LOS ANGELES — With one emphatic step forward, Khalil Tate toppled to the ground to let a kid barely a quarter of his size sprint by him on a mini post route. To the delight of a handful of children on Palisades Charter High School’s football field, one of college football’s most nimble quarterbacks made a mockery of his elite athleticism to have a little fun over Memorial Day weekend.
When Tate wasn’t purposely blowing coverages to pump the egos of kids at the annual Steve Clarkson Dreammaker Quarterback Retreat in Los Angeles, he was going over handoffs and arm height on throws during a weekend of teaching and relaxation before heading back to Arizona to resume his more taxing life as a Power 5 starting quarterback.
“It’s real fun being with these kids,” Tate said. “This is what it’s all about.”
Tate is one of almost two dozen college quarterbacks who made the trek to Southern California for a weekend to act as coaches inside a high school stadium nestled between the picturesque Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, while also finding time to unwind at the beach to reset after spring football and before grueling summer workouts.
Housed in the luxurious Loews Hotel on Santa Monica Beach, there’s Michigan’s Shea Patterson holding down the pingpong table and Washington’s Jacob Eason spending most of his time in the pool or hot tub. Access to a sneak peek of the new Call of Duty video game had Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa teaming up months after facing each other in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
“This time where we’re all out here is probably the best time of the year for everybody because there’s no stress,” Texas QB Sam Ehlinger said. “We get to come out to one of the most beautiful places in the world and just relax, get cool stuff, hang out with little kids and give back to the community.
“You play the game of football to have fun and form relationships like this, so when you get to go out and hang out with all these guys from around the country and have fun, it’s what it’s all about.”
For players who have to be dialed in for the better part of the year, camps like Clarkson’s afford some of the most scrutinized players a chance to finally breathe. For about 72 hours, depth charts, playbooks and weight rooms are unimportant, and the most straining they’ll do is throwing during a long-toss competition or plodding through sand near the Santa Monica Pier.
“It’s just us being able to enjoy each other and have a little vacation,” Tagovailoa said. “Outside of just [being] football players, but more so getting to know each other on a personal level.”
These guys are treated like rock stars. There are posh housing accommodations and banners with some of their faces on them hung around Palisades’ Stadium by the Sea. There’s good food, free gear and a chauffeured double-decker bus to take them around.
With the sun breaking through the dreary gray clouds just before noon on Saturday, guys warmed up with a DJ blaring Lil Nas X and Post Malone. Most guys wear their white Adidas windbreakers and black Adidas sweats. With Adidas as a camp sponsor, they can wear only the three-stripe-issued (and NCAA-approved) gear.
That means deciding between pairing the new cloud white/active red Ultraboost 19s or the camo Ultraboost Bapes with a white top and black pants or shorts, or the all-black look with a gold chain that Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts chose.
This could easily be mistaken for your standard L.A. fashion show, but there is a little work involved for the counselors, and a few take it pretty seriously.
Tate’s theatrics lit up campers’ faces, but Hurts, channeling former coach Nick Saban, was more in-your-face and hands-on with teaching. The son of a high school coach moved kids’ hips into position and sped up tempo between reps. His voice boomed at times to get kids’ attention. Whether working with third-graders or with high schoolers with recruiting profiles, Hurts was the total teacher.
“To truly make an impact on somebody, you have to show them that you care,” Hurts said. “I know for dang sure I’m very passionate about the game — I love the game — so any kid who takes the time out of his day to put the investment into a camp like this, I’m going to dang sure try and help them the best way I can.”
Starkel took the same approach, at one point trying to semi-seriously teach younger campers how to effectively run the zone-read.
“These kids are out here working their tails off. I know they want to learn, so I’m going to coach them like how I want someone to coach me,” Starkel said. “I’m not going to B.S. them and not give them my full ability. It’s so rewarding just to see these kids grow and learn the game of football and what it is to be a quarterback. Just from Day 1 to Day 2, you can see a difference how they’re taking their drops or how they’re doing their play-actions.”
A weekend away from the pressures of campus and team life provided these players with a chance to slow down and bond with others just like them. Quarterbacks are already wired differently, and hanging with other QBs in a relaxed environment can be comforting, Tate said. There’s a much-needed laid-back vibe guys had during the weekend that helped settle the anxieties spring ball and looming summer workouts create.
“I don’t think people really know what being a quarterback is like, unless you’re a quarterback,” Tate said. “It’s a fun experience to be here with these guys who all understand the things that we’re going through. It’s nice to meet somebody and be able to relate to them.”
But don’t be fooled, when it was time to crank up the competitive juices, they came alive. There was no better example than the long-toss team competition.
A couple of slips by Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler kept him under the 60-yard mark, and his performance was crushed by a 67-yard heave from Starkel.
Maalik Murphy, a 2022 quarterback prospect from local Serra High, stole the show with a 74-yard toss, but the man of the hour was D.J. Uiagalelei, a Clemson commit and 2020 ESPN 300 member who launched three passes 70-plus yards to eventually crown Patterson’s team as champions.
“It’s good competition,” Uiagalelei said. “You want to see where you stack up with them.”
Subconsciously, every one of these quarterbacks compared himself to the others in some way over the weekend, but for the most part, this fraternity of QBs got together to unwind.
For a couple of days, selfies and high-fives replaced bench reps and sprints. Ninety-degree heat and suffocating Southern humidity was traded for 70 degrees and a sea breeze.
Just before classes and full-throated strength coaches consume their lives, a handful of quarterbacks met near Hollywood for one last reboot before returning to normalcy.
“I’ve been working my butt off these last couple of weeks getting ready for summer workouts, so coming out here is like the great little cherry on top of summer vacation,” Starkel said.