NFA and the Andover High School football program have been on the same page for five years. Not surprisingly, they have combined to write a very successful story.
Rich Wilkie is the head coach at Andover, located in suburban Minneapolis. He’s been at the school for 14 years, and he has coached prep football for 28 seasons.
When his son, Connor, broke out big as a sophomore at Andover, Rich Wilkie started researching high-level quarterback training programs.
“I’ve always coached quarterbacks and it’s kind of been one of my niches,” Wilkie said. “At that time, I just felt like (Connor) needed more than I could give him. So I started a search and came across NFA. The rep for our area was Jeff Menage, and I had known Jeff going back to our North Dakota days when we were there.”
Wilkie called Menage, and the two sides quickly found common ground. “Jeff came up and said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to show you what this is all about and I think you’re going to like it,’” Wilkie said. “He came up from Springfield (Minn.), which is quite a drive, and literally did about a 30-minute introduction with Connor. Connor’s eyes lit up just in that little bit of time. We dug into NFA more and Jeff asked if we wanted to be the host school for NFA camps and I said, ‘Sure.’ Since that point it’s become part of our program now, to use NFA exclusively, to train the mechanics and character of our players.”
NFA, the Wilkes and countless others were incredibly saddened when Menage passed away two years ago at the age of 49.
“He was a great guy,” said Connor Wilkie, who is now playing quarterback at Southwest Minnesota State University. “I remember when he came up to give the whole NFA introduction and I fell in love with it right away. He came up to the camps we hosted at Andover. I also remember my senior year, we made it to the state tournament and I kind of needed a tuneup, my mechanics were out of whack. He drove up when we were done with practice and helped me out because that’s the kind of person he was.”
Menage is still fondly remembered, and NFA has carried on in his absence.
Not only does Andover still host NFA camps, the powerhouse Huskies train their QBs through NFA and run the R4 system.
“Coach Wilkie is the quintessential coach relationship and an incredible host for NFA,” said Darin Slack, NFA’s founder and president. “In 28 years, he is among the best examples of how NFA creates a mutually beneficial experience. We are so very grateful for men like Coach Wilkie who support and appreciate what we do to serve coaches and their players. It’s a privilege to be able to have him, his son, and program on our side.”
After meeting up with Coach Menage and connecting with NFA, Coach Wilkie read “From Headset to Helmet,” the R4 book co-authored by Coach Slack and Coach Dub Maddox. His intial reaction was familiar.
“I got the book shortly after I met Jeff,” Coach Wilkie said. “We were just transitioning into some Pistol stuff, running a lot of stuff that Nevada was running. I was flying out there to meet with their coaching staff for a staff clinic. I read the book on the plane over and back and was like, ‘This is it.’ It was kind of an ephiphany of really how to do it. I told Darin the next spring, ‘It’s a better way to communicate. It’s made all the difference in the world.’ But I say this all the time – it’s always tough for me because I want to promote it so much but I feel like I’m helping my opponent if I do.”
There is little doubt Connor Wilkie benfitted from his NFA training and learning the R4 system en route to becoming Andover’s all-time leader in touchdown passes and passing yardage.
“The first game of my junior year, we ran a simple all hitches but with the R4 system,” said Wilkie, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound left-hander. “Just reading the defenders, our slot receiver got behind a backer and right between the safety and I ripped one in there. I came off to the sideline and said, ‘These mechanics are for real. I couldn’t do that as a sophomore.’”
Coach Wilkie is capable of teaching quarterback mechanics, but it is a time-consuming task for a head coach with a lengthy list of other things to do. That’s why NFA has been such a big help with Andover quarterbacks Connor Wilkie, Jeremy Neuman, who had a big senior season this year, and more young talent to come.
“As far as the mechanics for quarterbacks, we learn from those guys, use the NFA videos,” Coach Wilkie said. “When NFA is here, they are showing those kids where their mistakes are and how to fix them. Connor started playing quarterback in fifth, sixth grade. They learn how to throw a football on their own. It’s easy for those kids to fall back into what they’ve done. It’s a process to monitor the mechanics and maintain them after the season, so I rely on NFA to kind of work with them and make sure we’re maintaining.”
Lead or follow
In addition to teaching quarterbacks to maximize their success on the field, NFA sends a strong message emphasizing leadership.
“Going into my senior year, I started getting college looks,” Connor Wilkie said. “Darin gave me the heart-to-heart of, ‘It’s not about you. There is more to the game than stats and how you play. You can be a leader.’ That really hit home and I kind of took off from there. I’m better because of that as I look back on it.”
A student of the game, Connor Wilkie sees the NFA influence spreading throughout football. “My dad and I, we’ll watch quarterbacks and their mechanics, and you can see who gets to zero and who doesn’t,” Connor said. “As NFA is getting more popular, there are a lot more quarterbacks out there now and you can see more guys with the NFA mechanics.”
Neuman is a great NFA success story, and he is coming off a standout senior season with the Huskies.
Heading into his freshman year at Andover, Neuman started working with Coach Menage and NFA. “Coach Menage was so helpful and he worked with my motion and mechanics,” Neuman said. “Continuing on with NFA, they definitely helped me to get to where I am. I don’t think I’d be anywhere as close to where I am without them.”
As a senior this season, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder completed 192 of 359 passes for 2,453 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Neuman saved his best effort for last. In Andover’s 47-44 loss to Moorhead in the state tournament, he connected on 30 of 42 passes for 379 yards and a staggering 7 touchdowns.
“With the loss, that made it tough,” Neuman said. “But it was pretty exciting to be a part of it.”
Coach Wilkie had similar sentiments. “Jeremy had a great game and he had a very good set of wideouts that understand the R4 system,” he said. “A stat line like that, maybe if it’s during the season and you’re playing kind of an average opponent, maybe that doesn’t impress you that much. But when you’re playing a state playoff game and playing one of the best teams in the state, to do what he did there, that was pretty impressive.”
Like Connor Wilkie, Neuman is looking to take his game to the collegiate level. “I’ve looked at a lot of schools and I’m still trying to figure out the best fit,” he said. “I think I can play college football somewhere.”
Connor Wilkie has no doubt Neuman can succeed at the next level. “He’s kind of like my little brother,” Wilkie said. “It’s pretty cool to see how NFA helped him out and turned him into a gunslinger.”