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The future is now

Pre-teen prodigy at quarterback growing up fast

Posted: Saturday September 29, 2007 1:56AM; Updated: Sunday September 30, 2007 3:20AM
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David Sills, 11, has attended seven football camps all over the country this year.
David Sills, 11, has attended seven football camps all over the country this year.
Photo courtesy of Mark Owens
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David Sills is being hailed as one of the greatest quarterback prospects ever.

If you haven't heard of him yet, it's understandable. He just turned 11.

"I know he's young but there's always an exception. He's the exception," says Steve Clarkson, who runs the Air 7 Quarterback University, a national camp for quarterbacks. "By no means would I recommend this for ten-year olds, but he's a special case."

Sills isn't hard to spot on a crowded football field, filled with top high school prospects.

"He's the little one slinging passes to guys twice his size," says a family friend sitting in the bleachers, pointing at the pint-sized quarterback.

While Sills may be shortest and youngest player on the field, he isn't intimidated by the players around him. He licks his fingers and barks out instructions at the line of scrimmage before lofting a perfectly placed pass in the corner of the end zone.

"This kid is on his way to being the greatest high school recruited quarterback ever," says Clarkson, who has been training Sills for the past two years. "He is really going to be something special."

Clarkson should know. He has been tutoring quarterbacks for over 20 years and his private roster of clients include Matt Leinart, Ben Roethlisberger, J.P. Losman and Jimmy Clausen, who entered Notre Dame this fall as one of the most hyped quarterback prospects in recent memory.

"Physically, you can't even compare him with anyone else his age," says Clarkson. "Mentally, he's probably right in the middle of where a high school kid is. A lot of times when we're in our big group lessons, he's leading the exercise. He's giving guys direction."

Sills, who is in the fifth grade, showed off his football acumen during one of Clarkson's camps in Pittsburgh this summer when he got up in front of a room of 300 and began diagramming plays.

"It was an amazing sight to see," says Clarkson. "I'm sure some people were like, 'That smart Alec kid,' but there's no place where he's gone where he wasn't the talk of the camp."

Clarkson will usually fly from his home in Pasadena to tutor Sills at his home in Wilmington, Delaware about twice a month and Sills will travel to Clarkson whenever he is holding a camp. He has attended seven this year alone in cities ranging from Pittsburgh, Chicago and Seattle to Piscataway, Danbury and San Marino.

"They treat me the same," says Sills of his high school teammates at the camp. "They treat me just like I'm a regular kid playing football. They don't really talk about [my age] that much."

David Sills IV, the quarterback's father, won't say how much he has spends on his son's football education only saying, "It's fair to say that with the traveling back and forth, it's expensive." Clarkson generally tutors about a half dozen clients at a time, charging around $3,000 plus expenses to be flown in for one evaluation. After agreeing to coach the prospective student, he charges an additional $1,000 per four-hour lesson. Quarterbacks that attend the Air 7 camps pay $1,400 for four days of training.

"I'm not really a money-driven person," says Sills IV, a commercial developer and contractor. "It's not like I want to keep it and hoard it. If I can help [my children] achieve their goals, then why not? What else am I going to do with it? This is part of his growing up experience. Hopefully I won't have to pay for college someday."

Initially Clarkson, 45, didn't want to take on Sills. While working with Leinart prior to the NFL Draft two years ago, Clarkson continued to get phone calls from Sills IV before he finally called him back and said he would take a look at his son after he was done with Leinart's program.

"I was still very leery because I had not worked with a kid at this age before," says Clarkson, who was coached by Jack Elway, John Elway's father, and Dennis Erickson while he was a quarterback at San Jose State. "He had just turned 10, so he was really nine going on 10. I thought I could use this as sort of an experiment for myself to find out just how much information I can throw at a kid this young and how much he will retain."

Clarkson, who has coached about 25 Division I-A starting quarterbacks, was shocked with how much information Sills was able to retain and how many plays he was able to carry out on the field and agreed to take him on as a student. "He's studying far beyond his years at what he'll ever see at his level. Basically, it's like taking trig when you're in basic math," says Clarkson. "For him to be able to define the concepts and apply them is truly remarkable."

While Sills has received advice from the like of Norm Chow and Joe Montana during his training and has been lauded by coaches who have come to see him in action, he hasn't let the newfound attention get to his head. If he ever does he has his mother, Denise, and his two older sisters, Emma, 15, and Abby, 12, to put him in check.

As Sills prepares to leave the football field after practice, his sisters tell him to hurry up so they can leave after he finishes the first photo shoot of his young career. As puts his cleats in his bag his mother comes up to him and says, "Now, remember David. You're no different than anyone else."

"I know mom," he says as he slings his gym bag over his shoulder. "I know." "

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