The Tidewater Area in Virginia has become known for producing great athletes over the last decade or so, especially quarterbacks.
What started with Allen Iverson (Bethel) and Aaron Brooks (Homer Ferguson) in the mid 1990's continued with Ronald Curry (Hampton), Michael Vick (Warwick), Bryan Randall (Bruton), Marcus Vick (Warwick), Tyrod Taylor (Hampton) and E.J. Manuel (Bayside). My goal here? To determine who was the best high school quarterback from the Tidewater Area in the last decade.
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Iverson was as dynamic an athlete as there was in the region. He overshadowed Brooks while both starred in high school, but neither qualifies for this discussion because they were in college by 1997. For the sake of this debate of the decade, Curry, the Vick brothers, Randall, Taylor and Manuel are the candidates.
Looking from the periphery, the obvious choice would likely be Michael Vick. After all, the 6-foot, 215-pounder finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1999, was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft in 2001 and is considered to be one of the best athletes in college football history.
However, this debate isn't about anything beyond high school football and the potential shown by each prospect at the same stage. And that makes for an interesting discussion.
Curry, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder coming out of high school, was regarded by most as the top football prospect and top basketball prospect in the country. He overshadowed Michael Vick during the recruiting process, and was easily the most heavily recruited player in this bunch. However, the Vicks, Randall, Taylor and Manuel all received a tremendous amount of recruiting attention as well.
Curry broke several Virginia high school football records at Hampton and led his team to consecutive state titles in 1995, 1996 and 1997. The 1996 team that went 14-0, considered by many to be the best team in state history, outscored opponents 768-83. Curry's record at Hampton was 51-2 and he was involved in 185 touchdowns in his career - including an amazing 76 as a junior.
In the shadow of Curry, Michael Vick also had an outstanding career. He started off at Homer Ferguson High School (he and Aaron Brooks are cousins) but moved on to Warwick. As a three-year starter at Warwick, Vick passed for 4,846 yards and 43 touchdowns. He once scored nine touchdowns in one game. He went head-to-head with Curry and passed for 295 yards and scored two touchdowns in a 34-16 loss.
Randall, who is in this discussion despite just being on the cusp of Hampton Roads, had an amazing high school career. He started as a wide receiver but played quarterback his final three years. As a junior and senior, the 6-foot, 205-pound Randall became the first player in Virginia high school football history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. His 7,481 all-purpose yards is a district record, and Randall was also a standout basketball player.
Marcus Vick, like his brother, played in the shadow of a great player in high school. Marcus was constantly compared to his older brother. The younger Vick, 6 feet and 200 pounds out of high school, compiled more than 5,000 yards of total offense during his last two years. He passed for 1,746 yards and 15 scores while rushing for 702 yards and 13 more scores as a senior.
After a short drought, another standout quarterback emerged in the area. Taylor, a 6-foot-1, 185-pounder, led Hampton to a 34-4 record during his three years as a starter. He amassed 7,912 yards of offense and threw for 48 touchdowns as a Crabber. He joined Curry and Randall as the only two-time quarterback winners of the Daily Press Athlete of the Year in 2006.
Manuel's resume isn't yet complete, but his first three years have been impressive. Manuel has accounted for 42 career touchdowns for Bayside and has thrown for more than 3,800 career yards. Manuel is the biggest of this group at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds.
Curry and Michael Vick played before Rivals.com began ranking players. Marcus Vick, Tyrod Taylor and E.J. Manuel are all five-star players. It's safe to say that Curry would have been a five-star as well, while Vick would have been a four-star player. Randall was ranked as a four-star.
Clearly each quarterback has an impressive high school resume, and the national recruiting attention to go along with it. Curry committed to Virginia before deciding to sign with North Carolina. He focused as much on basketball as he did on football. The Vicks, Randall and Taylor signed with Virginia Tech. Manuel is committed to Florida State and is expected to sign with the Seminoles in February.
So now that we have the background on each, who was the best prospect coming out of high school? When it comes to arm strength, Michael Vick and Manuel are ahead of the pack. When it comes to scrambling it's Michael Vick, Randall and Curry who lead the way. And when it comes to accuracy, Taylor, Manuel and Curry get the nod. This isn't getting any easier.
