Dennis Gile knew Blake Barnett was good, but the Arizona-based quarterback coach admits he didn’t realize exactly how good Barnett was.
Gile has trained NFL quarterbacks like Tim Tebow, Ryan Mallett and Sean Renfree, college quarterbacks like Brett Hundley and Conner Brewer and top high school prospects like Kyle Allen and Luke Rubenzer. Gile worked Barnett this summer and was immediately impressed with the 2015 California quarterback.
“When he started training with me, I said, ‘Man, this kid has a lot of potential,’” Gile recalled. “His arm strength was unbelievable, his accuracy was unbelievable and obviously he’s a big kid as well.
“We started doing some footwork stuff and I said, ‘Gosh, this kid’s footwork is ridiculously fast.’ Everything he did was amazing to me. We worked hard and he got better and better and better.”
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Barnett wanted to measure his progress against the best.
“He was throwing with some big-time guys,” said Gile. “He was just as good or better than some of these college kids and I’m talking about guys about to go in the first round this year, I don’t want to mention any names.
“I thought, ‘Geez, this kid is going to be playing on Sundays one day,’ and I don’t just say that about any quarterback. They have to be pretty good for me to say something like that, but I really truthfully think that. He’s amazing.”
And that was before Gile gained full understanding of Barnett as a player. That wouldn’t come until the quarterback coach watched the first few games of Barnett’s first season as the starting quarterback for Santiago High School in Corona, Calif. this fall.
Through six games this fall, Barnett has completed 99 of his 173 pass attempts for 1,285 yards with 15 touchdowns with six interceptions while rushing for 620 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I couldn’t believe how fast he was,” said Gile. “I couldn’t believe what he was doing against those kids in California. He was really just running past people like they were sitting still.
“I already knew he could throw the ball, I knew he’d shred people throwing the ball and he’s very intelligent, but then I saw him running. He’s hands down the best quarterback in the United States right now, hands down. He’s the number one high school quarterback in the country. I haven’t seen anyone else that’s doing what he’s doing.”
Asked whether he meant Barnett was the best junior quarterback in the country, Gile made himself clear.
“I’m saying right now, he’s the best quarterback in the country,” he repeated. “I’m not going to say any names, but I just think he’s the best quarterback in the country right now as far as being able to do everything. There’s nothing he can’t do.”
There may be a few quarterbacks who are better pure passers or a few who are more explosive runners, but none put the two together as well as Barnett, according to Gile.
“You can stop a kid who is just a pure passer by dropping eight into coverage, but someone like him, you can’t do that with,” Gile said. “Obviously if you do that, he’s going to run all over you. But he’s even doing that right now. They’ve got nine guys in the box and he’s still running for 75-yard touchdowns and he’s not doing it against terrible competition. He’s doing it in California against good kids. He’s shredding big-time schools.”
Gile believes the comparison some have made to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is a fair one.
“I think he’s just like him, but he could be an even better passer,” said Gile. “I think he’s a more natural passer. That’s a great, great comparison. He’s going to create plays because he has an added element to his game.”
Barnett missed the last two games dealing with a concussion, but helped Santiago run off four straight victories before the injury.
“No one man can win a football game, but there are some guys like Mariota who can do a lot of it and he’s definitely that type of quarterback,” Gile said. “I did not know that. I just thought, ‘Man, he’s going to be unstoppable because of how good his footwork was in the pocket.’
“He busted his butt in speed training and some other stuff. His stride is unbelievable. He’s just fast, man.”
During the summer, Gile worked on quickening Barnett’s release and some upper-body mechanics.
“He’s helped my mechanics improve, especially on speeding up my release and using my core to throw the ball and not completely rely on my arm,” Barnett said. “I still need to work on it this offseason though because I’m not satisfied.”
Not surprising since the quarterback guru called Barnett’s work ethic “unbelievable.”
“He’ll work just as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen and he loves competition,” said Gile. “He wants to throw against Kyle Allen, Luke Rubenzer, Connor Brewer, Brett Hundley and all of these guys. Whoever it is, he wants to throw with those type of guys.
“He doesn’t want to throw with kids who aren’t up there. He wants to throw with the best kids and that’s when he thrives the best. He pushes himself and wants to go two or three times a day when he’s out here.”
Even before taking over as the starter at Santiago, Barnett was already displaying the type of leadership necessary of a quarterback, according to Gile.
“He’s got it all,” said Gile. “He’s an unbelievable leader. He’s not shy. He’ll tell you what he feels in a good way. He’s not a cocky guy.”
Gile said Barnett also understands the game and the position extremely well.
“He’s very intelligent,” he said. “I’ve watched film with him. He understands coverages, pre-snap looks, post-snap looks, basically anything they’re trying to do to him. He’s the total package.
“That’s why I’m trying to tell you that he’s the best in the country. There are kids who can run and throw who aren’t that intelligent about the game, but that’s not the case with him.”
Gile believes Barnett will only improve in college, but believes he has the potential to start from day one.
“I think that he could start as a true freshman in Division-I football at the FBS level,” he said. “I think he could go to almost any program and be a starter, that’s where he’s at.
“He’s going to go to a big-time school, so he’s going to be around great coaching and great coaching is only going to make him better.”
The Mariota comparisons will only grow stronger if Oregon offers, which Gile expects to happen soon, but the offer he landed from Notre Dame earlier this month is one he’ll strongly consider.
“Like I told him, Notre Dame is a great, great program,” Gile said. “In my mind, Notre Dame is only missing a quarterback, in my opinion. I don’t think the quarterback is doing horrible, but they don’t have a Johnny Manziel, Brett Hundley or Teddy Bridgewater or Everett Golson.”
The Irish should get Golson back in a matter of months, but they’ll have to wait a while to find out on Barnett.