When Logan Byrd stepped to a line for a drill at a University of Georgia football camp this summer, Mike Bobo hollered to the Veterans High School quarterback to wait.
UGA’s offensive coordinator looked over at Jake Fromm, a quarterback from Houston County High School. Bobo knew Houston County and Veterans open the season against one another. So the coach thought the two could get an early start to the season.
“He said, ‘Week one, right here, let’s go,’ ” said Houston County head coach Von Lassiter, who was watching off to the side.
The two quarterbacks competed in a three-cone drill, which tests agility as players quickly weave through cones positioned in an L-shape.
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Who won? It depends on who you ask.
Lassiter said the two split the two runs of the drill.
Byrd smiled and said, “I won, I guess. We both competed well. I thought it was a great day for him as well as me.”
The drill, which marked the first time the two have met in an on-field competition, will be the first of many times they will be compared to each other the next two years. Byrd is a junior, while Fromm is entering his sophomore year.
By most measures, both quarterbacks are considered elite-level college recruits and each has scholarship offers from major colleges despite being an underclassman. North Carolina has offered a scholarship to both. Barring injuries, both will sign college scholarships with a major conference program when they become eligible to do so as seniors in high school, marking the first Middle Georgians to sign as quarterbacks with major colleges since 2006.
They’ll meet on the field Aug. 28 again when Veterans and Houston County play for the first time.
“When you have two guys like this, that are this close,” Lassiter said, “I think it’s natural that people will measure and compare them.”
BEFORE THE COMPETITION BEGINS
Before they became sought-after quarterbacks, Byrd and Fromm shared a baseball field.
They played for Warner Robins American Little League and competed on the all-star team that lost in the 11- to 12-year-old state finals to Columbus in 2010. Fromm, who missed the championship game with an injured hand, played for Warner Robins again the next year and helped lead the team to the U.S. quarterfinals of the Little League World Series.
“We played baseball together since we were little kids,” Fromm said. “He’s a great dude. He’s one of my good friends.”
Said Byrd, “I’m good friends with Jake. ... I guess you could say there’s a rivalry just because we’re both competitors and we both want to win.”
While Fromm was fresh off a trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the Little League World Series, Byrd prepared for his first preseason camp at Veterans in early 2012.
Byrd, who is about 6-foot-3 and fluctuates between 225 and 240 pounds, caught the eye of Veterans head coach David Bruce as an eighth-grader. Byrd is large for a high school linebacker, let alone a quarterback. His average playing size makes him bigger than 11 starting NFL quarterbacks.
“I didn’t think it was in his or our best interest to leave him with the ninth-grade team,” Bruce said. “I wanted to get him to develop quickly. ... Usually with a ninth-grader, I’m afraid for him physically, but shoot, he’s bigger than 75 percent of the guys out there as a ninth-grader. I wasn’t worried about that.”
Byrd split time with another quarterback early in his freshman season at Veterans. He eventually wrestled away the job and became the starter late in a season in which the Warhawks won just three of 10 games. Bruce wanted him to learn the job without a ton of pressure, expecting Byrd would grow into a potent weapon as a sophomore. The Warhawks won eight games and a region championship in 2013.
Fromm’s ascension followed a similar path.
Lassiter, a rookie head coach at Houston County in 2013, believed Fromm could help his team as a freshman. Fromm had plenty of tools: good size at 6-2 and 200 pounds, a strong arm and an ability to handle pressure after playing in front of thousands at the Little League World Series.
“I remember him shaking my hand firmly and saying ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir’ the first time I met him,” Lassiter said. “And then when I saw the ball come off his hand for the first time, I knew he could throw really well.”
The Bears already had a regular starter in Taylor Boyett, but Lassiter wanted Fromm to get action with the first team. He sat both quarterbacks down and discussed a plan to split time. Boyett, a senior, embraced the plan, Lassiter said, and the Bears developed a system to use both. Fromm’s progression was evident, and by the time the Bears played Warner Robins in mid-October, Lassiter saw Fromm’s promise emerge. The freshman took most of the snaps against the Demons, passing for 267 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-23 Houston County win. It was only the third time in 16 meetings the Bears have defeated the Demons, and the Bears ended up reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
“He’s one of the ones you dream about coaching,” Lassiter said.
COLLEGES START TO SHOW UP
The size and style of play of both Byrd and Fromm have enticed college coaches to regularly visit the seven-mile span between Houston County and Veterans.
Both have the height-weight combination of top college quarterbacks, although Byrd more resembles a high school defensive lineman or an NFL quarterback. They’re both honor roll students who can throw a football a long way accurately.
They project as prototypical dropback passers -- quarterbacks who rely on their arm and reading the defense more than scrambling around outside of the pocket, an area directly behind the offensive line. Many high school and college offenses utilize a running quarterback who presents a run or pass option.
The dwindling number of dropback quarterbacks in the country makes Byrd and Fromm more appealing to the offenses that do want that type of quarterback. Schools like Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee still feature offenses centered around traditional dropback passing quarterbacks.
Only 12 dropback quarterbacks in Georgia have signed with major conference powers in the past five years. That included zero in both 2011 and 2014, when only dual-threat quarterbacks signed with large programs. The most recent Middle Georgia player to sign with a major college to play quarterback was Peach County’s Antonio Henton, who signed with Ohio State in 2006 as a dual-threat quarterback.
Byrd has more than 10 offers, including Duke, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, and is listed by ESPN as the 18th best quarterback prospect in the nation in the class of 2016. He believes he will pick a program before the start of his senior season.
Fromm has offers from Cincinnati, Marshall and North Carolina. He is one of only 14 sophomore quarterbacks in the nation with a scholarship offer and one of only five with more than two offers, according to the recruiting service Rivals.com. Marshall offered Fromm after watching just a few throws during an unscheduled visit during the spring.
Interest figures to pick up.
Central Florida, which played in the Fiesta Bowl and finished last season ranked in the top 10, sent its defensive coordinator to Houston County’s spring practice. Central Florida’s quarterback Blake Bortles was the second pick in the 2014 NFL draft, so the Golden Knights have a proven pedigree in developing quarterbacks.
“The Fromm kid can run, too; he’s an athlete,” Bruce said. “I’ve watched some film on him. Just going to be a sophomore, but he’s pretty salty. He’s got great instincts. He’s going to be a handful.”
While the interest level is already high on the two quarterbacks, both remain works in progress with a collective five high school seasons ahead of them. They will assume larger workloads and more responsibility this season.
Both quarterbacks enter the 2014 season with confidence, which might be the most important trait for a quarterback to possess, Bruce said.
They also have one another to measure their growth, and they both said they’ll use their counterpart for motivation.
“We have a lot to learn,” Fromm said. “Everything will work out in the end. But Aug. 28 can’t get here fast enough.”