Quarterback Guru: Steve Clarkson

Morley Safer interviews the "QB Guru" who says the new norm to get to the NFL as a quarterback starts with a tutor like him training kids as young as 8

 The following is a script from "Quarterback Guru" which aired on Dec. 22, 2013. Morley Safer is the correspondent. Jonathan Schienberg, producer.

Quarterbacks: the superheroes of America’s favorite pastime: watching football. Chances are, you were just watching a game, and throughout, your eyes were fixed on the quarterbacks, those cool commanders of the gridiron. You fathers out there might have been dreaming about what might have been, but your sons, even the toddlers, would have been dreaming about future glory.

 Tonight, we meet the man who sometimes makes their dreams come true – Steve Clarkson, quarterback guru, the man parents of  8 and 9 year olds turn to -- and despite the obvious dangers of the game -- spend tens-of-thousands of dollars seeking the magic touch that’s sent more than 25 Clarkson quarterbacks to the NFL. He’s so successful, that college recruiters are offering football scholarships to some of his students, some as young as 13.

Coach: One, two, three, Steelers!

It all starts here—in the pee-wee leagues. These mini-monsters games are the NFL in miniature—from cheerleaders to bone crunching tackles.

Travis 2.jpg
Travis Endicott
CBS News
 Nine-year-old quarterback Travis Endicott, one of  Steve Clarkson’s newest students. If he’s good enough by the ripe old age of 12, he may be offered a Division 1 college football scholarship.

Morley Safer: Are they looking at 7, 8 year olds, 9 year olds?

Steve Clarkson: You know, without question, it has happened. And, that's the new line, so to speak.

Morley Safer: The new normal?

Steve Clarkson: The new normal.

[Clarkson at San Diego training camp: A little faster now. Be a little more comfortable. Spin it!]

These wannabee Peyton Mannings are inspired by their professors – Clarkson’s alumni -- a roster of NFL quarterbacks who spend part of their off-season dishing out expertise to an awestruck platoon of undergraduates. 

Steve Clarkson: My biggest success stories are the guys that come back whether it's Ben Roethlisberger or Matt Leinart, Jimmy Clausen, Josh Freeman, or Jake Locker. They all come back and they participate and they help take these kids and share their experiences, as to what it was like when they were, you know, 10, 11, 12, 13 years old.

 Twelve-year-old Aaron McLaughlin is one of Clarkson’s promising new prospects.

[Clarkson doing drills on Franklin Field with McLaughlin - Clarkson: Good. You were able to step completely square , closed off, so that back hip catches what? That front leg, and then you finish square to your target.

McLaughlin: Stay… four, five.

Clarkson: Well done!]

Aaron’s father Craig McLaughlin takes his son from Atlanta to Los Angeles once a month for private lessons –

[Clarkson: It should be continuous. When I get to here, you see how tight I kept this. And I stayed right up on top, and I’m here.]

At $400 an hour -- apart from the inherent dangers of football -- it’s a risky investment. There’s only a six percent chance of making a college football team. And then, only eight in 10,000 will make it to the pros.

Morley Safer: Whose idea was it to bring-- Clarkson into your lives?

Craig McLaughlin: That was actually my idea. My son is now going into the 6th grade and he had always shown talent in his position as a quarterback, but I really wanted to understand how talented he was and get someone that had national exposure and the experience that Steve has with quarterbacks and see how Aaron evaluated.

Morley Safer: And how much of a change have you noticed in your talents since you started with him?

Aaron McLaughlin: I've noticed a big change. I've been throwing the ball better. I've been-- my footwork has been better. I used to kinda trip myself when I'd do drops. I haven't done that at all.

Morley Safer: It’s a major financial commitment for you and your family, correct?

Craig McLaughlin: Correct. I don't know what the future has to hold-- but the one thing is-- is that he's gonna know that his parents, when he set his mind to something, we believe in him. And he’s gonna have that sense of confidence.

That sense of confidence that inspires parents and kids has a lot to do with the college scholarship offers that Clarkson’s orchestrated for 7th and 8th graders.

Last year, Clarkson secured a scholarship offer from the University of Washington for 14-year-old Tate Martell.

Tate Martell: My goal was always to try to get a scholarship. And when it came, I was just shocked.

