With every football thrown and every drill completed, Houston's Dillon Sterling-Cole used the same motivational tactic to push him.
"I want to show everyone what they're missing," he said.
Since the beginning of the spring, Sterling-Cole has gone from a virtual unknown once ranked as the nation's No. 27 dual-threat quarterback to one of the most sought-after pro-style prospects in the 2016 class.
Now a 4-star and ranked No. 9 at his position, Sterling-Cole will prepare to further silence his critics as he travels to Beaverton, Oregon, for The Opening and the Elite 11 finals next week.
"I think about it every day," Sterling-Cole said. "How things could blow up so fast for me...it just amazes me."
Sterling-Cole remembers not long ago when he couldn't get a coach to pay attention to him. There was a time when the 6'2 ½", 183-pound Westfield High School gunslinger couldn't garner attention at a local camp, let alone be in discussion for a major scholarship. Even as the son of a former Texas A&M standout who went on to play professionally, Sterling-Cole was overlooked.
Now, as he prepares for what is dubbed "Football Heaven," Sterling-Cole will make the trip to Oregon with 14 reported offers, a top-eight list of schools to choose from and, more importantly, the respect of his peers, the Elite 11 coaches and much of the recruiting world.
"It's been kind of frustrating for him trying to prove himself," said Marques Teel, Sterling-Cole's stepfather and mentor. "He always seemed to start behind the 8-ball in getting ahead. He was working out in the back yard; he wasn't really venturing out to many camps at first. He wanted to show he could compete, and now he wants to show he's a top-tier quarterback."
Of the 18 quarterbacks competing next week, Sterling-Cole arguably has seen the greatest ascension since the start of the spring. Roughly two months ago, he barely cracked the top 1,000 nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings. He's now No. 219 overall.
One thing the Elite 11 coaching staff loves to reiterate is how stars and rankings are irrelevant in their selection of athletes for their national event. Brian Stumpf, vice president of football events for Student Sports and one of the leaders for both the Elite 11 and The Opening, said Sterling-Cole had a certain "it factor" about him when the staff watched his film. Getting him to the Elite 11 Dallas regional in March was a must.
"I think all of our guys, especially [Elite 11 head coach] Trent [Dilfer], liked his film a lot more than some of the early recruiting rankings around the time of the Dallas camp," Stumpf said. "He only came in with a few offers, but I think we saw him as a lead dog coming in."
Sterling-Cole not only won MVP honors at the regional but also stood tall against several Power Five-bound quarterbacks in attendance, including Shane Buechele (Texas commit), Tristen Wallace (Ohio State), Jett Duffey (Texas Tech), Nick Starkel (Oklahoma State), Jalen Hurts (Alabama) and a host of others.
What the Elite 11 staff also liked about him was that he managed to impress while keeping a steady demeanor and a quiet-but-confident attitude. He kept a poker face throughout the event, whether he connected on a long bomb or missed on a short route. Nothing seemed to faze him.
Sterling-Cole addressed the event in businesslike fashion, and he's done the same with his recruiting process. Earlier this month he announced a top eight of Houston, Mississippi State, Florida, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Boise State, UCLA and Washington. He even had a little fun with those following his process at the Elite 11 semifinals in Los Angeles regarding his top eight.
Selling Sterling-Cole's greatness is something that comes easily to Westfield teammate Tyrie Cleveland, a 4-star receiver. Cleveland teamed up for roughly half of Sterling-Cole's offensive production for the 2014 season (2,206 passing yards, 24 touchdowns) with 53 catches for 1,105 yards and 13 touchdowns.
"There's no doubt in my mind he's best quarterback in the country," Cleveland said. "He separates himself from most quarterbacks. He's got the height, the weight and the skill set. He loves the game of football, and he's still learning. He can do it all."
Sterling-Cole participated in the Elite 11 semifinals in Los Angeles last month and put on a consistent showing. Stumpf said you could notice a change in Sterling-Cole, perhaps more mentally than physically, during his 7-on-7 performance.
"He probably didn't have a wow moment like a few others," Stumpf said, "but you could see a pretty quiet kid starting to open up and feel more comfortable in the setting and around his peers."
Those are the guys to watch out for when it's time for finals competition. They are usually the athletes who sneak up on everybody when nobody is paying attention. That's how Sterling-Cole won the Elite 11 Dallas regional.
He called his upcoming trip to Oregon "a business trip" and said he's excited about his shot at proving that he's among the elite quarterbacks.
"He has a chip on his shoulder," Teel said. "Winning in Dallas motivated him a whole lot. It's kept him working. That's what I like about him. He's never lost focus on what he's trying to do as far as achieving his goals go.
Cleveland added: "He's so competitive. He wants to win, and his work ethic is amazing. He's never gonna settle for less. You want to keep playing for him because you know he's going to keep pushing and staying positive."
While in Oregon, Sterling-Cole said he's considering trimming his top eight to a top five. He doesn't let the pressures of recruiting bother him, but he is enjoying the fact that he's a topic of discussion with followers of several schools.
Sterling-Cole's latest visit came a couple of weeks ago at Florida. Texas A&M always has been a player in the process, as his father is Chris Cole, a former receiver for the Denver Broncos who played college ball for the Aggies. And then, there's the local crowd that hopes he stays home and attends Houston.
Finding a college that fits is a primary goal for Sterling-Cole. Winning the Elite 11 would put an exclamation point on an outstanding run for a player on a mission to permanently hush his critics.
"I still feel like I have to prove a point to everybody," Sterling-Cole said. "I went into the [Elite 11 regional] with no hype surrounding my name. Being able to get invited was great, but it's not enough. I'm going to Oregon to prove to myself that I'm better than some of the big-time names out there. I know it would really spark my confidence."
Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' player rating. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles