- Josh Moyer, Penn State/Big Ten reporter
Brandon McIlwain (Newtown, Pa./Council Rock North) stood in line, jutting out slightly so he could watch other quarterbacks throw some long balls.
Here, at Stanford's football camp, he would go on to impress a few coaches. But, for now, he just stood in line -- in shoulder pads, shorts and a helmet -- and watched. His friend impressed on-lookers by heaving the ball 53 yards, while numerous other fresh-faced signal-callers, most a year or two older, stepped up to show off their arms.
McIlwain said he smiled when he walked up to the drill. He dropped back and hurled the pigskin as far as he could, watching it take off in a spiral while others in line looked toward the blue sky in awe. By the time the football came down, chased by coaches in T-shirts, he knew his friend's camp-best 53-yarder could be in trouble.
"Fifty-six!" one of the coaches yelled this past summer, indicating McIlwain had thrown farther than anybody else.
"I was pretty surprised," said McIlwain, now a freshman starter in Class AAAA football, the largest classification in Pennsylvania. "I was happy that my arm strength was getting more and more. I just kind of walked back to line and smiled a little bit."
McIlwain moved from San Ramon, Calif., to Newtown one year ago. As an eighth-grader, his reputation as a strong-armed quarterback was whispered among football parents. Curtis Cothran, a senior committed to Penn State, heard all the rumors about the young kid who could throw a fastball 83 mph -- but even he was caught off-guard once he saw McIlwain in person.
"I heard from parents he was the real deal, but I was like, we'll see how it goes," said Cothran, a three-star defensive end. "But once I saw him, I was like, 'Woah. He's definitely going to be starting.' His arm strength was just crazy. I haven't seen anything like that."
McIlwain, 14 years old, said he first measured that distance at the age of 13 -- when he threw another 56-yard pass in a YouTube video that has registered nearly 30,000 views. But flashing that type of potential, especially for a kid who needs to wait two more years for a driver's license, already has been enough to attract some college attention.
Penn State and Rutgers have started recruiting the quarterback. And McIlwain's mother drove him to Happy Valley on Saturday as Penn State's recruiting guest, where he was able to shake Bill O'Brien's hand and walk through the south tunnel.
McIlwain remembers cozying up to his father on the couch and watching South Carolina games back when he was "just a kid" -- about seven years ago -- and dreaming about playing college football. So Saturday's visit, he said, was like a dream.
"It was amazing. It was better than Curtis said; it was great," McIlwain said. "I was just in awe, looking at how big some of the players were and look at the stadium and all the seats and people that were there.
"Just the fact Bill O'Brien coached Tom Brady and now is even talking to me about any kind of quarterback stuff, it's a blessing."
McIlwain endured some growing pains as a 6-foot rookie starter. He completed 49 percent of his passes for 1,402 yards this season. He also tossed nine touchdowns to 15 interceptions, but he knows he'll improve with a heavy dose of hard work and time.
Cothran watched the freshman jog over to the sideline after a turnover earlier in the season, his shoulders drooped and his gaze fixated on his feet. But, as the passing attempts piled up, Cothran noticed a change in McIlwain's confidence. McIlwain noticed, too.
And, with the recruiting attention and that strong arm, he's excited to see where it all might lead.
"I hope to be playing ball somewhere," the freshman said. "And, after that, I hope that I could go on and maybe play in the NFL."
Brandon McIlwain (Newtown, Pa./Council Rock North) stood in line, jutting out slightly so he could watch other quarterbacks throw some long balls.Here, at Stanford's football camp, he would go on to impress a few coaches.