Football is a year-round endeavor in northeast Florida. While a good portion of the country labored under a winter storm warning last week the Jaguars and 6 Points Quarterback Academy went to work under brilliant sunny skies and on the emerald, green grass at TIAA Bank Field with some of the best young quarterbacks in the area.
It's the second year of the collaboration between the Jaguars and their PREP program led by Jaguars Foundation Director Adriel Rocha and noted quarterback coach Denny Thompson's 6 Points Quarterback Academy.
"We expected it to grow, and I am still impressed by the turnout," said Thompson before the event began. "Adriel and his staff do an amazing job with the organization and execution of the event, and it has become a first-class event. It's humbling to be a small part of the team that is taking the lead in developing a skills challenge for the most popular position in all of sports. When Adriel approached me with the idea 13 months ago, I knew it would be well received. I'm excited to think where this could be next year and the years that follow."
Rocha conceived a camp modeled somewhat on those that charge for the chance to compete against the best football players in an area such as Rivals, Elite 11 and those held on college campuses. The Jaguars PREP program would be free and as Rocha saw it a door opener for those who couldn't travel or pay for a similar experience.
"I think a lot of the local athletes don't get that opportunity to go to New Orleans or to Miami or those (other) cities and they have to pay a registration fee," Rocha explained. "This allows them to come out here and compete against the top ones in the county and now in the state. It's been very rewarding."
More than 100 athletes, 18 of whom are girls, showed up to work on their skills and to challenge themselves against the best competition in Jacksonville including two considered the top prep quarterbacks in north Florida, Tramell Jones Jr. from Mandarin High School and Nease High School's Marcus Stokes.
"I'm feeling good, it's nice outside," Jones said. "I'm having fun seeing all the quarterbacks out here … we have a lot of quarterbacks here in Jacksonville. The competition in the class is great."
The players went through a number of drills and a skills competition and came away feeling like the day was as productive and informative as it was enjoyable.
"There's a lot of talent out here and it showed most definitely," Stokes said after the event. "There was a lot of good competition and a lot of different stuff for us to do to show our skills. I thought it was great. They organized it really well."
New Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson knows intimately where these players are in their careers. He was a high school and college quarterback and he spoke to the players about his journey through football to the NFL and how unlikely his story was when he was where they are.
"I was an undrafted free agent. I wasn't a first-round pick, and I wasn't the last guy taken in the draft," he told the players before the day began. "I had to work every single day to play 14 years in the National Football League. You can do it too. Don't let people tell you that you can't. Don't let people tell you that you're not good enough. You're not big enough, you're not strong enough. You just work hard every day and great things are in store for you."
You could see Pederson's message resonate with the high school quarterbacks, but it probably sounded deeper with the girls in the audience including Clay High's Dakota Hills who was the Female MVP of the event.
"I spoke to her and said, 'look around you, there are 18 girls here'," Rocha said of his conversation with Hills. "I know you were part of the only two that came in year one, but you were a part of something special. You're a trendsetter."
Rocha and his team are already planning for next year and as their support of football at the community level continues to grow with the Jaguars PREP program.
The Jacksonville Jaguars held their annual High School Quarterback Skills Challenge, which hosted over 130 quarterbacks from 4+ states, including Florida where over 30 counties were represented. Head Coach Doug Pederson, and current Jaguars players Jamal Agnew and Jordan Smith all made an appearance to meet with and talk to these young, incredible athletes. The event took place at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.