With the multitude of college camps, advances in video technology and the rise of recruiting websites, exposure for high school football players is at an all-time high.
Still, sometimes it is difficult for small-school players in South Dakota to get that invaluable attention.
The state isn’t exactly on every college recruiter’s travel plans. Many teams don’t have the means to get their athletes the exposure. And even if a prospect makes it over these hurdles, questions remain about the level of competition compared with more populous states.
But don’t tell any of that to Harding County quarterback Austin Brown, who hasn’t let the relative obscurity of playing small-town ball derail his goal of playing quarterback in college.
Brown, listed at 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, is in his fourth year at the helm of the Ranchers and was recently named by longtime recruiting expert Tom Lemming as one of the biggest sleepers at quarterback for the 2011 class in his yearly prep football report.
Harding County is off to a 4-0 start, but what makes the wins more impressive is the manner and margin of victory. The Ranchers have reached at least 50 points in every game and have given up just 14.
In the first four games, Brown is a combined 38-of-48 for 659 yards and 13 touchdowns. He hasn’t thrown an interception and has added three more scores on the ground.
Even with the lofty start, Brown said it was an honor to be mentioned in Lemming’s report, and he is motivated to prove Lemming right.
“Coming from a town of about 308 people, it’s a cool feeling,” Brown said. “It gives you confidence that it doesn’t matter where you come from. Football is football, and I want to show everyone what I can do.”
To prepare for his senior year, Brown had as busy a summer as is possible in South Dakota, heading off to seven camps in neighboring states, including sessions at Wyoming, Colorado State, Montana State and in-state camps at Black Hills State, the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State. His goals were simple: show off his skills and improve at each camp.
That summer experience, coupled with his years of progression in the Harding County program, has given Rancher head coach Jay Wammen one of the better weapons in Region 9A, if not the entire state.
“It’s his fourth year starting, and he’s got a ton of game experience under his belt,” Wammen said. “He’s definitely one of the best players I’ve coached. He’s got the prototypical size, arm strength and all the ability in the world, and he’s starting to see the field better this year.”
Those are scary thoughts for his opponents, especially when listening to Joe Dickinson, a quarterback coaching expert who worked out with Brown this past summer. Dickinson knows a thing or two about the position, as the Oklahoma City-based coach has worked with Troy Aikman, Josh Freeman, Matt Barkley and Dayne Crist, among others.
“Boy, he’s got the size everyone looks for, his footwork is unbelievable for a 6-6 guy,” Dickinson said. “If he didn’t grow up in a remote area, I think he’d be a heavily-recruited kid.”
It was through Lemming’s friendship with Dickinson that the recruiting guru heard about Brown.
“(Austin) came to a workout, and I called Tom and told him, ‘This kid, without a shadow of a doubt, should be in your magazine,’” Dickinson said. “Tom looked at some film and was under the same impression I was. Tom looked at it and was excited about the tape.”
Although he doesn’t have any official offers yet, Brown can tell that many college coaches are just as excited about his film.
“Right now I’m pretty wide open, just trying to narrow it down,” Brown said. “I like USD and SDSU. They both took me in and said they needed time to think. I just missed a call from USD the other day actually, so I think something will come sometime.”
Regardless of where he plays college, Dickinson had some strong words when he described Brown’s potential.
“What college, I’m not sure, but I have no doubt he’ll play college football,” Dickinson said. “You can’t coach height, he has strong footwork, can make all the throws. I was very impressed with him. I think he’s got a lot of potential. It wouldn’t surprise me if he played in the NFL.”