When Jamie Bone, a Vanier Cup-winning quarterback for the Western Mustangs, returned to the university to coach football, he was taken aback by the lack of skill demonstrated by London’s quarterbacks.
“They couldn’t throw the ball, really, as well as they should have,” Bone said.
In 2010, when Bone returned to London from working for TSN in the United States, high schools were playing three-down football after having switched from four-down football. There wasn’t much development of quarterbacks because you could run the ball the whole game, he said.
In January 2011, Bone created QB Nation, where he serves as the director. The program, in which Bone instructs players with the help of former Mustang players and coaches, runs for 10 weeks in the off-season. Right from the start, he noticed a significant improvement in the players who participated.
Techniques taught at QB Nation were inspired by a football camp in Florida run by Darin Slack, who trains quarterbacks and quarterback coaches in the fundamentals of football.
In 2014, the program took in 26 quarterbacks, 17 defensive backs and 17 receivers.
Jordan Haylor, one of the former Mustangs who coaches players at the camp, agrees that quarterbacks in London have improved since Bone’s return.
“Now, you’re seeing more and more teams open it up to the passing game,” said Haylor, who also coaches football at A.B. Lucas Secondary School. “QB Nation plays a big part in that.”
In addition to working with quarterbacks, the program has expanded to include training for receivers and defensive backs ― defensive players who play further away from the line of scrimmage than linebackers. Although quarterback is the largest single group, the other two, taken together, make up more of the program, Bone said.
The program now takes about 60 kids every year, mostly high school students and some younger players, whose $295 in registration fees fund the camp. They meet at the BMO Centre in London for two hours every week.
“There’s really no downtime in those two-hour sessions. It’s pretty intense,” Bone said.
During the sessions, he stresses the psychological aspects of the game to instill a self-correct system in the players. The purpose is to teach players not just how to do something, but why something happened, so they can avoid it in the future, he said.
“If they’re in a game and they throw the ball low and outside and it goes in the dirt, they know exactly why that happened and they can correct themselves.”
To drive home this understanding, it’s important to practise fundamental skills and to do them properly, Bone said. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent, he said. The other critical aspect of the program is to teach quarterbacks that, despite being the most important position on the field, the person playing it isn’t the most important person. The job of playing quarterback is to make other people look better.
“It’s not about them,” he said. “Greatness gets bestowed on you by other people.”
This approach resonates with the players because they return to the program to build on their skills, he said.
Ben Bergamin is one of those players who returned to the camp. He’s an 18-year-old quarterback and captain of the football team at London Central Secondary School. Going through QB Nation twice has improved his game and his sense of leadership, Bergamin said.
“Jamie Bone and the camp is, in my mind, one of the best camps in Ontario and probably even Canada,” he said.
The differences between some other football camps he’s attended and QB Nation are like night and day, Bergamin said. “It’s more scientific-based,” he said.
In the next five years, Bone hopes to build on the program to make London a hotbed of football talent for quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs. However, for the time being, Bone has seen an increase in the quality and quantity of football players in London.
“Now, there’s six or seven or eight or nine really good kids playing quarterback in London,” Bone said. Those young people will be able to play at the next level university football, he said.
“I’ve just kind of been the link between the two,” he said. “We’re just giving those kids the opportunities.”