The Stubby Kid and the Quarterback Guru

LancasterOnline | Mike Gross | Sports Writer Sep 27, 2018


In 2018, “personal quarterback coach,’’ is a career path.

Thirteen years ago, “I was one of the only guys around doing the quarterback thing,’’ Jim Cantafio said Monday.

For over a decade now, kids with Peyton Manning dreams and gung-ho dads have been coming to Cantafio to help perfect the art and craft of the most important position on the football field.

Wisconsin’s current QB, Alex Hornibrook, is a Cantafio guy. So are Maryland’s Kasim Hill and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett.

One kid from New Jersey, and his Dad, started showing up in 2005 at Cantafio’s Susquehanna Valley Sports camps, mostly in Lancaster County. They took “all-in,’’ to another level.

The kid was Dwayne Haskins.

“We also did a lot of one-on-ones, and he would have me critique him (on video) all the time,’’ Cantafio said.

“When he came to the camps, his dad was always there with a video camera. He came over and asked my assessment, and he’d film what I said.’’

Haskins was very skilled, and according to Cantafio, “his work ethic was off the charts.’’

There were other, harder to define things that set Haskins apart.

“He was a lovable kid and a likable kid,’’ Cantafio said. “The kind that other people gravitate to. He was stylish, always had matching sweatbands, matching colors in his gear. From age eight, he played the role of the quarterback he was destined to be.’’

One problem. “He was just this short, stubby kid, even for his age,’’ Cantafio said. “As an athlete, it was hard to see it.’’

Everything changed when Haskins’ body did, in eighth grade. He’s now 6-3, 220, and the tangibles appear as off-the-charts as the intangibles.

“The transformation,’’ Cantafio said, “was hard to believe.’’

“Haskins’ dad, whom Cantafio called “a little crazy, but in a good way,” started considering his son’s next step that summer. They looked at Cedar Cliff, (but balked, Cantafio says, at the knowledge that Cantafio likely wouldn’t be there for four years) and at Coatesville, among many schools in the Mid-Atlantic region, before settling on the Bullis School in Potomac, Md.

Penn State recruited Haskins, but James Franklin admitted Tuesday that, “I did see the video that came out when he was like eight years old in the Ohio State locker room. We probably weren't going to win that battle.’’

Last year, as a true freshman, Haskins came off the bench, due to an injury to QB J. T. Barrett, into the maelstrom of the Buckeyes’ mega-rivalry with Michigan.

Ohio State was trailing, 20-14 in the third quarter. Haskins completed six of seven passes and had a 22-yard TD run. Ohio State won, 31-20.

“He’s not going to be blown away by a big-time atmosphere,’’ Cantafio said.

Now a sophomore, Haskins has become a Heisman Trophy candidate in four college starts. He has compelled Ohio State coach Urban Meyer to drastically change his offense and build around a drop-back QB, really for the first time in his 17 years as a head coach.

That offense has rolled to 55 points and 599 yards per game, making Haskins a central figure in Saturday’s drama in Happy Valley.

Cantafio has been doing this for 34 colorful years, as a head high school coach (Conestoga Valley, Cedar Cliff, Wilson), a student and teacher of quarterbacking and now offensive coordinator at Coatesville High.

He hasn’t had an apprentice quite like this.

“His composure in incredible,’’ he said. “He stands in there with confidence, and his accuracy is phenomenal. He’s a Tom Brady type - and he’s probably a better athlete than Tom Brady was at this age.’’

Cantafio didn’t have a prediction for Saturday. More of a warning.

“If you let Tom Brady set in the pocket, you lose,’’ he said. “I feel the same way about Dwayne. For Penn State to have any chance, it has to rattle him, and that isn’t easy to do.’’

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