High school is the next step. "Go back to our generation," said John McKay of USC. "In high school there was one coach. He went from football to basketball to baseball and then maybe track. Now they've got a man for each sport with others helping out. You'll find a large number of high schools with six, seven, even eight football assistants.
"Each year the high school player becomes more skilled, more seasoned and more imbued with the little nuances of the game," McKay continued. "They've specialized through three or four years on offense or on defense. Last Saturday night my son's team threw 44 passes. You know they aren't going to throw that many passes unless they have someone to throw that well and someone to catch them."
"The young athletes we are getting today are better." said Frank Broyles of Arkansas, "because they've been platooned at the skilled positions all the way back through high school. Even in Arkansas the quarterbacks and wide receivers play as specialists in high school. By the time a quarterback is ready to play for us, he's already had six years or so of special training. Until recently, he played both ways in high school, his team never threw the ball and we never found out who could pass until we'd had a boy two or three years."
Arkansas' Bill Montgomery broke in as a sophomore a year ago. Was Broyles apprehensive? "Sure," he admits. "But not as much as I once would have been."
"The sophomore quarterback is playing now because that's what you bear down on in recruiting," said Shug Jordan. "When you get six or eight of the top ones out of high school, you've got the best athletes at those schools, generally. And when one emerges from that kind of a crowd, he's usually pretty outstanding."
"A Terry Hanratty, a Mike Phipps or a Rex Kern have so much natural talent that you can't deny them a starting role," said Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian, who started Hanratty as a sophomore in 1966. "There's no doubt at all that today's sophomores are better. They still make mistakes. But their skills override their errors."
"It's how good they can throw," said John Ralston of Stanford. "Not how old they are."
Or, as Charlie Tate put it: "My lands these boys spend so much time watching Joe Namath on television, by the time they get to college they're whip smart. My three boys are playing junior ball. When I was little, we knew everybody's batting average in the big leagues. But now it's all football. I mean, they're so sophisticated."