Is There a Place in CFB for Anthony Munoz, the Country's Most Prolific HS QB?

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterMay 2, 2019

Photo courtesy of Victor Baltazar

IRVINE, Calif. — The number "965" is written in untidy black Sharpie on white stickers plastered on the front and back of Anthony Munoz's basic red T-shirt.           

Not "10," the number he wore last season as a senior at Western High School in Anaheim, when he produced one of the most spectacular offensive seasons in recent high school memory. He threw for nation-best totals of 5,010 yards and 67 touchdowns.

But the success didn't lead to a full football scholarship. That's why he's here, in Orange County Great Park on a sun-drenched Saturday in late February, for the California Showcase, a one-day football camp held for Division II, Division III and NAIA football coaches across southern California.

That's why he's wearing 965.

"You're the GOAT," a friend says to Munoz shortly before drills begin. "What are you doing here?"

Although he'll never say it, the fact that he has to be is a difficult reality to swallow. This is perhaps the last opportunity Munoz will have to make an impression.

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He's been assigned to throw on field 3B, which is scribbled on his left hand. That's the easy part for Munoz, always has been. But before he can go throw comes the hard part. He will be measured and weighed for the coaches of the 57 schools in attendance, and the questions surrounding his future in the sport will once again surface.

At 5'9" and 160 pounds, Munoz is small by football standards. By quarterback standards, some would consider him not evaluable.

Despite the evolving perception of what is required to play the position—fresh off the Arizona Cardinals taking the 5'10" Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft last week—Munoz has yet to find the team that can see beyond his size.

"There's always that 'if' factor," Munoz says. "If I were two inches taller, things would be different. But I've accepted it, I've lived with it and I've moved on from it. I'm embracing who I am."

He's thought about giving up on his dream and focusing on a future that doesn't involve football. But he's not ready to embrace that reality. At least not yet.

Before Dan Davidson took over as the head coach at Western High, the school had used a double-wing, run-focused offense for decades. He drastically altered the philosophy, placing the emphasis on throwing the ball, but the results weren't great. In his first two seasons, he won a total of three games.

So when Davidson turned to a 5'6", 130-pound sophomore quarterback in 2016, many assumed he wouldn't last much longer.

"My wife didn't like coming to the games early on," Davidson says. "Because she didn't like hearing all the ridicule."

Munoz heard it, too. But he's heard it since he began flag football at six years old. That he doesn't belong. That he'd leave the game on a stretcher. Even his family questioned whether he should play.

"I'm Hispanic," Munoz says. "And not a lot of Hispanics play football to begin with, so they didn't really like it. But I fell in love with this sport, so they definitely support me."

There were indeed injury issues. His high school career began with a concussion. And then another. He struggled that sophomore season and ended it physically and emotionally sapped, contemplating giving up on football.

But he didn't, and over the past two years, he has added more than 20 pounds and a few inches to his frame. By quarterback standards, many still believe he's far too small to play the position, but his play has flourished. He threw 27 touchdown passes his junior year. And as a senior, he exploded, averaging more than 330 passing yards per game while completing more than 65 percent of his throws.

Photo courtesy of Victor Baltazar

While Murray is the most natural current comparison because of his height, their games are vastly different. While smaller quarterbacks often scramble, Munoz is actually most comfortable in the pocket.

"His delivery is so fast," Davidson says. "His eyes are up at all times, and he's always looking downfield. He is a pocket passer who can put the ball in any spot."

Davidson pauses momentarily while providing a scouting report of his QB. Naturally, the conversation drifts to a place of discomfort for a coach who has worked tirelessly to find a home for his player.

"If he were just 6 feet tall," he says, "I would have every coach beating down my door."

No matter what, football will never be all that defines Munoz. In addition to carrying a GPA approaching 4.0, he is the president of three clubs at his high school.

He works with Link Crew, a mentorship program that helps freshmen transition to high school. He's a student ambassador, which means he represents his classmates at meetings with the school board and superintendent. He was part of the Latino Leadership Academy of Orange County. And because of his grades, he's also part of the California Scholarship Federation.

"I manage myself as best as I can," Munoz says. "It's definitely hectic and stressful, but I love it. I don't see any other way. I just feel like this is the only way I have to be and can be."