Morley Safer: How long is it that you wanted to be a big-time quarterback?

Tate Martell: I'd talk about the NFL when I was, like, 4 years old. I guess I'd run around my house-- I see pictures a me running around my house in a 49ers helmet butt naked.

That naked passion eventually led Tate’s parents, to seek out Clarkson.

Morley Safer: How did it affect your game?

Tate Martell: Oh, I've improved in, like, massive ways-- especially my ability to like play consistently throughout the game, especially, like, in the fourth quarter, being able to throw the same way in the first like I do in the fourth.

Morley Safer: When you got this offer you weren't even in high school yet, correct?

Tate Martell: I was going into 8th grade.

Morley Safer: A lot of people are gonna be dismayed to hear that 13 year olds, even 12 year olds are being considered.

Steve Clarkson: Well, because of the way training is nowadays, you're talkin' about kids now that perform their-- or practice their craft 12 months out of the year. If you're playing the quarterback position, you pretty much have to dedicate yourself, you know, 10, 11, 12 months out of the year, because your competition is doing that.

It may be a man’s game, but the mommas are just as passionate as the poppas. Pamela Poe’s son M.C. Poe is a junior, and starting quarterback for Cathedral High School in Los Angeles - an NFL size squad with 16, repeat 16, coaches.

Morley Safer: Do you worry about him when he’s on the field?

Pamela Poe: I’m his mom, of course I do. That’s why I tell him he’s gotta have speed and get outta the way.

Two years ago, Ms. Poe sent her son from Nashvile to Los Angeles to live with the Clarkson family.

Morley Safer: A lot of mothers are gonna look at you and say, you know, "What gives with her?" I mean, the dangers of the game-- after all, it's only a game. And, isn't it a bit excessive?

Pamela Poe: This is a passion that M.C. has had. And when I have a child that had the opportunity to come out to California and train to develop himself into being a better quarterback, I do not feel that it was excessive because it was what-- it was the right thing for M.C.

Morley Safer: But what people might find excessive is you took him out of school and sent him to California to live with Steve.

Pamela Poe: M.C.'s a different child. Here he is, 14 years old, left his family, his brothers, his friends, but he knew he wanted to do this. He was that driven. That’s the kinda child MC is.

M.C. still trains with Clarkson every week. And his mother still flies in from Nashville for most of his games. Clarkson is confident M.C. will get a Divison 1 scholarship offer.

One of Clarkson’s premiere students who’s already received a scholarship offer is 17-year-old Brady White. White is ranked among the top 100 high school quarterbacks in the country. Under those Friday night lights, Clarkson shuttles between his students games.

Steve Clarkson: Brady is a once in a lifetime kid. His skill set is really one of the best I've seen.

Morley Safer: Music to your ears, right?

Andrea White: Right it's, you know, it's a dream to hear that. And you hope that it's-- that it comes true. Steve's a lotta the reason why Brady has mechanics and the talent and the passion that he does.

Andrea and Deron White, Brady’s parents, are Clarkson-faithful.

Morley Safer: But this is a dangerous game and the QB always has a target on his chest, right?

Deron White: Driving down the street's a dangerous event in California as well. So, how many people get to play and start at quarterback in high school and then go onto college and play in front of millions of fans, in front of TV and the environment and—

Andrea White: Doing what they love.

Deron White:  --yeah, that's a dream come true.

[Clarkson: Here we go… now we’re getting somewhere. Nice shot.]

Clarkson’s job is to feed the football machine with a new crop of dreamers. It’s a well-oiled machine of camps and clinics, where you can learn fancy footwork and an exotic language.

Clarkson: We didn’t see it. Now he takes another three, and hit it in the second window.

Kids scrimage.jpg
 He teaches 40 or 50 kids at a time – employing a routine of skills and drills from proper poses, to pirouettes – all in the name of perfecting the pass.

[Clarkson teaches kids on field -- Clarkson: Woooo… That’s it, spin it!]

And he briefs parents on the risky road to stardom.

Steve Clarkson: They’re gonna read about their son. They're gonna go to a game and they're gonna hear awful things about their son. Like, I remember my dad telling me one time I was so bad at a game at Fresno State, and I threw five interceptions, he had to boo, too, just so that he wouldn't get beat up. So, yeah, I know it’s tough.

