Justin Hoover on Hawley: "His best football is ahead of him"
Ray-Pec quarterback Conrad Hawley finished his high school career as one of the most decorated players in the Kansas City area and the state of Missouri. A First Team All-State honoree and winner of the Thomas A. Simone Memorial Award as the Most Outstanding Player in Kansas City, Hawley led the Panthers to a massive upset of nationally ranked De Smet in the Missouri Class 6 State Championship.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound passer’s commitment to the Kansas Jayhawks on Tuesday was a culmination of years of hard work. Viewed by some as a late bloomer among QBs, Hawley’s path was more about a shift of focus.
“We started training together in December of 2017,” noted QB trainer Justin Hoover said of the newest KU commit. “It started out as football was his second-best sport then. I didn’t know where he was in his trajectory, or where he thought he was going early on. He was already involved in AAU basketball, and was tall and skinny.”
The owner of SpinIt QB Academy in Kansas City, Hoover saw Hawley progress from that tall, skinny kid, to a legitimate passer. The future Jayhawk became a regular in training sessions with high-level QBs like Drew Lock, Graham Mertz, and Skylar Thompson.
“I think, at the end of the day, he made a decision to challenge himself,” Hoover said of Hawley. “I’ve seen it with multiple players. We don’t pick the sport. The sport picks us. There were some signs and signals he was getting that he really loved basketball, and he was going to push the envelope to become a high-level player.”
“To me, it’s passion,” he said of what changed in the Ray-Pec passer. “I think he found his love for the game of football and wanted to put the focus into it. I don’t think it was an accident. He always worked at it, but he became more specific and more detailed in how he went about his business.”
During his senior season, Hawley’s on-field development was evident. He completed 59% of his passes for 2,722 yards and 25 touchdowns, with just 12 interceptions. But according to Hoover, who is also the head football coach at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, KS, the changes the QB made off the field were the ones that impacted his squad the most.
“He’s a super confident kid,” Hoover said. “He leads the right way and creates accountability in his locker room. That’s what he did. He organized workouts and small groups during the pandemic. He was making sure that, if we can’t be together, we are getting together on Zoom, showing his maturity and his ‘want to’.”
Asked what stood out most to him about Hawley’s development over the past 12 months, Hoover emphasized the 2021 prospect’s mechanics and how they worked to better utilize his big frame.
“I just try to compliment him,” he said. “I’m kind of in the weeds, and we just try to help him reach his potential. The number-one thing we worked on, and we knew this wasn’t a quick fix, we wanted to make him more efficient. He’s got long levers, and a big wingspan. Those are things that make it hard for a big guy.”
"We worked on creating a compact stroke that allows him to create power. We didn’t want to create length. The more length, the more time it takes. Whether it’s the arm or the stride, that takes time. We’ve got to get the ball out. We wanted to make him more compact and more efficient. We wanted to make him more of a rotational athlete.”
Hoover continued, explaining where he chose to focus his efforts in Hawley’s training, and how his basketball background helped his development as a passer.
“The thing I noticed was his accuracy down the field. He can drive the ball down the field. They (Ray-Pec) weren’t in those situations, to have to take as many shots. But for the opportunities he was given, I think that’s not something you can consciously correct. You can clean up accuracy.”
“Down the field, you either understand touch, and how much air to put under a throw, or you don’t. That’s where multi-sport athletes can excel. The basketball in him allows him to have some athleticism and agility, but also some touch that’s a little bit undervalued.”
With a stable that includes dozens of current Division I quarterbacks, as well as several NFL and CFL passers, Hoover is one of the most respected QB trainers in the nation. He’s become a fixture at the Elite 11 Finals, The Opening, the Manning Passing Academy, and Trent Dilfer’s QB EPIC camp series. When asked about Hawley’s potential upside, he sees plenty for Kansas fans to be excited about.
“I hate the cliché ‘the sky is the limit,’” Hoover said before taking a breath. “The thing for him is his best football is ahead of him. In the last six-months to a year, it became his only thing. When he can focus on his body, and processing information quickly to make good decisions, all those things have been part of his growth. When that becomes his job, and there’s no distraction from other sports, the sky is the limit.”
“From a big, pocket-looking kid, he looks like a pro-style quarterback, but he’s very athletic, very agile. He has great spatial awareness. He has lots of the toughness, along with the fast-twitch you get from a smaller guy. I think (Brock) Purdy is a good example, just based off of Brock’s a powerful guy, but not an elite guy with his feet. I do think, athletically, he is going to give you more than what you think you’ll get."
Having worked with QBs at the highest levels, Hoover has a strong understanding of the qualities that separate them. With Hawley expected to compete for time and possibly play a key role in Les Miles’ rebuild of the Kansas program, its the incoming freshman’s intangibles that will again play a key role in his efforts to lead a squad.
“What will help him to reach his potential is his ability to grind,” Hoover said of the KU QB. “I don’t use this lightly or loosely, but he truly loves the work. We talk about the lonely work. You’ve got to be a quarterback all the time. The way you walk, the way you talk. It takes a certain human to lead a program, and he’s got those intangibles. More so than any physical trait, those are the things that are going to separate him.”