Profile: The Quarterback's Edge

No passing fancy

Fayette resident Skip Stitzell started his quarterback development business Quarterback’s Edge as a part-time venture, but he eventually quit his day job to focus solely on coaching young players.

By Joe Meyer of the Tribune’s staff
Published Saturday, June 28, 2008

Julia Robinson photo

Skip Stitzell, left, owner of Quarterback’s Edge, works with Hickman High School quarterback hopeful Crandon Cook at the Rock Bridge High School football field. Stitzell travels extensively for his business but also holds workouts at local football fields.

A self-described "run-of-the-mill guy" as an Iowa high school quarterback four decades ago, Skip Stitzell says, "There’s a big difference between being able to play the position and knowing how to coach the position."

It has been about four decades since Skip Stitzell last played in a football game, but he still spends most of his time on the gridiron. Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, Stitzell played quarterback for Des Moines North High School. He says he was "just an average, run-of-the-mill guy," and he suffered some knee injuries.

Now, Stitzell is making a name for himself in the quarterback development business. The 58-year-old Fayette resident runs Quarterback’s Edge, helping the next crop of young quarterbacks develop their game.

Stitzell says his techniques mostly are self-taught, things he picked up starting about 10 years ago while attending camps and clinics on college campuses. No previous success at the position was required.

"There’s a big difference between being able to play the position and knowing how to coach the position," Stitzell said.

Julia Robinson photos

Above, Skip Stitzell, right, owner of Quarterback’s Edge, works with Rock Bridge High School freshman Mark Pickerel. Stitzell has a roster of between 75 and 100 quarterback clients. He also is an instructor at the renowned Elite 11 Quarterback Camp and recently helped University of Missouri coaches at their camps across the state. Below, Stitzell works with former Rock Bridge quarterback Logan Gray, who just completed his redshirt year at the University of Georgia. Stitzell began coaching quarterbacks when he volunteered as a scout for Fayette High School and then-coach Greg Hession asked him to work with a sophomore. "The more I worked with him, the more I realized I wanted to ... learn more about it," Stitzell said.

Jim Dalton, father of University of Missouri recruit and Blue Springs South senior quarterback Blaine Dalton, said Stitzell has worked with Blaine for about three or four years. Dalton, a quarterback coach at Avila University in Kansas City, said some great players can know everything about the position but can’t pass it along to others.

"Whereas, Skip maybe never was the greatest quarterback, but he translates well to his pupils, or players, what he wants them to do or what they need to do," Dalton said.

Stitzell has a roster of between 75 and 100 quarterbacks, and he regularly travels the state and country to work with them. He also is an instructor at the renowned Elite 11 Quarterback Camp and recently helped Missouri coaches at their camps across the state.

His popularity has increased recently as some of his most talented clients are making their way onto big-time college football teams. "I’m as busy now as I’ve ever been," Stitzell said. "I currently have a waiting list, which I never thought I would."

High school football coaches and parents say Stitzell is a clear communicator and mild-mannered — great qualities when working with young players. Bryan Koch, football coach at Francis Howell High School in St. Charles, said Stitzell has been working with five quarterbacks at his school, ranging from eighth to 12th grade, for about four months in preparation for the upcoming season.

"He’s just great at explaining the complexity of playing quarterback and putting it into a language that the average high school athlete can understand," Koch said. "Kids have made some very good improvements, and it really should be exciting."

Stitzell’s journey to quarterback guru involved lots of twists and turns. About fifteen years ago, Stitzell, his future wife and their daughter, now 14, moved to Fayette. He volunteered as a scout for Fayette High School, spending Friday nights during football season on the road watching the next week’s opponent.

Eventually, then-Fayette coach Greg Hession asked Stitzell to work with a tall, athletic sophomore quarterback named Wes Lafolette to see if Stitzell could help in his on-field development.

"The more I worked with him, the more I realized I wanted to, you know, learn more about it," Stitzell said. "I started that first summer, on my own, going around and visiting with several different colleges."

Julia Robinson photo

Stitzell’s job doesn’t stop when he steps off the field. Over the years, he has become involved in helping players and their parents navigate the football experience, especially college recruiting. "If you’re good enough to get looked at a Division I level, the recruiting process is a crazy process," Stitzell said.

The quarterback and coach grew together, and both started garnering attention from other area coaches. Lafolette went on to be a three-year starter for the Fayette Falcons. Over time, Stitzell volunteered to take on more prospects.