[Clarkson teaching class in locker room – Clarkson: We call this a single high beater.]

That first-hand knowledge of failure, led Clarkson to success as a teacher.

Steve Clarkson: When I started this business, there was nobody that did this. There were tennis coaches. There were batting coaches. There are pitching coaches. But there was never a quarterback coach. It was not just teaching the art of quarterbacking but it was also kind of a creative marketing, like how do you take this guy and make him a star?

[Clarkson at UCLA Univ. of Washington game on sidelines – Clarkson: What’s goin’ on man?]

Starmaking through college connections. College coaches like Steve Sarkisian, a Clarkson graduate, and new head coach at USC, want to know about his newest batch of talent. In Clarkson’s 25 year of training, over 100 of his clients have made it as Division 1 college or NFL quarterbacks.

"When I started this business, there was nobody that did this. There were tennis coaches. There were batting coaches. There are pitching coaches. But there was never a quarterback coach."

Clarkson was one of the nation’s top quarterbacks at San Jose State, but just couldn’t make it to the NFL. So he went into the guru business. And word soon spread about his success, parents across the country sought him out. Among them, Joe Montana, who sent his two sons to the Clarkson camp. That’s some endorsement.

 But some NFL fathers aren’t so keen about football for kids period. Bart Scott, a CBS sports network analyst played for 11 years as an NFL linebacker, and was a quarterback’s worst nightmare.

[NFL footage of Bart Scott sacking QB Ben Roethlisberger - Announcer: Roethlisberger goes down! And what a violent hit Ben took.]

Morley Safer: One of your prime jobs, was to get-- to sack the quarterback.

Bart Scott: Inflict pain. That was my job description.

Morley Safer: Well you sure inflicted pain on Ben Roethlisberger. That kind of determination to "inflict pain," as you say, does that apply to kids' football as well?

Bart Scott: Of course, especially. You know, I remember when I was a kid, I started playing football when I was eight years old. You know, we used to come back and show the opposing teams colors that, you know, that had rubbed off on our helmets, meaning that we had really hit 'em really good. It was a badge of honor.

Scott had no interest in that badge of honor for his son. He went on the record saying he didn’t want his kid playing football.

Morley Safer: So how can you let your kid play football?

Bart Scott: You know what? You know, I didn't want my son to play football. But when my son wanted to play and his mother signed him up what I decided to do was become the football coach so I can make sure that he's been taught the proper techniques to defend his self, to protect his self.

What worries parents most is the risk of brain injuries. Nevertheless, as these “high school’s hardest hits” videos show. The kids themselves don’t hold back.

Beyond the dangers of the game, Scott worries about the impact of big college football’s latest recruiting tactic: get ‘em while they’re young.

Bart Scott: Universities and people who are in that business will stop at anything to make a profit. You know, everybody wants to be ahead of the curve. I remember the kid Tyson Jackson I believe outta LSU received a scholarship when he was born because he was a 10-pound-baby. I’m like really, how, do you know this kid doesn’t have two-left feet?

Actually it was a 15-pound baby named Herman Johnson. The scholarship offer may be a myth, but Johnson did grow up to become a 400-pound-guard – with a scholarship from LSU. But your football scholarship is just about as rare as your 15-pound baby,

And Clarkson may love the game, but...

[San Diego training camp – Miller Moss: Set, hike!]

Morley Safer: This is a very tough racket?

Steve Clarkson: There's no question it's tough. But it's no different than from the-- the person that wants to be an actor. You know, they go to school for that and chances are they're gonna be serving coffee at Starbucks or someplace.

Morley Safer: Do you prepare them for disappointment?

Steve Clarkson: You don't ever really prepare for disappointment. I think what you try to do is you're preparing them for multiple choices, so that you know-- hey, look, you're always taught as a quarterback, "We go to the line of scrimmage and we'r-- we see one thing but we have to be prepared to change the play."

  • Morley Safer

    Morley Safer’s distinctive style and the broad range of his much-honored work have made him a giant in broadcast journalism and a mainstay of 60 Minutes since 1970.

60 Minutes App

New Look. New Season. The 60 Minutes app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch!

More from 60 Minutes