The first time Taylor Barton met Max Browne, he noticed a gleam in his eyes.
Initially, all he could see was the outside shell of a tall, gangly quarterback with blond, curly hair. But a deeper look into Browne’s blue eyes revealed a penetrating focus and a hunger to learn.
“You could tell from a young age, this kid was on a mission,” Barton said, recalling their meeting four years ago at a football camp for the Barton Football Academy. “You could see it in his eyes. He had that determination in him.”
Since their early acquaintance, Barton has watched in admiration as Browne’s football recruiting stock and high school career skyrocketed into rarefied air.
Hailing from a region known for producing big-name, blue-chip quarterbacks, the Skyline High School product who has already enrolled at Southern California put together arguably the most impressive high school résumé of them all and he sits atop the 2013 edition of The News Tribune’s Northwest Nuggets.
“I don’t recall any other quarterback in the Northwest ever being as highly regarded as him,” said Allen Wallace, former publisher of SuperPrep, a national recruiting magazine that was in publication from 1985 until its final preseason issue in August.
The Northwest has produced more than a dozen NFL
quarterbacks since the mid-1980s. But coming out of high school, no quarterback from this corner of the country has been as highly rated and decorated with as many national honors as Browne, who was ranked the nation’s No. 1 high school quarterback in the class of 2013, and was named the Gatorade National High School Football Player of the Year, among other national honors.
One has been rated as high and another received the same Gatorade national honor, but none have received both.
“Boy, is he fundamentally sound,” said ESPN college football analyst Brock Huard, who was the Northwest’s only other prep quarterback to win the Gatorade national player of the year award, earning it while at Puyallup in 1995. “I would say that would probably be the common link between he and I. I think he’s even (at) the next level, doing those camps since the time he was a toddler, like Jake Heaps.”
Heaps was the first quarterback from Skyline to storm the national stage, finishing his prep career with three state titles, a No. 1 national quarterback ranking by Rivals.com and Scout.com, and a pile of major college scholarship offers from all over the country.
The idea of following Heaps might’ve left most sophomore quarterbacks feeling a little insecure but Browne couldn’t start soon enough. It was the opportunity he’d been groomed for since he played in the Skyline Youth Football Association for his father, Mike Browne.
“My dream was always to be Skyline’s quarterback,” Max Browne said.
In three seasons, Browne used his strong arm and accuracy to lead the Spartans to three state title appearances and two championships. He rewrote almost every school record, passed for a state-record 12,951 yards and was third all-time in state history with 146 touchdown passes.
He then spent a dizzying six weeks traveling across the country for appearances, awards and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl before finally settling in at the USC campus, where he’s enrolled this semester so he can participate in spring football.
“It’s been crazy,” Browne said.
Those close to Browne say the factors behind his rise to national prominence didn’t come simply because of his cannon arm and 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame.
Browne developed an ultracompetitive nature at an early age, having grown up in an athletic family with three older brothers who played sports at Skyline and a dad who coached youth football.
But it was Browne’s tireless work ethic, eagerness to absorb information, and leadership qualities that set him apart.
Mitch Browne, Skyline’s first quarterback who led the Spartans to a state football title in 2000, remembers a time during his senior year when he came home and saw his 5-year-old brother dribbling a basketball by himself in the dark.
“I said, ‘Max, what are you doing?’” Mitch said. “He said, ‘I’m working on my dribble with my left hand.’ That’s when you realized he had an unusual work ethic. Not too many kids that age would be working on their off hand.”
Max Browne hung around the Skyline football team back then and became a quick study.
“He can tell you the numbers of every player on my team,” Mitch Browne said.
With youth football, Browne got to emulate what he saw. His dad’s youth team didn’t hesitate to pass. By the time he reached the eighth grade, Browne started learning from his offensive coordinator, Scott Pelluer, a former Washington State University and New Orleans Saints linebacker.
In the ninth grade, Browne was the backup to Heaps at star-studded Skyline and got another education.
“What was critical was he was the scout team quarterback,” Mike Browne said. “He was the scout team player of the year. That was probably Skyline’s best defense they ever had. Of the 11 guys, nine of them played college football.”
Browne still yearned to improve and distinguish himself. He made frequent trips to regional camps to work on his footwork and gain other skills. He wanted to gain the footwork that would allow him to be a great quarterback.
“He saw a great quarterback come before him,” Barton said. “Where the next guy comes in and says, ‘I want to be the next this guy,’ Max looked at it and wanted to be the first Max Browne.”
Although year-round football camps are predominant in other parts of the country, it wasn’t until 1998 that the Barton Football Academy introduced that concept to the Northwest.
Heaps and Browne took advantage.
“With all of the quarterbacks who make it – there’s been so many coming out of Oregon and Washington the last 15 years – you see those common denominators: the guys willing to commit and sacrifice more and who are willing to put in more work,” said Barton, a quarterback at the University of Washington from 2001-02.
“Max is a perfect example of where you’ve got to get the mechanics right. He’s not a fast kid in the 40(-yard dash) but he’s got unbelievable footwork in the pocket. That doesn’t happen naturally. You’ve got to put hundreds of hours into it.”
Browne’s recruiting stock didn’t take off until after his junior season when he passed for 4,034 yards and 45 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Oklahoma, USC and Alabama offered him scholarships and it came down to the Trojans over the Sooners.
Wallace said that if his SuperPrep magazine would have published one more Pre-Signing All-America issue this month, he would have likely rated Browne as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country, a distinction no other Northwest quarterback has received.
Huard finished as SuperPrep’s No. 2-rated quarterback in 1995, while Heaps was No. 4 in 2010. Walla Walla’s Drew Bledsoe was ranked the sixth best in 1990.
“I would be hard-pressed to see anyone come in with higher credentials than Max,” Wallace said. “I can’t think of a quarterback who I would look at and have jump (over) this guy.”
Skyline (Sammamish) quarterback, 6-5, 215 Committed to Southern California
The Gatorade national player of the year is not only the top quarterback prospect for 2013 nationally – he is arguably the most accomplished signal caller to ever come out of the Northwest. And the list of qualities used to pinpoint Browne is head-spinning: Astute student of the game, technically sound, poised in the pocket, natural leader – and winner. Apparently also committed, because he enrolled at Southern California – the school he gave the nod to last spring – in January, and could be a factor for the starting job by this fall. “As far as competition goes, they tell me it is wide open,” Browne said. “That is all I can ask for.” Set the state of Washington’s all-time career passing mark with 12,953 yards.
What an FBS recruiter says: “Technically, he is so sound, and his intangibles are off the charts. He is a quarterback any D-I program would want.”
Bellevue linebacker, 6-3, 230 Committed to UCLA
An absolute physical behemoth at outside linebacker, he looked like a man among boys on a football field for the Wolverines. He has been committed to UCLA since June, but Washington, Florida State, Arizona State and Utah are still fringe contenders among the 20 NCAA Division I schools that have offered scholarships. “Any school that develops strong defensive talent, I consider that my top priority,” said Jack, adding he wants to go to a high-quality communications school so he can have a career as a behind-the-scenes producer at ESPN or NFL Network. He had 24 sacks his senior season, and was the leading tackler for the West at the U.S. Army All-American game.
What an FBS recruiter says: “Endless motor as a pass rusher, he runs by you, he runs over you and he always seems to make impactful plays.”
Aloha, Ore., offensive lineman, 6-4, 300 Committed to BYU
Nobody knows Aloha football over the past decade-and-a-half as well as this teenager. He was on the sideline as a baby with his father, Stuart, who is the freshman coach – and has grown up around the program.
These days, Kearsley is the giant presence at left guard, and helped pave the way for teammate Thomas Tyner’s record-setting 3,415-yard rushing season. “He is a punishing lineman who always puts people on their backs,” former Aloha coach Chris Casey said. Committed to Brigham Young over Oregon State, UCLA, Washington and Arizona State – all of which were among 10 NCAA Division I schools to offer a scholarship.
What an FBS recruiter says: “(Tyner) got the yards, but (Kearsley) demolished any defender in sight. Premier run blocker in college.”
Mead (Spokane) athlete, 6-5, 225 Committed to Oregon
The two-way hybrid position seems to be the way to go these days. Committed to Notre Dame after his junior season, Mattingly switched to Oregon right before Christmas – and could see action at outside linebacker and tight end.