Football is and has always been an enormous part of who he is, too. But given everything else, Munoz is honest about his future. He has explored the possibility of playing at a junior college, with the hope that solid play could result in a more active round of recruiting from programs that haven't shown interest thus far. But there is a part of this that has never felt quite right.

"That's more for those who want to excel just in football," Munoz says. "And because of that, it has not interested me as much."

He has also contemplated a more difficult prospect—the fact that he may have to give up football if he gets an academic scholarship at a school that won't take him in football. Oregon and UCLA have both already accepted him for his brain, not for his arm.

"I love football," Munoz says. "Football is my passion, but the only way I can see myself continuing to play is if it helps further my education. The hope is that I will find that dream situation where everything aligns."

Money is unquestionably the biggest factor in his decision. The oldest of four siblings, Munoz is already anticipating the financial strain on his parents. His sister, Emily, is a promising young basketball player in junior high. His brothers, twins Michael and James, are only eight years old.

"I want to do what's best not just for me, but for them," Munoz says. "I love these kids to death. They look up to me for everything, so I want to do what I can to help them when their times come. I want them to be in the best possible place when they get to this point."

The stream of inquiries, the result of the countless hours that have amounted to little, goes on and on. Since last fall, Davidson has been on a mission to earn his quarterback a full scholarship. And since last fall, almost no one has been interested enough to write him back.

"I've emailed all 180 Division II schools with his highlights," Davidson says as he scrolls through his inbox. "I provided his highlights, transcripts and two game films. I got back three responses, which led to zero pursuits."

After last season, both Davidson and Munoz assumed that the interest would eventually come. Given Munoz's numbers and the success of the program, this seemed like a logical next step.

Davidson has also attempted to align with Division III schools and junior colleges that would fit. And while there has been some response and mutual interest, it has not been close to what they thought it would be.

Photo courtesy of Victor Baltazar

"It becomes very frustrating for me that he has not gotten more," Davidson says. "And I'm not saying Clemson or Alabama should offer. That's not it. But you can't tell me some Division I or Division II schools can't come in here and offer a kid who threw for 5,000 yards in a season who also has close to a 4.0 GPA."

Throughout the search, dozens of Division I programs have visited Western High. Not for Munoz, but for his two favorite wide receivers, juniors Caine and Cassius Savage. Both finished the season with more than 1,000 yards receiving. Caine finished with more than 2,000 yards, and he has started to pick up considerable interest from schools around the country as a result.

Davidson has begun to receive attention, too. Western finished 12-3 in 2018, winning its first CIF-Southern Section football championship ever. After his struggles to turn the program around in his first four years, Davidson is reluctantly stockpiling coaching accolades.

"I'm the 'Coach of the Year' and all this s--t because of my guy, and it bothers me he's not riding this same wave," Davidson says. "I wouldn't be playing in the CIF championship or receiving any of these awards if not for Anthony Munoz."

For a few hours, 965 looks the part of a college quarterback. He is natural and smooth throughout drills and scrimmages, showcasing a right arm that has surprising pop and a compact, motion-conscious throwing motion.

Munoz doesn't waste a single rep. Although he is one of the smallest players on the field, his play feels larger in the moment. He throws with confidence and anticipation. Almost every throw ends up where it was intended. And his arm strength matches up favorably with the other quarterbacks trying to make an impression.

Photo courtesy of Victor Baltazar

After months of just hoping to hear from the Division II, Division III and NAIA coaches that crowd the sideline, eyes are finally on him.

In the weeks that follow, a handful of these programs will check in with Munoz. Division III schools Wisconsin Lutheran, Hamline (Minnesota), La Verne (California) and Pacific (Oregon) all will express interest in him, giving him options that never existed. 

But while these programs are offering Munoz a future that features football—something he is grateful for—he has yet to receive him a full scholarship of any kind. He's hoping that opportunity is still out there. But time is running out.

As his senior year winds down, a decision approaches. Perhaps he'll find that perfect fit—a coaching staff unconcerned about his height and weight and the stigma that has chased him his entire life.

Whether that team exists or not, Munoz will continue to wait. He's come too far to stop searching now.


Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.

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