Cade Klubnik to Clemson

Ian Boyd

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An awfully high number of quarterbacks come out of Austin, Texas these days. One of the most recent star prospects, Westlake's recently crowned Championship quarterback Cade Klubnik, recently committed to the Clemson Tigers.


This is pretty significant on a number of levels. For Klubnik it's a proud day to say he's accepted a scholarship to play quarterback for the school who produced Deshaun Watson, then Trevor Lawrence, and next D.J. Uiagalelei. The Tigers are perennial National Championship contenders whose starting quarterbacks have often been Heisman contenders and first round draft picks. Then there's the angle of the Texas talent drain, out of state powers have been culling some major prospects out of the state for the last few years, often against the wishes of the stronger instate programs.

In this case, I'm not sure any of the big three programs in the immediate region feel defeated. Oklahoma took 5-star Caleb Williams in 2021 and have been on a rolling cycle of taking top quarterbacks every other cycle or so to generate separation. This used to be an iffy strategy but in the era of transfers, which Lincoln Riley and his staff manage as well or better than anyone else in the country, they can always patch holes with a Jalen Hurts or Kyler Murray.

Texas wasn't pushing hard for Cade Klubnik, instead taking out of state 5-star Maalik Murphy while still hedging on a possible Quinn Ewers flip down the line. In the 2022 cycle, Texas’ major fear regarding out of state poaching is Ohio State snatching up yet another transcendent talent (Jeff Okudah, Garrett Wilson, now Quinn Ewers), and not Klubnik.

Then there's Texas A&M. Klubnik's family are Aggies so when his name started to become well known as a star on the Westlake freshman team, it was often assumed he'd end up in College Station. However, Jimbo Fisher has often aimed for raw tools over knowhow and selected the supremely physically gifted Conner Weigman, who also has a possible future path as a baseball draft pick.

Klubnik is physically talented, to be sure, but his profile is a little closer to some previous Austin-area quarterbacks before the city became a major exporter of signal-callers.

A history of Austin quarterback dominance

The ultimate Austin-area quarterback to leave for an out of state school was a championship-winning, 6-0, 190 pounder who also came out of Westlake high school back in 1997 named Drew Brees. He had offers from Hal Mumme at Kentucky and Joe Tiller at Purdue, both of whom recognized his accuracy and decision-making as potential killers in their revolutionary spread offensive concepts. Brees chose Purdue and the rest is history.

Next was arguably Todd Reesing. The 3-star was a scrappy, 6-0, 180 pounder from a newer suburban school out on the west side of Austin toward Lake Travis aptly titled "Lake Travis high school." Like Brees, Reesing was mostly ignored by the local powers for his diminutive stature and was snatched up by Mark Mangino who was trying to replicate his Championship-winning (Oklahoma, 2000) Air Raid formula up in Lawrence, Kansas with the Jayhawks. Reesing took over as a sophomore and had three consecutive 3k yard seasons while leading Kansas to a 12-1 season in year one (2007) culminating in an Orange Bowl win.

Westlake came up next, sending 3-star Nick Foles (6-4, 230) to Michigan State, which he'd quickly leave in order to transfer to Arizona. Foles was drafted out of Arizona and would remarkably take over the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018 when Carson Wentz was injured and win the Super Bowl MVP after beating Tom Brady in a shootout. The Westlake Chaparrals have now produced two Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks between Foles and Brees.

Meanwhile Lake Travis had hired Chad Morris after Reesing's departure and become a state power, now featuring a more prototypical looking quarterback in Garrett Gilbert (6-4, 223). Texas recruited the 5-star with everything Mack Brown was worth, even overlooking Andrew Luck in the previous cycle (2007) in an all-in effort to secure Gilbert's play. It didn't work out terribly well for the Longhorns. Gilbert had to take over for Colt McCoy in the middle of the National Championship against Alabama in 2009 and understandably came up short, then had an injury and schematic-plagued 2010 as the Longhorns began to collapse with the new decade, and finally transferred when his shoulder and Bryan Harsin's offense didn't fit his skills in 2011. He'd eventually have a solid career at SMU and win a Super Bowl ring as a New England Patriot.

Lake Travis became a go-to school for talented players both in the region and across the state after Morris' arrival and a run of championships. Their next important prospect was 3-star Baker Mayfield, who was infamously overlooked not only by the instate powers but everyone else in the Big 12. At 6-1, 190 he was listed a 3-star recruit but walked on at Texas Tech...the rest is relatively recent history.

Todd Dodge, who'd put together the legendary Southlake Carroll run in the early 2000s with players like Chase Daniels and Greg McElroy, arrived at Westlake high school after the Baker Mayfield era at Lake Travis and inherited a talented and tremendously scrappy 6-2, 205 pounder named Sam Ehlinger who came within a missed field goal or better goal line call from guiding the Chaps to another championship in 2015. His time at Westlake mirrored Charlie Brewer (6-1, 188 pound 3-star) at Lake Travis, who won a State Championship in 2016 before heading to Waco to help propel the Matt Rhule run.

Charlie Brewer was followed at Lake Travis by 4-star Matthew Baldwin (6-3, 195), who went to Ohio State before transferring to TCU and ultimately failing to play in college due to injuries. Baldwin was succeeded at Lake Travis by Hudson Card (6-2, 193), who was an even higher rated 4-star snatched up by Texas and possibly in line to succeed Sam Ehlinger in 2021.

Out at Westlake Todd Dodge won with a smaller athlete named Taylor Anderson, then a bigger kid named Kirkland Michaux who narrowly fended off sophomore Cade Klubnik while guiding the team to a State Championship, and finally the new Clemson commitment took over for the 2020 season and lead Westlake to the victory over 5-star Quinn Ewers and Southlake Carroll.


