senior, so we have been around each other in spurts the last couple of seasons. This is our longest concentration of time.
"I like that he has a really quiet mind. He doesn't rattle and he doesn't expire. I love his mindset and it allows him to set in and stay after it."
Guarantano threw for just over 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns during his high school career. During his senior season, he's completed 69% of his passes as his Bergen Catholic team played state powers from Ohio, New Jersey and the IMG Academy from Bradenton, Florida. Whitfield has worked with the best of the best and he has full faith in Guarantano.
"One of the biggest arms in college football," Whitfield said. "I don't think people really understand and they won't know what is coming when they see it this fall. He can get in there and win the job. When he gets out on the field, every man here has been watching. It's like every time he sets up to throw, even the other quarterbacks want to look over and make sure they didn't miss it. He is the prototype of what you want going into the SEC. With all that legendary strength and quickness and how all of those defenders shrink the field, you need someone who can equal that out and he is that in spades. You will have to guard the depth and width of the field against the Vols going forward."
As the week progresses, Whitfield puts each quarterback through more and more. It's a small window of time and the tutorial is action packed. It's about shaving milliseconds and inches off footwork, steps, arm angles and progressions. The smallest of improvement can make a world of difference. Then later in the week, it's about taking great and turning it into magical.
"Toward the back of the week we are going to work on his touch," Whitfield said. "Touch, back shoulder throws and some of the artistic type/surgical elements of playing the position. The power side he has."
Whitfield has worked with former Vol starters Justin Worley and Joshua Dobbs in the past. He believes that Guarantano can only build on what those two accomplished.
"Jarrett is further along," Whitfield said. "That's the physical side. We will see where he is from decision making when he is out there on the field. I think Josh Dobbs was one of the best quarterbacks over the last four or five years from the intangibles and his ability to battle. That will be known in Knoxville going forward. The model of quarterback is going to be a little more high power than what it has been there in some time. They are going to have the chance to call more plays and the perimeter guys are going to have a chance to get down field and be more involved. It's going to be pretty exciting."
Guarantano has put on weight this off-season as he prepares for what he believes will be his first season as the starter. He isn't done in that regard, and that's where Whitfield sees him only getting better.
"I don't think he is into the final state of his athleticism," Whitfield said. "He is going to have another 15 or 20 pounds coming and he is going to change to a bigger model. I think he is a combination of arm power wise, Cardale Jones or Logan Thomas and athletically he is as good as any of the guys we have seen. The real challenge is when the lights come on Saturday night. Certainly we will all be watching to see what he can generate going forward."
So back to the beginning, where Guarantano told Whitfield he has to earn that job. That won't be easy as he battles Quinten Dormady for the starting gig. And if he does secure that post, a proud Whitfield will be watching this fall. After all, he has learned over time that being a small piece to a large puzzle can feel pretty good.
"I was told when I was 21 or 22 when I was still playing that you can't fathom life without going into a locker room or a huddle with your helmet on," Whitfield said. "That feeling is hard to match, but when you get a chance to become part of someone's journey, whether it's for a few weeks or a few years like (Johnny) Manziel and I or James (Winston), it's special. People don't see the hard work behind the scenes. They don't see the progression of learning to make a throw or the lack of a false step. You just store it away and you grin because you know that tool is on his tool belt. When the season plays out and you see it, you are beaming."