CHECOTAH — Chandler Garrett grips the football, cocks his arm and sends the ball spiraling tightly down the field.
No wonder he's been invited to the finale of the Steve Clarkson Dreammaker Tour, a multi-city talent search that's "American Idol" for quarterbacks. Garrett looks like a star in the making. He's strong. He's accurate. He's fluid.
He's also a sixth grader.
In an Eastern Oklahoma town already known for one blonde superstar, this 13-year-old could be the next big thing to come out of Checotah. He has the size and pedigree. He has the family support and good home training.
Chandler also has the ambition.
"I want to be in the NFL some day," he said. "That's my dream."
Sports have always been part of his family. His grandfather wrestled in college, and his father played football. Even from the time Chandler was an infant, a football or basketball or baseball was always in his hands.
The older he got, the more he wanted to play.
"If you don't have practice," his mom, Shecoeta, said as she eyed Chandler, "you are driving me nuts trying to find an open gym."
She raised an eyebrow, and he laughed.
"Geez, you are not an only child."
Chandler is the oldest of five, and Bodie and Shecoeta Garrett have always done everything in their power and within their budget to provide anything for them. That's part of the reason why they live in Checotah; small towns offer more opportunities and a lower cost of living.
It's also the reason why Shecoeta went looking on the internet earlier this year for a football camp that Chandler could attend. He'd never been to a camp, and when she found one in Dallas on his birthday, it seemed like a good fit.
"We signed you up for this football camp," his parents told him. "It's supposed to be like a big deal."
Not only were there more than hundred kids at the Dreammaker Tour stop back in March, but there were also lots of television cameras.
Chandler also saw that some of the other boys had two or three pairs of cleats with them while he had just one. Some of them were talking, too, about the football camp they'd been to a week earlier; he had been playing basketball and hadn't picked up a football since last fall.
His nerves skyrocketed. He struggled to just throw the ball to another camper standing 10 yards away.
"It was really hard for me," Chandler said. "I really didn't know what to expect."
About the only thing he knew for sure that day was that he had no chance of making the tour finale. He turned his attention back to basketball.
Thing is, Chandler's performance wasn't all bad.
"He did start out rough," said Chris Dubek, director of player personnel for Steve Clarkson Dreammaker. "But his ability to take the teaching, to take the coaching ... that's what you want."
Dubek believes no one in Dallas improved more from start to finish than Chandler. That's why tour officials invited him to another stop in Houston. They wanted to give him another shot.
Chandler wanted to make the most of it.
Even though he had less than two weeks to prepare, he asked Preston King to help him. King, who quarterbacked Checotah High School a few years ago, spent an hour with Chandler four or five days a week.
Some parents pay hundreds of dollars for their kids to work with personal trainers and throwing coaches.
The Garretts have a local twentysomething.
The Marinoviches, the Garretts aren't.
Bodie is a modular home salesman while Shecoeta is a stay-at-home mom. They thought it important for one of them to be at home, but with five children and one income, there have been financial sacrifices.
Going to Houston, for example, was something that they thought long and hard about. They'd already paid for the trip to Dallas. The gas. The meals. The hotel. The registration. Even though the tour was covering registration and hotel in Houston, there would still be costs for the family to travel and eat.
"We go to Taco Bell," Shecoeta said, "and it's $60."
Half of that might be for Chandler. He's always been the tallest kid in his class, but he's grown three or four inches since the start of school last fall.
While being a 6-foot-1 sixth grader is the thing most people notice first about Chandler, Jason Donathan knows size isn't the only reason Chandler is turning heads.
"Even more important than that is he is so smart," said Donathan, a former Checotah High assistant who is now the middle school principal and one of Chandler's little league coaches. "Usually, it's in about the eighth grade before you get them really doing like you want."
Carrying out a fake, for example.
"From Day One, I never had to hound him on that," Donathan said. "He would never stop to watch the play. He carried out his steps correctly. All the play-action passes became better for us because he would do those things."
Remember, he's talking about a 13-year-old.
"I've not seen a kid that young with his athleticism that has his maturity and intellectual ability," Donathan said.
"He's truly a complete package."
Chandler showed it at the Dreammaker Tour stop in Houston. Even though he was placed in a group with kids a year older than him, he stood out. His throws were sharper, and his accuracy was better
"Going into Houston, we did not think he was going to be one of the handful that we chose" for the finale, Dubek said. "Without a doubt, he earned that invitation."
Later this week, Chandler will participate in the Dreammaker Tour finale in Santa Barbara, Calif. Less than 150 quarterbacks from around the country have been invited to attend.
The Garretts, who will be driving from Oklahoma to California, thought about doing a fundraiser to offset some costs of the trip, but they decided not to make a big deal out of this. They don't want folks thinking that they're bragging.
They recognize, after all, that Chandler hasn't made it.
He's still the kid who fights with his brothers and sister, forgets to make his bed and leaves his towels on the bathroom floor.
Yet, watch him tossing the ball around with one of his best buddies, and you can see the potential.
The kid could become a star.
"If he continues to grow ... ," Dreammaker's Dubek said, "the sky's the limit for him."