REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — And now the waiting game begins for Sam Ehlinger.
The Texas quarterback commit placed himself squarely on the bubble following the conclusion of the Elite 11 Finals and will find out Monday morning if his performance from the past three days warranted an invitation to The Opening next month in Oregon.
Twelve participants will go. Twelve will not. In Ehlinger’s case, this could go either way.
“It will be a very interesting discussion,” Elite 11 head coach Trent Dilfer said. “I can’t spill the beans. He should be very proud of himself. He had a very good weekend.”
Regardless of the decision, Ehlinger isn’t returning to Westlake High empty-handed after Elite 11 counselors singled him out amongst all competitors as ‘most coachable.’ It’s an award that’ll please Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, who in 2017 will add Ehlinger to a quarterbacks room that will also include incoming freshman Shane Buechele, who in his six months on campus has received good reviews for his coachability.
Of the 12 awards distributed, QB guru George Whitfield said he’d take most coachable “over all of the other ones.”
“For the coaching he was trying to take in on the fly, I thought he was brilliant,” Whitfield said of Ehlinger. “He was at ease. Very intelligent and can take schemes and put them right into the play.”
Considering the glowing assessments, it’s a wonder why Ehlinger isn’t a lock for The Opening. Truth is, Dilfer said Ehlinger set himself back with a subpar performance at the Houston regional, which counts for 25 percent of one’s score heading into the Finals.
Thus, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Ehlinger, who found himself outside of the top 11 rankings following Friday’s basic throwing drills. He picked up the pace on Saturday and broke in, at No. 11, with an impressive showing in a drill where participants attempted 20 passes of various routes and distances.
On Sunday, Ehlinger neither helped or hurt his cause in 7-on-7 drills, tossing a couple of touchdown passes but getting robbed of a couple more with drops by his receivers.
“I’m confident in what I did, and if I didn’t make it, I didn’t make it,” Ehlinger said. “But I learned a lot and got better, so that’s all that matters.”
Sam Ehlinger with TD pass at Elite 11 7-on-7 pic.twitter.com/Jz7i0mOaVB
— Ryan Autullo (@AutulloAAS) June 5, 2016
Among the locks for bids to The Opening are Hawaii’s Tua Tagovaiola — an Alabama commit who Dilfer and just about everyone else trumpeted as the week’s top performer — along with Georgia’s Davis Mills (Stanford), California’s Jack Sears (uncommitted) and Indiana’s Hunter Johnson (Clemson). Joining them, in all likelihood, will be the nation’s top pro style QB (Michigan commit Dylan McCaffrey) and top dual threat QB (uncommited Tate Martell). However, neither of them was particularly impressive or lived up to their five-star status.
Of the five Texans not named Ehlinger, Mesquite Horn’s Chris Robison (Oklahoma) has the best chance to advance. Entering Sunday, Robison was sat one spot ahead of Ehlinger in 10th.
“You can always do more, but I think I put myself in good position,” Ehlinger said.
Ehlinger, a multi-threat talent who ran for more than 1,300 yards last season, is in a sense stifled competing in a passing-only event. Unlike in a game, he couldn’t tuck the ball and take off if his receivers were blanketed. Not surprisingly, Ehlinger was at his best when he rolled outside and extended the pocket.
Dilfer, who quarterbacked the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl win, called Ehlinger “a baller” and in his pre-camp analysis compared him to unconventional quarterbacks Brett Favre and Tim Tebow, who both succeeded veering off of script.
It’s a great compliment, but comes with the caveat, Dilfer said, that for Ehlinger to maximum his instinctive style he must “add layers.”
“He was introduced to a different way of playing quarterback,” Dilfer said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking anything they do at Westlake, but to keep playing this position for a long time you have to learn how to play a lot of different ways.”