MANHATTAN BEACH — On the first night of the Elite 11 finals, when asked what he was hoping to show this week while competing amongst the top Class of 2022 quarterbacks in the country, USC commit Devin Brown had a simple answer.
“Just that I belong,” he had said Wednesday night.
After four days of competition and drills, Brown left no doubt of that.
While Clemson QB commit Cade Klubnik was ultimately named the Elite 11 MVP, Brown created steady buzz throughout the week and was consistently ranked among the top five competitors.
Part of that buzz might have also been that he didn’t have the same national profile as some of the other QBs coming in, but that should surely change now.
“Man, he caught me off guard and I think everybody else as well. I didn’t really know much about the kid before I came to this camp,” said four-star Rivals100 wider receiver and top USC target Tetairoa McMillan. “I think he’s one of the top performers out here, easily one of the best quarterbacks out here, and he definitely shocked me and shocked the world. His ability to read defenses, read coverages, see the holes, know his receivers, know what he wants, he has great IQ for the game. That’s the reason ‘SC wants him.”
Jerrod Johnson, one of the Elite 11 coaches and a former star QB at Texas A&M, said much of the same.
“He walked in and he blew me out of the water this entire time,” Johnson said afterward. “Honestly, our whole group is really good, I’d be happy to coach any of these guys anywhere in the country, but he’s one of the top kids in the country and USC’s getting a good one.”
Brown, who is from Arizona but will play his senior season in Utah, committed to USC back on Sept. 19, less than three weeks after he was offered by the Trojans and really just as his recruiting stock was climbing. So there was no prolonged recruiting battle, and as something of a late bloomer, he hadn’t been on the national radar for multiple years.
That’s not to say he was off the radar by any means — Rivals ranks him as the No. 9 pro-style QB and No. 174 overall national prospect — but even still, many USC fans may have known less about Brown than the highly-ranked QBs from the Southern California area who are headed elsewhere for college. Again, though, that should change.
“He’s going to frickin’ ball in college. … He’s going to be an All-American,” Klubnik said, interjecting into an interview with Brown as he walked by Saturday afternoon.
As for Brown’s own assessment of the week, well, it goes back to that initial goal he stated of proving he belonged.
“I think I did just that. I think I was one of the top guys and can hang with any of the guys here,” he said.
After looking strong in drill work Wednesday night, Brown then recorded the fifth-best score out of the 20 quarterbacks during the Thursday “Pro Day,” in which each QB got a turn in the spotlight working his way down the field with a series of preset routes/throws.
On Friday morning, Brown tied for fourth in the “mega target challenge,” in which the QBs threw five passes each from four different spots at a stationary target and then repeated the routine a second time in reverse order.
And Brown helped his team to the championship game of the Elite 11 7-on-7 tournament on Saturday, quarterbacking the first pool play game before other QBs rotated in the next two. Brown returned for the championship game and did throw an interception, but over the course of the four days he showed off exceptional accuracy, touch, arm strength and poise.
“The first thing that jumped out was his wanting to learn. He understood there’s a lot of information and resources here and he tapped into every single one of them, so that was pretty cool to see,” said Johnson, who ranks second at Texas A&M in career passing yards and worked closely with Brown all week.
“Second thing, on that ‘Pro Day’ night, I saw him at the regional and knew he had a good arm, but to me that night was electric — the ball jumped off his hand. I think he’s twitchy, I think he has a lot of physical gifts and he’s a young kid — his body is young and he’s got all that juice. I think getting coached at ‘SC, getting bigger, faster, stronger, he’s got that elite talent if everything goes his way.”
Johnson’s advice to Brown was to keep developing the mental side of the game, furthering his consistency and anticipation abilities.
“I just told him, ‘Keep studying the off-field stuff, because all the physical stuff, you’ve got it,'” Johnson said.
Overall, it was a statement week for Brown.
He said he tried to stay off social media the last four days, though, so he didn’t get caught up in what reporters and analysts were saying about his performance. He wanted to stay in the moment.
“Really just a dream come true. I know a lot of guys have said that, but it truly is,” he said. “I grew up watching these guys and I thought about how cool the experience would be to come out here and do it. And actually being here was a lot different than I thought — it was way better than on TV and everything — so overall good week.”
He did manage to connect with the USC offensive coaches for a little bit, though.
“They’re in Mexico right now right now at [a wedding], so they talked to me a little bit, just saying that their phones are blowing up and they’re super proud,” Brown said.
Speaking of which, now is a good time to also highlight the work tight ends coach Seth Doege and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell have done in QB scouting.
Doege was one of the early recruiters to take note of Jaxson Dart last fall and tell Harrell the Trojans had to start recruiting the under-the-radar budding star from Utah, even though they already had two QBs committed at the time. (Doege and Harrell would manage to still sign two four-star QBs in Dart and Miller Moss). And it was Doege again who initiated USC’s pursuit of Brown, even if the fan base may have been fixated on other prospects closer to home.
As everyone knows, Dart went on to become one of the top prospects in the 2021 class, and Brown sure looks like he fits that label in this 2022 class.
So will Brown’s Elite 11 performance lead to a fresh spike in his recruitment and other schools trying to change his mind on USC? He says he’s already dealt with some of that, even before this week, and whatever else comes his way won’t matter.
“Schools have tried to come after me, schools have told me they want to offer me if I would be interested, and I told them no,” he said.
If that holds true, this Elite 11 Finals will be looked back on as the moment many eyes were opened to the latest quarterback gem the Trojans have mined from the state of Arizona.
Day 3 — “Mega Target Challenge”