30 seconds into speaking in front of all 20 finalists at the Elite 11 in the ballroom of a Marriott hotel in southern California, Yogi Roth asked the athletes to change their seats.
“Look at your life through a different lens these next 95 hours,” Roth said.
Roth has served as the host of the finals since 2009; he’s a former college football player and now works with the Pac-12 network as a broadcaster in addition to his work as a storyteller with CW’s All-American Stories.
As the host, Roth’s charge every year with the finals is to develop a theme for the four-day camp. From the “It Factor” in 2016 to “#IAm” two years later, this time around the theme is connection.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, including Roth, who lost his mother. Her passing inspired Roth to move forward with connection as the core message he wishes to share with the finalists.
“Quarterbacks aren’t lone rangers,” said Roth. “When people say [quarterbacks] put the team on their back it’s [not true].”
After a period of time when everyone’s met to be physically distanced, Roth said it’s more important now than ever to socially reconnect.
Roth’s charge to the campers is to connect with everything they can from the playbook to the coaching staff to the college counselors and with each other.
Jerrod Johnson works for the Indianapolis Colts as an assistant wide receiver coach and offensive quality control in addition to his role as an on-field coach with the Elite 11.
He delivered a particularly powerful message in front of the athletes and staff, telling everyone “After this week, we’re all connected.”
And it’s so true.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold met Jordan Palmer at the Elite 11 Finals in 2014.
Both work together in the offseason to this day.
Roth said he’s happy with how the quarterbacks have bought into his message so far. Elite 11 Head Coach Trent Dilfer spearheaded a two-day playbook install via Zoom: 100 percent participation among the finalists.
“Some of the best quarterbacks we’ve seen, they ask questions,” Roth said.
Between Brian Stumpf, who’s been a part of the Elite 11 for 22 years, and Jordan Palmer, who prepared Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence for their rookie seasons in the NFL, it’ll be interesting to see which finalists impress the coaches the most from a character standpoint and in terms of work ethic.
“You can’t be a nine to five quarterback and succeed at the next level,” Stumpf said.
As much as the on-field workouts factor into the evaluation process to determine the finals MVP, the staff takes into consideration who shows a strong willingness to compete, accepts criticism well and embraces being a student as much as an athlete.
“Everything’s being evaluated,” Roth told the room. “Be ready to hear some uncomfortable truths.”
“Pay attention to your intention,” Roth said. The 39-year-old host will spend this week pulling athletes aside to ask them what their goal is, which should be different each day.
Goals should not revolve entirely around football. Stumpf told the finalists their experience will include learning how to use their platforms and reach via social media to effect positive social change in the wake of the last 18 months, mentioning George Floyd.
“[Elite 11] is here to arm you with all the support you need on that front,” Stumpf said to all the athletes.
As Roth outlined the core values the finalists should keep in mind during the first all-hands meeting between coaches and players, his message about the word compete remains ingrained in my brain.
He explained how in the dictionary, compete means “to strive against.” But the Latin root of the word means “to strive together.”
And that’s what Roth wants to see from this year’s group, a cohort of 20 competing together to make each other better.
Iron sharpens iron.