Part 1 of ESPN’s two-part special on the Elite 11 Finals aired Tuesday night. Oklahoma State commit Luke Del Rio was featured on the show as one of the 25 quarterbacks vying to be named one of the top 11 high school signal-callers in the country following an intense five-day camp in Redondo Beach, Calif.
Here are some highlights:
It did not take long for Del Rio to make an appearance. During the opening credits, he says, “I came here to be the MVP. I won’t settle for anything less.” He’s also the first interview of the show, saying that “everybody came in a little nervous, but more excited than anything.”
Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, the head coach of the Elite 11, meets the contenders shortly after. “I’m looking for players that have the potential to dominate the next level and have an NFL-caliber ceiling,” he says. “You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t fit that description.” Then he goes into a speech about needing to survive the five-day camp and hands bleeding while gripping a mountain while others are falling off. It was kind of dramatic, but I suppose it’s television.
One of the coaches here? George Whitfield. Most people around these parts know him as the guy Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones worked with during this past offseason.
Each finalist gets a 150-page playbook to study with 20 concepts and 81 plays from NFL offenses. The first two days include numerous individual drills that focus on accuracy, arm strength and timing. They also have a workout on the beach, where basic skills like footwork and dropping back are much more difficult.
Del Rio is formally introduced during the first 7-on-7 competition about halfway through the show. Cue a shot of his father, Jack Del Rio, sitting in the stands watching while Luke explains that Jack is the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos and the former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Whitfield on Del Rio’s strengths: “Talented. Comes in with a big chip on his shoulder, obviously. I think that’s gonna serve him well. Should be right there in the mix at the end.”
Four snaps during Del Rio’s 7-on-7 session were shown, but editing made it tough to see what specific throws he had to make. One was either a deep out or corner route to the left sideline. Another was a play action throw to his left. One was an incomplete pass over the middle on a three-step drop. Another was a deep throw down the middle to a wide open receiver, but it was just a bit off, causing the receiver to fall while making the catch in space.
Dilfer to Del Rio about that last throw: “You got away with it because you have a big arm…got a good completion, but if your eyes are disciplined there and you extend that drop, you’ve got a touchdown.”
Del Rio on what he called a “sporadic” 6-for-8 performance: “I had a few close throws that all went my way. I was kind of holding back, didn’t want to throw a pick. My decision-making was good, but I’d say I was a little off.”
The next morning, the quarterbacks go through four hours of Navy Seal training. Exercises include running, pushups in the ocean, log lifting, tug of war and abdominal work. By the end, they are covered head-to-toe in sand.
Del Rio on that experience: “I knew it was going to be something physical, but, um, yeah, didn’t know it was going to be Navy Seal training.”
More: “As a quarterback, you’re always the leader, and this morning we had to follow a lot.”
Then the coaches deliberate to create their first top 11 rankings. While they’re discussing the players, during a montage of QB sound bites, Del Rio says, “I definitely still think I’m one of the top guys here.”
Coach Jordan Palmer, the brother of Carson Palmer, agrees. “I think there’s something to the pedigree,” he says. “I know from experience, it’s not just being around it because someone above you in your family’s done it, it’s knowing what that next step looks like. For him, he knows what the next step beyond college looks like, so he knows what he’s preparing for.”
Del Rio ends up No. 8 on the list of the top 11. The show closes with plenty of player reaction, and Del Rio’s is, “A lot of guys are going to be gunning for 1 through 11 who weren’t on the list.”
Del Rio is also featured quite a bit in the preview for next week’s episode, which airs Tuesday at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
Sound bite No. 1: “I wasn’t very happy with (a future version of the rankings). I thought I deserved to be in the top 5.”
Sound bite No. 2: “A lot of guys just want to be in the Elite 11. I want to win it.”
Final thought: Del Rio definitely comes across as confident. Some might even say he toes the line between confident and cocky. That, again, could be a result of TV editing, because I didn’t sense any arrogance when I talked with him at length after he committed to OSU earlier this summer. But during that conversation, he told me he’s always felt the need to prove himself. He has a famous father. He’s still regarded as an under-the-radar recruit, even after (spoiler alert!) being named to the Elite 11. He’s got lots of competitive fire in him.
I’ll wrap up Part 2 next week.