BOLLING THEM OVER BOLLER GOES FROM QB DUD TO POTENTIAL TOP NFL PICK.
Back when Kyle Boller was the best prep quarterback to come through the area since John Elway, then-Hart High of Newhall offensive coordinator Dean Herrington was telling anyone who would listen that his young protege was a future top-10 selection in the NFL draft.
Boller, however, went on to California and had three forgettable seasons, including completing 38.6 percent of his passes his freshman year and losing 10 games as a junior. Certainly, he had fallen off NFL scouts' charts.
But Herrington's prediction just might come true in Saturday's NFL draft.
A year ago, Boller probably would not have been drafted. His meteoric rise is like few the NFL has seen.
As a junior, the most heralded quarterback recruit in Cal history was burying his face under a hood on the way to class, not to hide his identity from adoring fans but from heckling schoolmates.
``I didn't want people to see me,'' Boller said. ``I would get really sarcastic comments like, `Hey, you going to win a game, buddy?' But when you have that record, you have to expect people to say that stuff.''
Even after a senior year that saw his numbers improve dramatically under new coach Jeff Tedford, Boller was considered a borderline first-day pick. An impressive performance at the Senior Bowl in January put him in the second round. After proving to be the most athletic of the top quarterbacks in the draft at the NFL Combine in February, he moved into first-round territory.
Then came his pro-day workout at Cal, where he wowed scouts with his arm strength, including going on one knee at the 50-yard line and throwing the ball through the goal posts. All of a sudden, Herrington was a genius, a prophet.
``I'll be shocked if he goes past pick 10,'' Herrington said. ``You don't know how good this kid is now. He's a phenomenal athlete. His arm strength is off the charts.''
Most people think the transformation started with Tedford, the quarterback guru who molded Joey Harrington, Akili Smith and Trent Dilfer into NFL players.
Although Tedford deserves a lot of credit, the change began within Boller.
He realized he had one year to make his dream of playing in the NFL happen.
``This was it,'' Boller said. ``This was my last chance to have an opportunity to play at the next level. I hit the weight room like I never had before. I put in hours and hours of watching tape. A lot of credit goes to Coach Tedford, but I give myself a lot of credit, too.''
Tedford, who had attempted to recruit Boller to Oregon when he was offensive coordinator, saw a different player than the one who passed for 4,851 yards and 59 touchdowns as a senior at Hart.
One of the main reasons Boller chose Cal was the opportunity to play early, something he didn't get to do in high school because Hart had David Neill, who went on to play at Nevada.
He got his wish to start early. But, as a young player with equally young and inexperienced linemen and receivers, the quick start set him back.
``We had a chance to get Chris Lewis (Stanford), Ken Dorsey (Miami) or Kyle,'' former Cal coach Tom Holmoe said. ``To this day, I say Kyle was the one I wanted. It's interesting to think what would have happened had Kyle went to Miami. I wonder how it would have been if Kyle was placed in that situation.''
Instead, with little support and constant pounding, Boller's form and technique suffered. Tedford came in to find a quarterback whose mechanics had regressed since high school.
Tedford showed Boller tape of Harrington, who became the third pick in last year's draft. Then Boller was forced to watch tape of his first three years at Cal compared to his form at Hart.
``No one wants to hear they've gotten worse,'' Boller said. ``It was kind of disappointing, but it helped me. I hate watching old tape of myself at Cal now because I see that throwing motion and it's disgusting.''
Tedford corrected the angle of his arm and made the motion more compact. Suddenly, the accuracy of what Tedford calls the strongest arm he has ever coached was much improved. Boller completed more than 50 percent of his passes (53.4) for the first time.
Tedford also found a player who didn't think he deserved to be a leader, a quality needed from the quarterback position.
``There was never any doubt about his ability, competitiveness or toughness,'' Tedford said. ``We needed to let him know that he was eligible to be a leader. Just because he hadn't had a lot of success didn't mean he didn't do the daily things that made him eligible to be a leader.''