“He is a versatile athlete, so the biggest problem coaches will have is deciding where they need him most – because he can do it all,” Mead coach Sean Carty said.
In his past two seasons, Mattingly had nine interceptions at linebacker, and caught 14 touchdown passes at tight end. Among his 20 NCAA Division I scholarship offers were Alabama, Miami, Nebraska, Oklahoma and more than half the Pacific-12 Conference.
What an FBS recruiter says: “Operates in space as well as any outside linebacker I saw in the Northwest – and possibly on the West Coast.”
Aloha, Ore. running back, 6-0, 210 Committed to Oregon
Has there ever been a better running back from the Northwest? Timberline’s Jonathan Stewart was the No. 1-ranked tailback prospect in 2005 – and Tyner is regarded to be of Stewart’s caliber. Coincidentally, Tyner will play for the same university Stewart starred at – Oregon. “It is great to know so many people wish the best for you, and it is this support that makes me want to do my best on the field,” Tyner said. A superior athlete with top-level speed, 2012 was his first injury-free season at running back – and it was a big one, rushing for a state-record 3,415 yards and 45 touchdowns. He had scholarship offers from California, UCLA, Oregon State and Washington.
What an FBS recruiter says: “A world-class athlete, he could be a Division I running back or sprinter. The Ducks just keep adding more backfield speed.”
CAMERON VAN WINKLE
Mount Si (Snoqualmie) kicker, 5-10, 170 Committed to Washington
Despite his smallish stature, Van Winkle is a true thunderfoot with a football. He smashed the state record for career field goals (39), but it might be his kickoffs that land him early playing time at the University of Washington, where he is expected to enroll this spring.
As a senior, 77 of his 86 kickoffs went for touchbacks – with 12 of them sailing through the goalposts, and one kickoff leaving the stadium entirely. “I am a soccer player-turned-football player and developed my leg strength playing center-back where I had to clear the ball,” Van Winkle said. Recruiting really picked up after he made 18 field goals as a junior and was named an All-American by placekicking gurus Jamie and Andy Kohl.
What an FBS recruiter says: “Really creates smooth, natural power on his kicks. Struggled a little bit on field goals this season, but a big weapon for the UW.”
West Linn, Ore. offensive lineman, 6-4, 290 Committed to Oregon
Was the consensus top lineman in the region before suffering a right shoulder dislocation that limited him to playing half his senior season. He gave an oral commitment to Oregon last spring, and is projected to play at either tackle position because of his overall athleticism, ability to operate well in space and a vicious hand jolt to defenders in pass-blocking. “I am thin for my size, and the coaches at Oregon want me to be at least 305 (pounds). I can add 15-20 pounds without losing any of my athletic ability,” Voeller said. Seven other Pac-12 schools, including Stanford, UCLA and Washington, offered him a scholarship – as well as Nebraska.
What an FBS recruiter says: “I think he starts (his career) at right tackle, but as he gets bigger, he could play on the left side and be a good one.”
Eric Cotton Jr.: Nampa, Idaho (Columbia) tight end, 6-5, 235; committed to Stanford
Sefo Liufau: Tacoma (Bellarmine Prep) quarterback, 6-3, 220; committed to Colorado
Dallin Leavitt: Portland (Central Catholic) defensive back, 5-11, 205; committed to BYU
Billy Green: Seattle (King's) quarterback, 6-2, 200; committed to BYU
Tere Calloway: Seattle (Seattle Prep) defensive back/athlete, 5-11, 185; committed to Nevada
Sean Constantine: Bellevue linebacker, 6-3, 225; committed to Washington
Andrew Kirkland: Portland (Jesuit) offensive lineman, 6-5, 290; committed to Washington
Cody O'Connell: Wenatchee, offensive lineman, 6-9, 350; committed to Washington State
Peyton Pelluer: Sammamish (Skyline) linebacker, 6-2, 235; committed to Washington State
JonRyheem Peoples: Rigby, Idaho, defensive lineman, 6-6, 300; committed to BYU
Johnny Ragin III: Wilsonville, Ore., linebacker, 6-3, 215; committed to California
Tanner Shipley: Wilsonville, Ore., wide receiver, 6-2, 190; committed to BYU
Tatum Taylor: Seattle (O'Dea) athlete, 5-10, 170; considering Arizona State, Oregon State