Even though he’s nearly 10 years removed from his playing days, Paul Troth still proudly hangs the picture from his trip to the Elite 11 in his office.
It’s a reminder of his journey from touted quarterback prospect, to the winding road that has allowed him to reconnect with football’s most unique fraternity as a coach after nearly 12 years filled with ups and downs in the game of football.
Troth—who was a part of the second class at the 2000 Elite 11—is now a private quarterback coach and an assistant coach/P.E. teacher at Dominion High School in Sterling, Virginia.
“I pinch myself because I’m so fortunate to be a part of Elite 11 and to serve wherever they need me,” Troth told Bleacher Report. “I am extremely thankful for the opportunity that was given to me and my family. It has changed our lives for the better the past three years. I owe a lot of that to the credibility that Elite 11 brings and the impact that I am able to make and network with through Elite 11.”
For the third consecutive year, Troth will be on head coach Trent Dilfer’s staff at The Opening as he hopes to identify this year’s crop of Elite 11 quarterbacks.
Troth can relate to the 18 passers who will compete against one another this week. But his path in football will give the recruits in attendance a different perspective on their futures in the game.
“Paul was an Elite 11 guy in high school,” said Brian Stumpf, who is the director of football operations for Student Sports—the company that founded Elite 11. “He was in the second class, but his college career didn’t necessarily work out like he thought it would. He has that kind of flip side to where just because you are in this spot, it doesn’t guarantee you anything.”
Back in 2000, Troth was a standout signal-caller from Vance High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, who shared the stage with eight future NFL quarterbacks including Matt Leinart and Kyle Orton.
He passed up on offers to bigger programs such as Georgia and Miami in favor of committing to nearby East Carolina.
After backing up future NFL passer David Garrard for a year, Troth showed glimpses of his prowess in his first year as a starter in 2002. However, the Pirates fired their coaching staff and he lost his job the following season. His playing career ended at FCS school Liberty.
After a few tryouts in the NFL and the Arena League, Troth figured he would get into coaching.
Highlighted by stops as a graduate assistant at East Carolina and even a tenure in Austria, his big break came at a camp where he recognized a familiar face who coached him at the Elite 11 some 12 years prior.
“I went to a Nike camp just to take some of my kids and I see Matt James,” Troth recalls. “He works for Nike. He’s one of our main coaches out there. He’s been with Elite 11 since it’s been going on. He remembered me because he was a coach when I was an Elite 11 quarterback. He asked me to help him out with the quarterbacks. I said sure. Jordan Palmer was at the event and he got my name and number. That’s kind of where the ball started rolling.”
To bring things full circle, Palmer was an Elite 11 ball boy in the photo that hangs in Troth’s office—something he was sure to remind Troth of when they met.
The marriage between Elite 11 and its former alumni has been fruitful for both parties.
Dilfer’s staff of coaches is comprised of a wide spectrum of former players, current stars like Christian Hackenberg, a counselor at this year's Elite 11, and figures such as Troth who have created a different path.
As Stumpf notes, Troth brings a voice and a perspective that offers a dose of reality to 16- and 17-year-old kids with visions of college stardom and the NFL on the horizon.
“I think it’s great for the kids because everyone responds to different voices,” Stumpf said. “If you just had one or two voices, you might hit eight of the 18 kids because they may not respond to those two voices. When you can bring guys out with different backgrounds and different ways of communicating, you are more likely to have a direct connection with each and every kid or as many kids as you can potentially get versus when you limit the voices to one or two main guys.”
Troth recognizes that he is a part of something special, and despite his career arc not going as he originally planned, he’s eager to share his experiences with the younger crop of quarterbacks who will try to use this week’s festivities as a launching pad for their careers.
“My story is what it is,” Troth said. “It didn’t turn out as an NFL quarterback. There are a lot of things that came up along my journey that prevented or made me make decisions that affected what I thought was my dream when I was 18 years old.”
He leans on his playing experience as a guide to offer wisdom to the new class of touted prep passers.
In Troth’s mind, what makes Elite 11 so special is that his message carries equal weight with former NFL players, such as Russell Wilson and Teddy Bridgewater, who have served as counselors at the event.
The reason for that is simple.
Quarterbacks, no matter their level of success, share a bond of being leaders of men. It’s a language that is almost foreign to those who haven’t played the position.
“That’s a reflection of all of us being on the same page and speaking the same language,” Troth said. “It would be one thing if we have a bunch of former NFL players on staff, but we don’t. We have guys like Craig Nall who backed up Brett Favre. We got Jordan Palmer. Guys that outside of our Elite 11 circle, no one really knows who they are on the street. We get guys that come to our regional camps all the time and they hear what we have to say and they understand it because it's all about the message.”
For Troth, the continued bond with the camp has helped him reconnect with former friends and banks of knowledge that have helped him as a coach and private tutor.
He’s used the platform he’s gained through his association with Elite 11 to expand into a new coaching app that allows him to coach kids from around the country out of the comfort of his home.
He is now a part of an app called eCoach, which is a partnership between Nike and Dilfer's TDFB company that "unites coaches and expands their influence."
“I found my niche with the eCoach, the online coaching app. That’s where I trained a kid named Tanner Morgan from Kentucky, and he got an offer from Wake Forest and Louisville and I never met him. So my niche is that I’m going to be the guy that will own the online coaching platform. That’s where I feel like I can make the most impact.”
Troth estimates that he's trained around 30 quarterbacks using the app, including current finalists Jett Duffey, Patrick O'Brien and Brandon Peters. The app has helped him work with those three players by using film from the Elite 11 semifinals in Los Angeles last month and helping him provide them tips leading up to this week's competition.
Every player at this week’s Elite 11 camp won’t make it to the NFL.
However, Troth’s journey is proof that the camp produces more than just future All-Pro passers.
Instead, Dilfer and his staff are grooming 18 students who will be trained to lead in some capacity after their playing days are over.
Regardless of what happens this week, the 2015 Elite 11 class will leave with a lifetime of memories and a new perspective on playing the game's most demanding position.
“The proof is in the pudding for Elite 11,” Troth said. “It’s not a watered-down product. We’re trying to equip young men to be future leaders. I think the kids see that. The NFL guys see that. NFL GMs see that when we are around them at pro facilities. It’s pretty easy to see what is true when you are around it.”
Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.