Quarterbacks coach Mike Giovando’s coaching and relationships helping Arizona QBs blossom
December 4, 2017 by Jordan Kaye , Arizona State University
Arizona, packed with its breathtaking sunsets and picturesque landscape, seems to be a hotbed for many things: great restaurants, snowbirds and a million dry-heat jokes. But, recently, the Grand Canyon State is getting recognition on a much different front.
Its high school quarterbacks.
And in a state that seems to attract transplants, guys like former Pinnacle quarterback Brian Lewerke (now at Michigan State), former Sunrise Mountain QB Chase Cord (Boise State) and former Saguaro quarterback Karé Lyles (Wisconsin) seem to have built a foundation for big-time universities to look to the desert for their next gunslinger.
The next wave of talent under center have burst on to the scene of, not only Arizona high school football, but the recruiting boards of plenty of Division I college programs.
Saguaro senior Max Massingale led his team to the Class 4A championship and will be continuing his football career at Air Force. Gilbert senior Jack Plummer threw for 2,861 yards this season and will be heading Purdue next season.
And possibly the Hope Diamond of the current shiny quarterback crop, Pinnacle junior Spencer Rattler, who is on pace to destroy most of Arizona’s high school passing records, committed to Oklahoma in June while being ranked as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the nation for 2019, according to ESPN.
“He’s a great athlete, a great competitor, and he’s always going to make plays,” Dana Zupke, Rattler’s coach at Pinnacle, said of him after a recent game.
From Lewerke to Rattler, every player listed has one thing in common: they were coached by Mike Giovando.
Mike Giovando’s QB Academy
Giovando is a master quarterbacks coach – attracting some of the best and brightest from around Arizona and around the country to his camps.
“Every Sunday we just train out at Coronado High School or a park or something,” Rattler said. “He gets a lot of guys from all around the West side, East side everywhere – and he’ll have a little camp here and there, but he doesn’t really do big camps, it’s just little sessions.”
Those “little sessions” have produced some big results for the quarterbacks that use his services.
Those earlier named, who have moved on to universities or are scheduled to, didn’t just go to Giovando a few times here and there. They’ve been with him, sometimes before they had braces.
Massingale started in the fifth- or sixth-grade with Plummer coming on in his eighth-grade year, according to Giovando. And Rattler says that he has been training with “Gio,” as he calls him, since he was an 11-year old fifth-grader.
“I’ve never had like six, seven, eight guys in college at the D1 level or with offers all at the same time,” Giovando said. “When you have those guys . . . kids are going to say, ‘hey, this might be a good place for me to come out.’”
And, about a year ago, Giovando made a partnership with Elev8 sports academy to create Mike Giovando’s QB Academy.
The partnership helped bring Elev8 more attention and in return they helped Giovando with creating a website among other things.
“It’s my brand for the quarterback aspect of Elev8,” Giovando said. “They do some other things, but the Elev8 QB academy, that’s my sole purpose for them. We have a good relationship. (The President and co-founder of Elev8), Dwayne Miller, he really does a good job of helping promote the brand and doing a lot of great stuff.”
The camps usually attract around 20 kids to the younger session and about 15 or 20 kids to the older session, Rattler noted, and the expertise that Giovando has acquired throughout his many years of coaching is put on display each week -- the drills just happen to be run by some of the best quarterbacks in the state.
“We were constantly working on foot work, and the most important thing that he preached every session is hand-placement and follow through,” Anthem Boulder Creek junior quarterback Hendrix Johnson, who has been training with Giovando since the seventh-grade, said via a message.
“Every ball, he'd tell us to "paint the nose" and "throw our middle finger" which helps with velocity and accuracy.”
Kicking off the recruiting
The drills that increase the skills and overall play of the guys he coaches helps them win plenty of games on Fridays, but Giovando knows there is more for them and wants to help anyway he can.
The quarterbacks coach has developed relationships with college coaches from his previous coaching days as well as when some with those who would talk to him as they were recruiting someone who attended his sessions.
He’s known many of the kids that he’s worked with often times before their high school coach knows their name. And with that level of connections and time with a player, Giovando says he takes it as his responsibility to sometimes send out tapes and get the recruiting going.
And now, his “network of guys that trust me” is so vast that he can get the word out about one of his guys pretty quick.
The most notable instance of that came with Rattler.
“I knew Spencer was going to be really good in about seventh grade,” Giovando said. “I started to get the word out to a couple of my buddies, jokingly with some of these coordinators like ‘hey, I got a guy for you and he’s only in seventh grade.’”
Those coaches, as many would be recruiting a seventh-grader, were wary. But just two years later as freshman, Rattler was starting at quarterback for Pinnacle – going up against Arizona powerhouses Chandler, Centennial and Chaparral in the process.
And after Rattler’s Herculean-performance in a 38-37 loss to Brophy in the first-round of the playoffs, Giovando started talking to his connections.
“I think the kid threw for 400 yards (actually 420 yards) . . . he threw five touchdowns, he threw two in overtime, he threw three on fourth down and he was only a ninth-grader,” Giovando said. “And that’s when I got the tape, and I was l said ‘wow.’”
The coaches he sent the tapes to were wary no more.
“I made a few phone calls, reached out to a few guys that I know would look at him right away and that already knew about him,” Giovando said. “And they all were like, ‘holy cow, this is pretty special.’ I just got the word out and before you knew it guys were calling me back – ‘hey, I like this kid, I want to see him throw.’”
Like Shoeless Joe Jackson to Ray Kinsella’s baseball field in Field of Dreams, the college coaches came to Phoenix.
They came to watch him during spring ball and from there the offers started to roll in – first ASU, then UCLA, Texas A&M, Alabama and, of course, Oklahoma.
“He’s the one that really got the recruiting going,” Rattler said of Giovando. “He’s the one that put me on the map,”
Getting ready for the big-time
In the months and seasons leading up to some of his players moving on to bigger campuses and bigger stadiums, he wants to make sure they are prepared as possible.
For guys already in college, like Boise State’s Chase Cord, he has his playbook and knows the scheme -- so, when he comes to train with Giovando after the Broncos’ bowl game, he’ll know what he needs to work on.
As for Rattler, he and Giovando will work to acquire as much knowledge about Oklahoma as they can to get Rattler ready for his big test ahead.
“Gio knows (Oklahoma coach) Lincoln (Riley) real well and he’s been out to lunch with him and everything,” Rattler said. “He’s going to try and talk to him about learning the schemes and everything because Gio knows everything.”
Giovando added: “We’ll definitely talk to coach Riley and say, ‘hey, send me a copy of your playbook or I’ll come out to spring ball and sit there for a couple days in all of the meetings and practices. It benefits me because I can go learn from them and then I can also have the ability to bring back the things we need to work on to get him ready to go.”
From, at times, the fifth grade, to whenever his players have stopped playing football, Giovando is there for his guys – helping them in whatever aspect of football they need some improvement with.
He understands what his guys need to succeed. It could be something on the field like their footwork or accuracy, but it can range to helping to get their recruiting going and getting them prepared for their new college team.
His efforts have helped many young quarterbacks from Arizona succeed at the high school level and beyond.
And in the words of Johnson: “Gio has single handedly made Arizona the QB state.”
And given his results, it’s hard to argue.