For me, it comes down to playing the role of a college defensive coordinator and determining which quarterback scares me the most. The signal-caller who can do damage in the pocket, but can also break things down to the outside and tuck and run scares the heck out of me. The guy who can draw the linebackers and secondary up with his scrambling ability and has the ability to dump the ball over their heads on the run is impossible to defend.
In high school, Ronald Curry was the most dangerous player of this group. He was a refined passer, a superior athlete and was pretty much unstoppable. If you went into a soft zone and tried to shadow him to keep him in the pocket, he could hurt you with his arm and accuracy. If you tried to blitz him, he could scramble to the outside and either run or throw. There wasn't anything that Curry couldn't do at quarterback. He is such an amazing athlete that he has become a success in the NFL as a wide receiver despite playing quarterback during a disappointing college career.
The second quarterback that stands out in this group is Michael Vick. When watching Vick on film in high school, two words came to mind. The first was "raw." Vick's mechanics were off, his release was too low and his accuracy was hit or miss. But the second word was "unlimited," as in unlimited potential.
Vick was more of an athlete than a quarterback in high school, and still is to this day. But what an athlete he was. If there's a discussion about the greatest overall athletes in college football history, Vick has to be in the mix. Keep in mind that mobile quarterbacks weren't as coveted then as they are now. Vick is one of the reasons why Vince Young and Terrelle Pryor are No. 1 recruits. If he were coming out of high school these days, he'd be a candidate for that No. 1 slot as well.
Following Michael Vick, in my book, is Tyrod Taylor. It would be much safer to say Bryan Randall because of his stellar college career or E.J. Manuel because of his NFL size or Marcus Vick because of his overall upside, but Taylor has more of the scare factor. Taylor is an efficient passer and a pocket quarterback first and foremost. However, he has excellent speed as well and open-field moves that can make defenders look silly. When all things fail, Taylor can still make things happen. If he's coached up as well as the Vicks and Randall at Virginia Tech, he will be special.
So what about the other three? Didn't Randall set all sorts of records in high school and have a great career at Tech? Wasn't there talk of Marcus Vick being better than his older brother at the same stage of development? And isn't Manuel being compared to JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL Draft? I'll answer all three questions.
Marcus Vick checks in at No. 4 on this list just behind Taylor. There was talk that Marcus was better than his older brother at the same stage of development, and for good reason. While Marcus lacked the same burst as Michael, he was still pretty darned fast. He was also a much more accurate passer than Michael at the same stage. Marcus was more comfortable in the pocket, whereas Michael usually looked at his first option then tucked the ball and ran. Marcus was quick and could make defenders look foolish, but he was easier to defend than his big brother at the same stage.
With Marcus Vick checking in at No. 4, that leaves Manuel and Randall battling it out to avoid finishing last. Obviously, last in this group certainly is not an embarrassment.
Manuel is an excellent pocket passer with a strong arm and impressive accuracy. He can move around pretty well for a big man. However, as a defensive coordinator I find it easier to scheme for Manuel than any of the other three on this list. I don't have to shadow him with a linebacker or safety, and my defenders don't have to have eyes in the back of their heads to make sure he's not tucking and running. Manuel can gain 8-10 yards a clip when scrambling, but he's not going to take it all the way.
A great pocket quarterback can still dominate a defense, and Manuel has that ability. He is just starting to reach his potential. Once he digests a Jimbo Fisher offense, he could be the best signal-caller at Florida State in years.
So Randall comes in sixth in a great group of quarterbacks. Remember, this is based on high school evaluation and looking at all the players at the same stage of development. Randall played at a low level of competition and was considered more of an athlete at the next level than a quarterback. There seemed to be as good a chance of Randall ending up at wideout or defensive back. Randall fell short in a few different areas through no fault of his own. He was a great athlete, but not quite as dynamic as Michael Vick. He was a dangerous dual-threat quarterback, bit not as scary as either Vick, Taylor or Curry. He was a solid passer, but nothing close to Curry or Manuel.
So there you have it, let the disagreements begin. Ranking the standout quarterbacks from the Tidewater Area is like ranking swimsuit models, you can't go wrong with any of them.
Mike Farrell is the National Recruiting Analyst for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.