Tate Martell is the youngest player to commit publicly to UW, and among the sport's youngest ever. Steve Clarkson, a well-known quarterback instructor, says coach Steve Sarkisian made a verbal scholarship offer to the talented teen.
Tate Martell, a 14-year-old San Diego resident, is about to enter the eighth grade. He’s still unsure which high school he will attend.
As of Wednesday, however, he knows which college is in his future, saying he will sign with the University of Washington to play quarterback beginning in fall 2017.
Martell said he made the nonbinding decision Wednesday after he and his family met with UW coach Steve Sarkisian in Los Angeles.
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“I really didn’t expect it to happen at this point, at how young I am,” he said in an interview with The Seattle Times. “It’s just weird, weird — but really cool. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a great opportunity.”
The news raised eyebrows throughout college football. Martell is the youngest player to commit publicly to UW, and among the sport’s youngest ever.
Some questioned the idea of a teen not yet in the eighth grade making a public commitment, though there are no NCAA rules governing the age at which a player can be verbally offered and accept a scholarship.
Steve Clarkson, a well-known quarterback instructor who lives in San Gabriel, Calif., told The Seattle Times that Sarkisian made a verbal offer to Martell this summer after watching film of him.
The commitment is not binding as Martell — scheduled to graduate from high school in spring 2017 — cannot sign a letter of intent until February 2017.
UW cannot make a written offer of a scholarship until Sept. 1 of his senior year of high school. College coaches cannot comment on players until they sign their letters of intent.
Martell’s father, Al, a former wrestler at Fresno State, told The Times that he had no problem with his son being offered and accepting a scholarship at a young age, adding that “adults that ask that question, it makes me scratch my head.”
He said his son has loved football since he was 3 or 4 years old and used to draw up plays to send to former San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer. He said his son has been playing football seriously since age 7, with an eye toward getting a college scholarship.
Martell, who is home-schooled, repeated the seventh grade to allow for greater physical maturity.
“You put this opportunity in front of 100 14-year-olds, and I guarantee you that you are at probably 100 percent (who would take it),” his father said.
The only person younger known to make a commitment is David Sills, a quarterback from Delaware who was 13 when he committed to USC in 2010. Sills, now 16, and Martell are friends and both are students of Clarkson.
Martell, listed at 5-feet-11 and 180 pounds, visited UW this summer and plans to make a longer visit in August once the team begins training camp.
A sign of the times
Clarkson said this news is simply a sign of the times. High-school players routinely commit to colleges while they are juniors in high school, as do an increasing number of sophomores
“To have that (scholarship) in hand takes a little bit of the pressure off,” Clarkson said.
He said he believes such commitments are the beginning of a trend. Louisiana State just made an offer to a 14-year-old.
Adam Gorney, who covers recruiting for the website Rivals.com, though, said, “I don’t think it’s something that everyone is going to start doing.”
Players making commitments at such a young age are more common in basketball. Patrick Simon of Ephrata made a verbal commitment to play basketball at Washington State in 2007 at age 14.
Gorney said it would likely happen in football largely with quarterbacks, a position of high value and at which some skills that would translate to college are easier to detect at an early age.
“It’s obviously a little strange to offer an eighth-grader and have him commit,” Gorney said. “It is a little peculiar, but it isn’t quite as strange as it used to be after David Sills did it.”
Brandon Huffman, a recruiting analyst for Scout.com and Fox Sports, also said that Sills’ commitment “kind of made it OK at this point” to make offers to players who are in junior high. But he also said he thinks “there is real danger in it,” in large part because there is so much time between now and when Martell would enroll at UW. There could be some “buyer’s remorse” by either side.
Conversely, he notes that the fact that the agreement is not binding until a letter is signed takes away some of the risk.
Likened to Brett Favre
Tate Martell has been a big fan of the Huskies since meeting former UW quarterback Jake Locker in summer 2010, when Locker was a counselor at a camp that Clarkson ran and Martell attended.
Clarkson has known Sarkisian since Sarkisian was a student at West Torrance (Calif.) High in the early 1990s — Sarkisian was one of Clarkson’s initial students. He said he gave Sarkisian some film of Martell recently and that Sarkisian “was just thrown back by his ability.”
He said he told Sarkisian that “if you could clone Fran Tarkenton and Brett Favre, you would have Tate Martell and that just resonated.”
Martell said that while he knows that a lot can happen in five years, he has every intention of someday becoming a Husky.
“I’m totally comfortable (with it),” he said. “I already looked at some of the classes up there and what I want to do already.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.