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Quarterback Coach Can Turn Kids Into Star Players

LOS ANGELES ( — Steve Clarkson grew up in the Los Angeles neighborhood of El Sereno wanting to be an NFL quarterback.

He recalls sitting in the nosebleed seats of the Los Angeles Coliseum with his father and watching the L.A. Rams in 1968.

"I remember we were at the top of the Coliseum, and I could see planes landing," Clarkson said. "This is such a great seat. You can see the game, you can see downtown, you can see the ocean, and I just thought, those poor saps down there, they don't know how good we have it here," he added.

Clarkson first tried out for Pop Warner football when we was 9. However, the 99-pound weight limit prohibited the 109-pound Clarkson from joining without losing 10 pounds.

His mom wouldn't let him quit, however.

"You're going to run up the hill, and I'm going to follow you in the car," his mom would tell him.

"It was a 1965 Chevy Impala, and she's following me up the hill, and I'm running and dogs are chasing and I'm running faster," Clarkson added.

Eventually, he was named the starting quarterback at Wilson High School in Los Angeles, where he got to play under legendary coach Vic Cuccia.

"Vic was a showman, and he coached literally from the aspect of entertainment. Any time we had a three-touchdown lead at halftime, we would come out with a different uniform for the second half," Clarkson said.

Clarkson notes that Cuccia mentored him in not just football but in the classroom and in life as well.

After graduating high school, Clarkson earned a scholarship from San Jose State, where he went on to be the quarterback under coach Jack Elway.

Clarkson said of Elway: "One of the things that I picked up was that I had this fascination with the quarterback position, and he had me study all these great quarterbacks all the way from the '30s and '40s, and even write reports about what I saw."

After being passed on by the NFL after his time at San Jose State, Clarkson was ultimately signed by the Denver Broncos but failed to make the squad when the team traded for quarterback John Elway.

He did spend two years in the Canadian Football League playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Clarkson would walk away from football and become a successful manager at the chain restaurant, Black Angus.

He began managing in 1986 and ultimately was in charge of 18 Black Angus restaurants over the next two years before he received a phone call that would change his life.

A guy called him saying that he had heard that Clarkson was interested in coaching, but Clarkson replied, "One, I don't know how you got my number. and two, I'm not interested in coaching. I work about 85 hours a week doing what I do."

It wasn't until later that Clarkson found out that his Aunt Rosa had answered an advertisement in the Santa Monica Post on Clarkson's behalf.

Clarkson agreed to meet the man's son and ultimately coach him. That man's son was Perry Klein, and became a quarterback at UC Berkeley and for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

Klein's father gave him some advice that would mold the young coach's career for years to come. The father said that while they have all these tennis coaches, golf coaches, batting coaches and pitching coaches, they don't have a quarterbacks coach.

Clarkson took the advice to heart, and in 1988, started the first-ever Quarterback Academy for kids 8 and up.

Nearly 30 years later, Clarkson has been responsible for shepherding many young quarterbacks, some of whom received college scholarships as young as 13, off to the universities and colleges of their dreams.

Many have even made it to the NFL, such as former USC quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Matt Cassel, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Others, like current USC football coach Steve Sarkisian, didn't quite make it all the way to the NFL.

Clarkson remembers breaking the news to Sarkisian's father that the young Steve did not quite have the size to be an NFL talent.

"He asked me what I thought, and I said I don't think he's got a career in the NFL, but I do think he's got skills but he's not very big. He's exceptionally smart, and I found that these guys probably make the best coaches."

Clarkson said that Sarkisian's father didn't talk to him for two months after the conversation.

"The one thing that we're realistic on is that these kids should not come here expecting to play on Sunday. They should come here expecting to go to college and that springboard them into some other aspect of life."

One of Clarkson's current students, Max Gilliam, has just began his senior year at Thousand Oaks High School and has received an offer from Berkeley.

Parents pay upwards of $650 a month for Clarkson's expertise and coaching.

"I didn't know much about football, but I watched how he treated my son and I watched how he spoke to my son. I was really impressed with him," said Heather Gilliam, Max's mother.

Clarkson's own son, Pierce, is an aspiring quarterback, but when it comes to safety concerns, he argues the only way to avoid injury is to not play at all.

"I have a different perspective, now with what we know about concussions and things of that nature," Clarkson said.

"I only have one goal for my kids in any sport, I just say, I want them to walk out of the game they walked in. And if I get that, it was a great game. Anything else is icing on the cake because at the end of the day, it's a game, but it shouldn't be your life", he added.

He also advises that kids cross-train at an early age, rather than focus in on just one sport.

"When you overwork the same muscles over and over again, that's when you start to have those types of injuries that will actually shorten your career, without question."

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