The 2020 season also saw 3-star Charles Wright (6-1, 194) emerge from Austin High and guide the Maroons to the playoffs and accept a scholarship to Texas.

While the two programs, Westlake and Lake Travis, initially rose to prominence with smaller quarterbacks like Wright, a typical Pareto distribution is changing the game. Now they are both destinations for highly talented young quarterbacks with big dreams for their football futures.

Cade Klubnik and the Clemson Tigers

At 6-2, 175 or so, is Cade Klubnik one of the scrappy and savvy young quarterbacks who will grow into greatness like Drew Brees or Baker Mayfield? Or is he a physically dominant high schooler operating in a system which makes his strengths shine too brightly for the level of competition to match him?

There's been a back and forth for years with Texas high school quarterbacks and Austin-area kids. The bigger schools will snatch up a talent like Garrett Gilbert only to see them struggle to replicate their success without the surrounding system. Then they'll overlook Baker Mayfield, assuming the system is the major factor, only to watch him fill out and continue to develop, ultimately overpowering college and then (inconsistently) NFL opposition.

The Westlake system is certainly a potential knock against Klubnik, it wasn't the case his talent was carrying the program to heights they'd otherwise have failed to reach. The Chap defense was actually the major driving force of their success in 2020 and his offensive lineup in the playoffs was as follows:

Westlake 2020 offense.jpg

Perhaps the most notable feature of this lineup is the bookend, junior 3-star tackles who will both likely end up playing Big 12 football and were sandwiching a trio of players with college-level size. In the year 2020 Westlake basically arrived as a Central Texas version of Aledo or Katy, fielding a large and powerful offensive line with a few D1 talents mixed in who could allow them to absolutely bully opposing fronts.

While Klubnik threw for 3495 yards at 9.9 ypa with 35 touchdowns to just three interceptions, the nature of those numbers, and some others, have to give you a little pause.

As one might expect of a team with an offensive line of this size and skill executing zone and power-option running schemes with a quarterback who could throw play-action, RPOs, and mix in his own track speed...Westlake was effective running the football. Grey Nakfoor ran for 945 yards at 7.2 ypc with 20 touchdowns, Minors ran for 1068 yards at 8.5 ypc with 20 more touchdowns, and then Klubnik chipped in 583 yards at 5.9 ypc with 15 touchdowns.

Keaton Kubecka came on during the very end of the playoffs, before that it was Niklos and Greathouse doing the real damage along with Zane Minors out of the backfield. Westlake was pretty play-action/RPO heavy and able to allow Klubnik to buy his time, protect the ball, and take calculated shots to either supremely gifted targets (Greathouse) or reliably developed ones (Niklos). His longer throwing windup and smaller frame weren't tested very often because he didn't have to make as many quick decisions under duress, teams couldn't get to him amidst the O-line play, run-actions, and then his own legs.

It's easy to foresee a future in which Klubnik's smaller frame and lack of elite arm tools hold him back when trying to compete at the college level, even when surrounded by Clemson's talent.

On the other hand, there's also the other CenTex signal callers who filled out in college and grew as physical talents as a result, tightened up their mechanics, and dominated in college and beyond as a result. It's not hard to see a track star like Klubnik reaching 200 pounds without losing his quickness, gaining the ability to avoid getting tossed by bigger defenders and pass-rushers, and potentially adding arm strength. While he may not have had to make a lot of quick decisions at Westlake, he has shown an aptitude for drop back, RPO, and play-action passing which portends an ability to execute an offense like Clemson's down the line.

Klubnik should prove to be a fascinating study in quarterback evaluations from these two highly effective, spread programs in Central Texas. We'll also likely get a good look at Hudson Card over the next two years and Lake Travis' next quarterback (Bo Edmundson) already has offers from Oklahoma State, SMU, and UTSA despite playing only five games in 2020 as a sophomore.

The college offers tend to follow physical talents rather than on-field mechanisms of causality. Klubnik throws a solid ball but is also 6-2 with track speed, so his physical talent gives him the benefit of the doubt in accounting for Westlake's success. Drew Brees threw a fantastic ball but didn't have eye-popping athleticism. We should learn something from how things go for Klubnik up at the Clemson machine.
 

stilesbbq

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Has there ever been a combo QB who was both very athletic and very accurate and strong armed as a QB?
Does Kyler Murray count? Luck and Peak Robert Griffin also come to mind.

Trevor Lawrence is this dude now that I think about it. Because he is white, no one ever talks about the fact that he ran a 4.5 laser forty in high school
 

Fuddy

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Does Kyler Murray count? Luck and Peak Robert Griffin also come to mind.

Trevor Lawrence is this dude now that I think about it. Because he is white, no one ever talks about the fact that he ran a 4.5 laser forty in high school
And Lord Trevor is like 6’6, not that it really matters

Freak
 

CaliHorniaBoy

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Has there ever been a combo QB who was both very athletic and very accurate and strong armed as a QB?
Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Mahomes.

Steve Young? Don’t remember the arm talent being overwhelming but I was just a kid. Elway was also a 5 tool player if that translates to football. However accuracy was not off the charts. Once again, I was like 10 when John was doing his thang later in his career.

That first year Mike Vick got out of prison was a rare mix of all three traits. It didn’t last though and he reverted back to old Vick.
 
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hixgreen

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For us out-of-staters, this is an excellent synopsis of QB history in the Austin area. I really enjoy reading your articles. Thank you.
 

eodhorn

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Has there ever been a combo QB who was both very athletic and very accurate and strong armed as a QB?
Was Charlie Ward big armed? If I remember he was, and obviously a great athlete, Heisman winner, and played in the NBA for several years.