Over the decades, Toledo has sent its share of high school football talent off to top college programs, and a fair number of players into the NFL.
The great names of the past still echo in the city — Jim Parker, Dick Szymanski,, Curtis Johnson, Ron McDole, Willie Harper. More recently, others have begun etching their place in that rich history — Chuck Webb, Jeremy Lincoln, Bryan Robinson, Fred Davis, Nate Washington, Ryne Robinson, Dane Sanzenbacher, Brandon Fields.
Plenty of players at plenty of positions.
Except one position.
A star quarterback from a Toledo high school is perhaps the rarest of breeds.
READ MORE: 2013 High School Football Preview
That’s what makes the June commitment of Central Catholic quarterback DeShone Kizer to Notre Dame an occurrence with roughly twice the frequency of Halley’s Comet, visible from Earth every 75 years.
The answer to the trivia question is Rob Mangas, Central Catholic, 1978.
That question is: “Who was the last Toledo high school player recruited to play quarterback at a major college conference or program?”
Mangas starred for the Irish along with his standout tight end, Dean Masztak, who later played that spot at Notre Dame. After being recruited to Kentucky, Mangas eventually became a tight end.
Now, 35 years after Mangas graduated from Central, another Irish QB is now set to take a shot. This one appears to have all the tools — physical talent, mental aptitude, leadership skills, and maturity — to become a top college signal-caller.
The 6-foot-5, 218-pound Kizer, a third-year starter, helped lead the Irish to their second Division II state championship in eight years last season, guiding a 42-points-per-game offense to a 14-1 record and a 16-12 victory over defending champion Trotwood-Madison in the state final.
Limited statistically by Central’s run-dominated offense, Kizer was an effective passer and trigger for the attack. He was 108-of-179 passing for 1,611 yards and 17 touchdowns with only two interceptions. He rushed 63 times for 450 yards, and eights TDs. For good measure, he also punted for a 37.8-yard average.
“The great thing about DeShone is, not only is he a very talented quarterback — a championship quarterback — but he’s also a great leader,” Central coach Greg Dempsey said. “Toledo has not been one of the bigger quarterback areas over the years. Football, scholarship-wise, has really improved here the last five to seven years. We’re getting a lot of Division I [college] players.
“But, in terms of a true passing quarterback, we haven’t seen a BCS recruit come through until DeShone. He is definitely a special talent. It’s going to be fun to watch him this year.
“He’s done a great job of handling all of this. He’s been focused on Central Catholic. He’s been outstanding for us. I just like to watch how he represents himself and us and his family when he’s out there. He’s a young adult.”
When football ended, Kizer transitioned into his third season on the varsity basketball team, and then batted cleanup and played outfield for the baseball team, which won the Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship.
All the while, Kizer was busy working out for football in conjunction with his heavy college recruitment process.
He was one of 18 finalists invited to the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp in Beaverton, Ore., which is headed up by former NFL QB Trent Dilfer, and featured on ESPN. He had also excelled at other past camps as his recruiting stock rose.
It was indeed a busy time for Kizer, who turned 17 on Jan. 3, but has seemed like an adult almost since the time he first hit the floor as a freshman starting guard during Central’s tournament run to the 2011 Division I state basketball semifinals.
Here is a conversation with Kizer on his whirlwind of a year:
You have had an extremely busy year, including a state football championship and a commitment to Notre Dame. What was it like from your perspective?
Kizer: “From the end of last summer until now, I knew it was going to be one of the most exciting and busy times of my life. But it was something I was striving to be. I knew if I was going to be successful that I was going to have to go through this period, and that it would be pretty stressful. I was lucky to have a good support system with coach [Greg] Dempsey and my parents [Derek and Mindy] - who already had been through things like this - to keep me grounded, and make sure I keep things in perspective. Not get too big-headed, or stress out too much and get in trouble and hurt myself.
That [approach] made it more fun than stressful.
“Once I made that commitment it felt like all the weight was off my shoulders. I had the Elite 11 to focus for, and I knew I wanted to make one more trip to Notre Dame. After that I was able to relax a little bit and start working by myself, and thinking about how I could improve myself for the upcoming season. Now I can relax and just do me a little bit.”
How will you attempt to live up to the expectations placed on you?
Kizer: “I’ve had quite a bit of success in this last year or so, but right now that means nothing. As a team, we made how we handle adversity one of our mottos for the season. This year’s biggest adversity is going to be [having high] expectations.
“We know we’re returning some pretty good guys, and we should be pretty darn good. But, if we go in and start to feel the pressure too much because of the expectations, that’s only going to hurt us in the long run. We need to go back to day one like we did last year, and try to win each day instead of trying to win a state championship on day one. If we do that we should be pretty successful.”
You have already achieved some significant success before your senior year. Has it been a challenge trying to stay humble?
Kizer: “My support system really helps me out a lot with that. My dad was pretty successful [as a basketball player] in high school and in college [at Bowsher and Bowling Green], so he’s given me a few tips on how to stay grounded. I love the fact that my family allows me to say things inside the household that I would like to say outside of the household, so that I won’t say the wrong things. Sometimes you can get caught up saying the wrong thing and people take it the wrong way, and you really didn’t mean it to be a cocky or arrogant thing.
“Other than that, my faith is one of the stronger parts of my life that really helps me out in staying humble. With the Lord we have above, we’re all equal below him.”
What is your memory of the state-championship run?
Kizer: “That was definitely an exciting moment, but I didn’t really get to feel [completely] what it was like. To be honest, our team was still getting better and I felt like there were still more weeks to work on more plays and become a better team. The fact that it was all over was mind-blowing.
“But, after spending the summer, and getting to work with the other quarterbacks at the Elite 11, and a few other camps, it showed me some perspective. All of these great guys were there and not many off them got the opportunity to feel that feeling. Now that I look back at it, it was amazing.”
Having already won a state title, what do you do for an encore?
“We show back up, and get rolling. We need to have the same mindset as we had last year. Last year is last year. Potential means absolutely nothing until you’re out on that field and proving it. As long as we keep ourselves grounded and go out to win every next Friday rather than look at the big picture too early, we’ll be very successful.”
How did you become a quarterback, and are you aware of your place in the history of Toledo quarterbacks?
Kizer: “To be honest, football wasn’t really my sport. Basketball was always my first love. My dad was always pushing basketball on me because he has a basketball mindset. It wasn’t until eighth grade when I really picked up a football and saw some potential to be successful.
“When I got to Central Catholic they were moving to a spread offense, which made it better for me. It wasn’t until my freshman year there where I thought I had a chance to be pretty good.
“Some older mentors of mine kind of said to me, ‘That doesn’t happen in Toledo. We don’t produce quarterbacks. This is a rare thing.’ For a while I didn’t really know what they meant. Now, I’m starting to learn from people who had coached football in the city for long time how big of a deal this is. I’m starting to take it more as a job. I hear stories about this guy and that guy, and about how they were very good, but then got in trouble here, or their grades fell off there. It’s a personal goal of mine to put a good name behind Toledo. To be the guy that went to Notre Dame, got his education, and became successful.
“There’s a lot more on the line for me than this scholarship offer and the opportunity to play at the big-time D-I level. There’s a following from Toledo that I’m happy to represent, and I want to continue to work hard and to be the best I can for our city.”