ATLANTA — No experience required.
Jalen Hurts came within a single second of leading Alabama to a national championship in his freshman season. Now, Jake Fromm is on the cusp of a title in his first year at Georgia.
Long gone are the days when a young quarterback needed to ride the bench for a season or two, getting up to speed on a college system much more intricate than what he ran in high school.
Even the most successful programs in the land are willing to turn their offense over to an 18-year-old as soon as he steps on campus.
Hurts and Fromm are the most prominent examples of the potential rewards far outweighing the ever-dwindling risks.
“There’s a completely different mindset now about playing young players,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban said.
Jamelle Holieway remains the only true freshman quarterback to lead a team to the national title in the modern era, taking over at Oklahoma in 1985 after Troy Aikman was injured.
Hurts came achingly close a year ago, when Alabama lost to Clemson 35-31 on a last-second touchdown pass in the championship game. Fromm has a chance to match Holieway’s feat on Monday night, but he’ll have to get by Hurts – a grizzled ol’ sophomore this time around – when the Bulldogs (13-1) meet the Crimson Tide (12-1) in an all-Southeastern Conference title game.
Saban points to an increased emphasis on passing games and spread offenses at the high school level, which has fast-forwarded the development of top quarterback prospects.
“They’re not coming up in some hand-the-ball-off I-formation,” he said. “Their knowledge and experience is a lot greater than maybe in old-fashioned football.”
Fromm threw for 12,745 yards and 116 touchdowns during his four years at Houston County High School in central Georgia, a football hotbed that prepared him well for what he would face with the Bulldogs.
“We would throw it 30, 40 times, even 50 times, as many times as it took,” he remembered. “The college offense is a little more wordy. But the passing schemes and the coverages and all that, it’s just about all the same. At the end of the day, one guy’s running a route, if he’s open, you throw it to him. It’s not too hard.”
Of course, that’s overlooking all the hard work Fromm put in – Hurts, too – to get to this moment.
“He came in early most mornings during the offseason to throw in quarterback drills,” said Von Lassiter, who was Fromm’s high school coach. “In season, he came in and went to class, but after lunch he was with the football coaches for the rest of the day. He would watch video, lift weights, we fed ’em, and then we practiced. Then he watched video afterward.”
During the summers, Fromm and his teammates traveled around the state to compete in highly competitive 7-on-7 leagues, a mostly passing version of touch football that has become increasingly popular, allowing prep quarterbacks to further hone their passing skills.
It seems inevitable that a freshman quarterback will be celebrating a national championship sometime in the very near future.
It almost happened last season. It could happen Monday night.