A year ago,
Luke Del Rio
walked the sidelines at Bolles (Jacksonville, Fla.) waiting for a chance.
He remained off the football radar as a second-stringer to fellow junior Austin Kennedy, and the then-sophomore longed to prove himself on his own merits - not those of his well-known father, Jack Del Rio, who coaches the Jacksonville Jaguars and spent 11 seasons as a linebacker with four NFL teams.
Today, Luke has created a buzz among college coaches. He threw for 2,530 yards and 20 touchdowns during the regular season this fall at Episcopal (Jacksonville, Fla.)
, where he transferred in February, and is Florida's top-ranked quarterback in the MaxPreps Florida Football Player Rankings
His meteoric rise, though, has featured plenty of obstacles. It began with a flurry of criticism from locals who guessed, incorrectly, that Luke's famous father orchestrated his transfer. In truth, Luke also had to convince his own parents that transferring to Episcopal was a good decision.
"My wife and I actually fought it when he decided to transfer. We both loved (Bolles), but he eventually convinced us," said Jack Del Rio. "He knew it would be important for him to throw the football to be considered a strong Division I prospect. Episcopal gave him that chance. Coach Hess loves to throw the ball."
Rather than let the criticism and doubt eat away at him, Luke set to work to prove to everyone that he made the right choice for the right reasons.
"This past spring and summer, Luke was working out two to three times per day and was always the first one in for those early-morning workouts," Jack said. "He definitely has a tremendous work ethic."
Jack tells the story of Luke attending a three-a-day football camp in Tuscaloosa, Ala. After the last morning session, he flew back to Jacksonville to compete with his team in a 7-on-7 game that night.
"Luke wanted an opportunity to throw the football, which is something that we do, and he earned it. Then he had to prove himself, and Luke did that this season," said Episcopal coach Dave Hess. "It became apparent quickly that Luke was here to make his own history. You would never know that Jack Del Rio is his father. Luke is very down-to-Earth, very humble, but, like his dad, he's also all about hard work."
His leadership qualities and skill earned him the attention of his new coaches. Luke started all 10 of the team's regular-season games and completed 173 of 313 passes while leading the team to a 3-7 mark against stiff competition, which included eight teams that earned playoff berths. The season ended in the first round of the Florida 3A playoff bracket
"He has a very strong arm. That's one of his strengths. Plus, he showed a very good pocket presence. He can feel the rush," said Hess.
Jack said he and Luke took several trips to California last spring during the NFL lockout to engage the help of Steve Clarkson, one of the nation's premier quarterback coaches. Clarkson has worked with such quarterbacks as Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Leinart and J.P. Losman, all three on current NFL rosters.
"They ran drill after drill to hone the skills he would need to thrive this fall," said Jack.
Luke earned plenty of opportunity to showcase his improved skill over the summer at 7-on-7 tournaments and during camps. He attended the camps at the University of Southern California, his father's alma mater, and at the University of Alabama.
Luke threw 18 interceptions, too, but Hess called that statistic a bit of a misrepresentation.
"Sure, he threw some interceptions. But it wasn't because of any problems with accuracy or arm strength," said Hess. "He's just very confident, and he tries to get the ball in there. Sometimes, he tries to make a tough play when it's better to live for another down."
Hess expects colleges to recruit Del Rio now that he's reached their radar.
"I think he's a Division I quarterback. He'll get a lot of individual instruction over the summer and narrow down where he wants to go," said Hess.