Boller took over the team. He incredibly threw for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown and caught a scoring pass in an early upset of Michigan State. Then he beat rival Stanford for the first time in his career. Cal, ineligible for a bowl, went 7-5, and Boller passed for 2,815 yards and 28 touchdowns. Despite his struggles, he actually finished as the school's record holder with 64 career touchdown passes.
``I remember recruiting Kyle and thinking this is the guy who can get us over the top, no doubt about it,'' said Holmoe, now an assistant athletic director at Brigham Young. ``He finally did. I just hoped it could come together a little bit sooner.''
Holmoe was fired by Cal after Boller's disastrous junior year. He gives credit to Tedford for turning around the team, and Boller's career.
But when Boller left Tedford in December, he was a potential third- or fourth-round pick.
Scouts liked his size (6-foot-3) and his rocket arm. But the early scouting reports listed speed, lateral movement and quickness as weaknesses. So Boller began working with Thomas Weatherspoon at Alameda's Performance Enhancement for Professional Athletes.
Weatherspoon made Boller tread through sand and water, doing the agility drills of a defensive back so he would become more explosive. Then Weatherspoon put Boller on a diet in which meals were made for him that would develop muscle and not fat. Boller is up to 234 pounds, with just 7 percent body fat.
``Most scouts have seen his arm for four years,'' Weatherspoon said. ``The only way to show them something different and change their perspective is to show them something athletic they didn't expect. Kyle was really smart about what he wanted to do.''
Boller's competitiveness is what really came out in the training program. Weatherspoon didn't place him with other quarterbacks but with athletes. After seeing how well Boller was doing, Weatherspoon said Seneca Wallace of Iowa State, considered by many the most athletic quarterback in the nation, became frustrated and quit the program.
``Kyle's biggest strength is his competitiveness, by far,'' Weatherspoon said. ``It's bigger than his arm. He will compete with anybody. He doesn't care. He thinks he should beat everybody. There were six players in our group who are expected to go in the first round and he would consistently beat them. I would tell people, `That's a quarterback beating you in that drill.' ''
At the NFL Combine in February, Boller ran a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash and a 3.99 in the shuttle, better than all but two receivers.
Oddly, he didn't display his arm. Agent Mike Sullivan's strategy was to show his arm at the Senior Bowl, his athleticism at the Combine and his arm again at Cal's pro day. It worked.
Scouts buzzed for a month about his agility at the Combine and his comments to the press that he could throw a ball through the goalposts from his knees at the 50.
When Boller backed up that boast at Cal upon request, scouts gave him an ovation.
There has been some backlash to Boller's sudden rise. Mel Kiper, ESPN's draft guru, lists him as one of the five most overrated players in the draft. Scouts drool over his arm and athleticism but point to his one good season compared with three years of struggle.
Boller thinks his tough times at Cal will benefit him in the NFL.
``I think it's something positive I have that some quarterbacks don't,'' Boller said. ``A lot of times, guys come from a program where they never experience losing. I have, and I know how to handle it. I think that will definitely help me in the long run.''
Herrington took phone calls after many of those tough times, trying to console Boller and keep up his confidence. On Saturday, Herrington will join the Bollers in Santa Clarita to see whether his prediction comes true.
``Kyle throws better than any guy I've ever seen in my life,'' Herrington said. ``He just needed a chance, to be in a better situation than he was up there. Now, the sky's the limit.''
TV: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on ESPN
TV: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on ESPN, 5:30 to 6 p.m. on ESPN2
6 photos, 2 boxes
(1 -- color) Kyle Boller went through three rough seasons at California before having a monster senior year, and now the former Hart High of Newhall star is expected to go high in the NFL draft. Many scouting services have him rated third in the quarterback class.
John Froschauer/Associated Press
(2 -- color) CARSON PALMER, USC
(3 -- color) BYRON LEFTWICH, Marshall
(4 -- color) KYLE BOLLER, Cal
(5 -- color) REX GROSSMAN, Florida
(6 -- color) CHRIS SIMMS, Texas
(1) PASSING GRADES
(2) SCHOOL DAYS