When Patriots QB Jarrett Stidham Was Ranked Higher Than Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson

By , WEEI 93.7

The high school class of 2015 had some outstanding quarterbacks — Kyler Murray, Kelly Bryant, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Jarrett Stidham just to name a few.

And according to ESPN’s 300 rankings, Stidham was the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the entire country, trailing only Murray. The Stephenville High School (Texas) star was ranked ahead of players who have proven themselves at the NFL level in Darnold and Jackson.

Stidham truly was one of the best quarterbacks in the entire country.    

“I knew right away he would be a great football player for us,” his high school coach and now University of Tulsa defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie said over the phone last week.

“In high school he could pretty much do everything,” Stidham's personal quarterback coach Kelan Luker added. “I can name off every intangible a quarterback is supposed to have and he had it.”

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Stidham was born in Corbin, Kentucky, but moved to Stephenvile, Texas around the fifth grade. He was in the same grade as Gillispie’s son, so the high school coach was able to see even at a young age Stidham had the potential to be a star.

Luker, who played quarterback at Stephenville himself in the late 90s before moving on to play at Southern Methodist, was introduced to Stidham a few years after he had moved because of a recommendation from Gillespie.

“I talked to his dad for the first time the summer of seventh or eighth grade and he said to me, ‘I want him to be the best.’ I will never forget that,” said Luker.

He began by coaching Stidham and his teammates in 7v7 during the offseason and it was quite clear Stidham was on a different level, which went beyond him standing close to six-foot tall when he was only in junior high.

“Jarrett just had a knack for being accurate,” Luker said. “There was an issue on his 7v7 team, and I think even as he got older, he hardly ever missed and so all the pressure was always on the receivers. The receivers felt it, too. There weren’t too many Michael Irvin’s on the team, so it was an ongoing battle with that. I was dumbfounded with just how he was so accurate.”

Once Stidham got to high school, he was the quarterback of the freshman team even though he had the potential to start on varsity. Gillespie was a big believer in the process and having quarterbacks develop.

But, it was during that freshman year where Luker really saw the full potential of Stidham and what he one day could be.

“I used to watch him just about every game in his freshman year,” he said. “He breaks the pocket and he rolls out to his left, switches his feet and throws a 50-yard bomb on the sideline on the money. That is something you rarely ever see a freshman kid do. That was the one play I will never forget.”

As a sophomore, Stidham was on varsity, but did not play quarterback. Ahead of him was Tyler Jones, a senior, who played at Texas State after Stephenville. While he always knew he would be a quarterback, Stidham played all over the field that year because of his athletic ability. On offense he was a receiver and then shifted around the defense playing both safety and corner.

Once Jones graduated, it was Stidham’s team for his final two high school seasons, and he did not disappoint. 

“Jarrett has been blessed,” Gillispie said. “He has a lot of God given ability. He’s got length and he’s got an arm like no other, from a high school standpoint at least. Then he had the ability to run. He’s just a phenomenal athlete. Just get a ball in his hands, I don’t care what kind of ball it is, he’s going to be one of your top players, if not the top player. 

“Along with all that he was obviously blessed with some abilities you can’t really teach. He had a phenomenal work ethic. He wanted to be the best at everything he did. He worked to be that.”

As a junior, he passed for 2,687 yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for 975 yards and 16 touchdowns. Then as a senior, despite missing three games with a hand injury, Stidham threw for 2,875 yards and 35 touchdowns with just three interceptions, while rushing for 986 yards and 16 scores.

In late October, Stidham broke his hand on the opening series in a game against Big Spring. He was able to return a month later for a second-round playoff game against Estacado and did not miss a beat. He threw for 341 yards and six touchdowns, while adding 181 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in a 69-60 win.

“I think he threw like six touchdowns or something,” Gillespie recalled. “It was incredible.”

Stidham led Stephenville to another win the following week, but then fell the next week in the Region 1 final to end his high school career. 

Following his time at Stephenville came his unique college journey, which most are aware of, as he left Baylor following coach Art Briles being fired in wake of a sexual abuse scandal, to spending a semester at McLennan Community College before ultimately deciding on Auburn.

Following two years at Auburn, Stidham was drafted in the fourth-round by the Patriots in the 2019 NFL Draft, which was a great fit according to those close to him.

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On Day 3 of the NFL Draft, Stidham was one of the first players selected as the Patriots drafted him with pick No. 133 overall, which meant he would backup Tom Brady.

This was pretty ironic considering Luker had compared Stidham to Brady back when he was in junior high school, but he didn’t want to hear it at the time.

“I think it was a beautiful thing,” Luker said. “When he was in seventh or eighth grade I told him he threw the ball a lot like Tom Brady and I thought it was kind of ironic because he sometimes kind of got upset like, ‘Peyton Manning is my guy. Peyton Manning.’ I was like, ‘Well, you don’t throw like Peyton Manning, you throw like Tom Brady.’ He just didn’t realize who Tom Brady was at that time.”

While Stidham did not get much playing time last year, he was able to observe Brady on a daily basis as well as lead the scout team in practice. This may have been the best thing for him, as Luker noticed a difference in the young QB following spending a full season with Brady and the Patriots.

“For him to play under Tom and go into a system that Tom helped create to watch and learn from, the last time I saw him I was like, ‘He’s growing up.’ This is great being in that football program under Brady, Bill Belichick,” he said. “It seems like he grew up tremendously. I couldn’t believe it. I thought he went to a perfect situation. I couldn’t believe it. I feel like he’s tremendously blessed to be part of that system.”

Now, with Brady in Tampa Bay, Stidham is the leader in the clubhouse to be his replacement in 2020. And while no one really knows how it will go, based on how he did in high school being ranked above some of the best young quarterbacks in the league, it’s certainly something to feel good about. 

“He is one of those guys we will be talking about for a long time,” Gillespie said.

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