Great Expectations for Flathead Quarterback

Osweiler chooses college football over basketball

By Beacon Staff
Brock Osweiler, who has been called the greatest quarterback to come out of Montana, will play at Arizona State University. Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon

Brock Osweiler’s powerful right arm is a mystery even to him.

His legs have helped him elude linebackers on the football field and elevate to block shots on the basketball court, but it’s that arm that has shattered quarterback records at Flathead High School and given him such a pretty release on his jump shot. He can’t explain where he got it from – his mom, maybe. And now that arm is taking him to Arizona State University to play quarterback, and possibly beyond.

As far as Osweiler can tell, his arm’s potential was first tapped when his mother taught him to throw a football in the backyard of his childhood home outside of Kalispell. She encouraged him to throw, and then he never stopped. It actually got expensive: The kid with a cannon needed to be constantly supplied with balls because he would wear them out throwing them against trees and walls everyday.

But his parents were resourceful. First they tied a tire between two trees to give him a target. Later, they bought him a bounce-back net.

“I’ve always continually had a ball in my hand,” Osweiler said. “Walking around, all the time.”

A Basketball Star is Born

Growing up, Osweiler found that his throwing prowess gave him a distinct advantage in baseball and football. In little league baseball, one can only imagine how terrifying it was for fellow sixth-graders to step into the batter’s box while the then 6-foot-1 Osweiler launched relentless fastballs in their direction. Even on the basketball court, his one-arm, court-length outlet passes were treasures to behold for serious hoops fans.

Basketball took over as the prominent sport in Osweiler’s life in middle school. He played for elite traveling basketball teams in the summer and dominated his league back home in the winter. By the end of his freshman year in high school, he had verbally committed to Gonzaga to play hoops. Few people had gotten the chance yet to see the kid toss a football. But they would.

Throughout high school, Osweiler’s stock as a basketball player grew but he never showed any intentions of playing anywhere other than Gonzaga. But any observer, including scouts, knew he could have played at any Division-I school. As a sophomore and junior, he was named on a multiple of lists, including ESPN, as one of the top power forward recruits in the nation.

So for a fan of the game, it’s difficult to embrace the reality that he has most likely played his final organized basketball game. This spring, Osweiler withdrew his commitment to Gonzaga and gave a verbal commitment to ASU to play for head coach Dennis Erickson. He is graduating high school early and heading down to Tempe in January, just in time for spring ball. He won’t play high school basketball this winter.

A New Breed of Quarterback

Following an impressive sophomore season on the football field, it was obvious to many that Osweiler could be a big-time college quarterback. Then as he plowed through records his junior and senior seasons, people began talking about “a new breed of quarterback,” a 6-foot-8 field general able to easily see over his offensive line while possessing uncanny agility. He’s made more than a few defenders look silly trying to sack him.

He was recently nominated for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and named a candidate for the Joe Montana Quarterback of the Year Award, a prestigious honor reserved for a select few of the nation’s best high school quarterbacks. This year Osweiler threw for 2,703 yards in 11 games, breaking school records for touchdown passes (29), total touchdowns (42) and total yards (3,463). He finishes his high school career with 8,655 yards passing, 80 touchdowns passes and 20 touchdowns rushing.

Sports Illustrated wrote a story earlier this year about Osweiler that mentioned Mark McGwire’s little brother, Dan, who was also 6 feet 8 and is the standard to which all other tall quarterbacks are compared. McGwire went to San Diego State University and played in the NFL. Grady Bennett, who coached Osweiler at Flathead before taking over the head job at Glacier High, performed alongside McGwire at the 1991 NFL Combine, fighting for a spot in the pros. Bennett said Osweiler is better.

A former All-American quarterback at the University of Montana and a studious observer of Montana football, Bennett said Ryan Leaf is generally considered the greatest quarterback to come out of the state’s high school system. Leaf played at C.M. Russell before having a record-breaking career at Washington State. He was the No. 2 NFL draft pick in 1998 behind Peyton Manning.

Bennett, while acknowledging the difficulty of comparing quarterbacks from different eras and circumstances, said Osweiler may eventually be viewed as the quarterback who supplanted Leaf on Montana’s list of all-time greats. Considering that much of Osweiler’s time was dedicated to basketball in high school, Bennett said his football potential has barely been tapped.

“Arguably the best quarterback that’s ever come out of Montana,” Bennett said. “He could throw with the top five quarterbacks in NCAA right now. Line him up with anybody, Tim Tebow, whoever.”

Bennett and quite a few others aren’t scared to go out on a limb when this question arises: Do you think Osweiler can make it to the NFL? “I honestly, honestly do,” Bennett said. Playing professional sports has long been Osweiler’s foremost goal.

“You see him throw 45 yards on a rope, just perfect, and all you can do is turn to the person next you and say, ‘Wow, that’s Arizona State right there,’” Bennett said.

All Eyes on Him

In any setting, Osweiler’s presence alone demands attention. At 6 feet 8 inches and 235 pounds, even clean-shaven he hardly resembles a 17-year-old boy. His 18th birthday is Nov. 22. Heading into college he knows all eyes are on him, just as they have been for so long, yet he still manages to be unassuming and modest.

Signing autographs after games in high school, he always looked at peace. It’s clear he was born for this spotlight. He relishes the role of leader.

Osweiler’s father, John, said his son never needed to be pushed. As a third-grader, he attached a list of goals to his bedroom wall and looked at it everyday. Nobody had told him to do that, John said. “Pretty much everything on that list, he’s attained,” the proud father said. One of those goals was to play Division-I sports.

“Brock has been the one who really drives himself,” John said. “I think that’s what separates him from people maybe on his own level.”

There’s ambition, and then there’s playing basketball in the snow for five hours. That kind of dedication for a 10-year-old cannot be taught, or even understood by many people. Osweiler said he remembers practicing jumpers outside in the winter and having to dig the basketball out of the snow after each shot. When his fingers froze, he would let them thaw out and then head to the tire to throw the football.

Even throughout high school, a highly social time for anybody let alone a star quarterback, Osweiler spent endless hours honing his skills. In the summer, he would start his workout routine at 6 a.m. During the school year, after classes, practice and hours of watching film, he wouldn’t get home until 9 p.m. some nights.

Osweiler has given so much to sports, and he said they have returned the favor.

“Athletics have taught me so many things that I’ll carry for the rest of my life,” Osweiler said. “And use for the rest of my life.”

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.