Colleen Mahon, Stitzell’s wife, said it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it turned into a business venture. Stitzell began charging fees simply to compensate for his time and to recoup gas money, she said. "I always thought it was a nice hobby, but it turned into a part-time job," Mahon said.

Stitzell started Quarterback’s Edge in 2001 and eventually took on enough business that he had to quit his day job at Columbia auto parts manufacturer Collins & Aikman to focus solely on training quarterbacks.

Mahon said Quarterback’s Edge doesn’t have an elaborate business plan or do much advertising. Instead, it relies on word-of-mouth and a Web site, Most of the company’s overhead consists of travel expenses — Stitzell said he spent $8,000 for gas last year and another $5,000 on airline travel.

"It’s a totally different type of business than most things that are out there," Mahon said. "He found something there’s a need for, and he happens to be really good at it."

Stitzell typically charges between $75 and $100 for a 90-minute session. Sessions in Columbia can be thrown together easily with the help of a phone call or two and meeting on a local football field.

Former Rock Bridge quarterback Logan Gray recently was in town for a few days after completing his redshirt year at the University of Georgia. Gray caught up with Stitzell for a quick throwing session. A few days later, Stitzell led two Rock Bridge and two Hickman quarterbacks through some of his drills.

On average, Stitzell travels to either Kansas City or St. Louis weekly. Longer trips require more planning and are almost always scheduled over a weekend with multiple quarterbacks from a particular area.

Mahon, recently hired to direct the driver’s license office in Howard County, helps with travel arrangements and the company’s paperwork. "I’m his one and only employee, and I’m actually a volunteer," she joked.

Rock Bridge coach A.J. Ofodile said he became familiar with Stitzell while he was working with Gray and now routinely has quarterbacks who work with him. "It’s no different than a great baseball player taking pitching instruction," said Chuck Gabbert of Ballwin, father of Missouri incoming freshman quarterback Blaine Gabbert. "It’s just different because there’s not many true quarterback instructors in the United States that are very, very, very good, and we put him in that class."

Stitzell said his job doesn’t stop when he steps off the field. Over the years, he has become more involved in guiding players and parents through some of the rigors of the football experience, especially college recruiting.

"If you’re good enough to get looked at a Division I level, the recruiting process is a crazy process," Stitzell said. "And a lot of time it makes no rhyme, no reason. It’s totally subjective."

Chuck Gabbert said Stitzell was "the calm in the storm" during Blaine’s recruiting process, which included a verbal commitment to the University of Nebraska, a de-commitment after Nebraska’s coaching change and signing a letter of intent with Missouri in February.

"He’s a resource and a guide to help you get through the process, because it’s not an easy or fun process," Chuck Gabbert said. "Anyone who tells you it is is lying to you."

The process can be overwhelming for players and parents who are not prepared. Constant text messages to a player’s cell phone might become annoying and rack up a hefty bill. Players could get dozens of invitations to training camps and clinics. Stitzell said one of the toughest things for recruits is to realize which programs are truly beneficial and which might be more interested in a player’s entrance fee.

"I think there’s gotten to be too many combines and camps," he said. "Now, because when people find that there’s money to be made, all of the sudden there’s one on every street corner. Some of them are very legit and they really are there to help the kids. There are others, they’re there to make that money." The difference with Stitzell is he truly cares about the kids and has a flexible enough schedule to accommodate their needs, supporters say.

"He’s not just a coach," Jim Dalton said. "He’s been a friend to Blaine, myself and my family. We highly respect him and would recommend him to anybody."

Stitzell is proud of the success of his students, from the most sought-after prospects to quarterbacks who might not play beyond high school. "He’s not in it to say, ‘Hey, I put this kid here. I put that kid there,’ " Koch said.

That doesn’t mean he’s not keeping track. Last season, Stitzell said he worked with 22 seniors throughout the Midwest and 16 of them are going to play college football at some level. In the Kansas City area alone, Stitzell worked with 12 starting varsity quarterbacks from 12 different schools, he said.

Stitzell directs most of the credit to the players. "I seem to have a lot of kids that not only have the talent but the aspirations to play Division I football," he said.

Mahon said one of her husband’s early goals for the business was to help players reach their dreams of playing college football. The next accomplishment might be to see a former pupil playing in the NFL.

"I wouldn’t say we have to reach that," she said, "but that’d be as close to a pinnacle ... at some point."