A QB by any other name …
By Grant Lucas
His surname alone creates a difficult standard to match, and John Bledsoe felt that pressure early in his football career. The No. 11 on his jersey and the position he chose to play have only added to the hype.
When Bledsoe was a sophomore quarterback at Summit High, he recalls, the weight of the expectations reached its max. As the son of former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe, John remembers stressing through middle school and the first two years of high school. It was also about that time that John Bledsoe began developing into one of Oregon’s top prospects.
John rarely went to quarterback camps — a decision his dad, now Summit’s offensive coordinator, made to help John avoid what Drew calls the “quarterback rat race” and allow the younger Bledsoe to “be a kid.”
John opted to play basketball and tennis as opposed to devoting his entire life to football. Growing up, he regularly attended his dad’s home games — in Buffalo when Drew played for the Bills, and in Dallas when he was with the Cowboys — to toss the football around on the field with his father, a la the father-son catch scene from “Field of Dreams.” Every so often, the two QBs will still rocket around footballs in the yard at home or at practice. Playing those innocent games of catch, John says, is the root of his football career.
He aspires to be like his father, who was the Pac-10 offensive player of the year in 1992 while at Washington State before going on to a 14-year NFL career in which he became one of the most prolific passers in league history.
John proudly wears that No. 11 beneath the “Bledsoe” on his jersey — regardless of the pressure that comes with it. Now in his senior season, after being named Class 5A offensive player of the year and leading Summit to the 5A state championship as a junior, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound John Bledsoe is well on his way to meeting that goal.
As a competitor, in decision-making, in terms of poise and execution, Bledsoe, Storm coach Joe Padilla says, is “definitely one of the best, if not the best, that I’ve been around in watching him work.”
John’s anticipation and timing, Drew says, “is probably better than what mine was until I got to the NFL. The way that he sees things and anticipates and gets the ball out with accuracy is truly exceptional.”
John’s passing precision reminds Drew of his own playing days. But as a runner — John has the speed and strength to tuck the ball away and scramble — Drew says his son is far superior. On top of that, Drew says, John is “probably a better leader than I was when I was young.”
“It’s just unreal,” Summit quarterbacks coach Tony Graziani, who played QB for the Oregon Ducks and in the NFL, says of John Bledsoe’s intelligence. “It’s like talking to a colleague. It’s like talking to someone on your same level. I’m on the sideline with him, and in between series, we’ll have conversations at a very, very high level. We’re talking things that I didn’t even go over with until the NFL. … He’ll come over and suggest things, and I’m like, ‘Wow. Yeah. That’s true. We didn’t even think of that.’ And we’ll call it the next series and it will work.”
The accuracy that Storm coaches rave about — and that haunts opposing teams — was on display early in John’s high school career. Despite being intercepted nine times as a sophomore, Bledsoe completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 1,862 yards and 25 touchdowns. That was nothing compared with last season, when, on his way to being named the 5A offensive player of the year, Bledsoe piled up 2,551 yards and 31 touchdowns against just three interceptions on 66.2 percent passing. Through three games this season, he has completed just 59.5 percent of his passes for 569 yards and four TDs against two interceptions, but he is 31-of-46 (67.4 percent) over the past two games.
Opposing coaches look to get defensive pressure on Bledsoe, as Mountain View coach Brian Crum notes. They want him to be on the run, which they hope will cause a misstep. That is the key word: hope.
“You hope he makes a mistake,” Crum says. “What he does so well, though, is he throws guys open. You can be in a space and his guy’s not open yet, but he knows exactly where his guy’s going to be. When that guy breaks, the ball’s right on him. … There’s a reason why he’s a college-level quarterback. Those are special guys. Those are game-changers, especially at the 5A level.”
John says he spends “a good amount of time” studying film. He analyzes defenses, sees where and when blitzes might come.
On the field, he is a butcher. He examines any defense and finds ways to pound and slice it. Take, for example, last season’s Intermountain Conference game against Bend High. With Summit leading 7-0, Bledsoe approached the line of scrimmage. He saw a Lava Bears safety covering Storm wide receiver Sean Kent. He watched as a defensive back pressed up on tight end Grant Tobias. Bledsoe caught the eye of his tight end — and smiled. Bledsoe knew what was coming, he remembers, and he delivered a 38-yard strike to Tobias for a touchdown.
“I feel like I’ve asserted myself as being pretty elite,” says Bledsoe, who was recruited by Washington State and Oregon State, among others, before he committed to play at FCS Northern Arizona. “But there are definitely kids that are better than me in the state. Connor Neville (a Washington State commit at Wilsonville) and Tim Tawa (a Stanford baseball commit at West Linn). There’s still a lot of room to improve for myself, but I also don’t like to compare myself to other kids. I try to be successful for my team.”
It is not just his accuracy and his uncanny ability to read defenses that make Bledsoe a star, Graziani emphasizes. It is also his toughness. Last year, during the final game of the regular season, Bledsoe tore the meniscus in his left knee. The following week, in the first round of the state playoffs, that “floating piece” of meniscus, as Bledsoe describes it, lodged in his knee, preventing him from extending his leg. He underwent surgery the day before Summit’s quarterfinal game against Redmond, Bledsoe recalls, but returned eight days later and completed 19 straight passes in the Storm’s semifinal win against Crater — a team, Graziani recounts, that boasted “the best (defensive) line that we faced all year.”
“The way I look at it, I’ll only go off the field if I cannot operate at all,” says Bledsoe, who added 15 pounds of bulk during the offseason. “It’s tough to describe. My dad was a tough player. Maybe it’s genetics.”
The bloodline no doubt contributes to Bledsoe’s natural quarterbacking abilities. It just as certainly is a source of tremendous pride for a second-generation Bledsoe wearing No. 11.
“A lot of it was I wanted to be like my dad,” John Bledsoe says. “But at the same time, I’m my own person. It’s a different time and I’m a different player. But a lot of it came from watching my dad, seeing all he’s done and following in his footsteps.”