Sophomores Deondre Francois, Tucker Israel shine at QB Nation camp

Some of the best quarterbacks in Central Florida -- and one from a little farther south -- showed up a Windermere Prep on Saturday for a little competition and some good camaraderie at the Quarterback Nation Orlando Shootout.

The camp, which was put on by former Charleston Southern and Arena Football League quarterback Collin Drafts, was dominated by a pair of Orlando sophomores. Olympia's Deondre Francois took home the Varsity (sophomore/junior) overall MVP award, while Lake Nona's Tucker Israel claimed the Varsity accuracy honors. Bud Martin, a senior-to-be who drove up from Fort Lauderdale, where he attends Dillard High, earned the Varsity award for the strongest arm.

"To create opportunities for yourself you have to go the distance and coming all the way up here was a great opportunity for me," said Martin, who drove about 220 miles to get to Orlando. "Coach [Drafts] messaged me on Facebook and invited me up here and it was great to come up here and compete with all these kids from Orlando and make some new friends."

Martin, a junior, was the QB MVP at the National Underclassmen Five-Star Challenge in Kissimmee earlier this spring and he was also in Orlando for the Nike Football Training Camp in March, so he's well traveled this offseason. Last week Martin quarterbacked the South Florida Blur to a top-seven finish at the IMG Southest Regional 7-on-7 competition.

He'll be at the Elite 11 competition in Chicago next weekend.

Francois, Evan Jaeger Of Lake Highland Prep, Jerell Antoine of Oak Ridge and Martin all threw balls in the 60-yard range for the distance competition, with the longest ball going to Francois at 67 yards on his final throw to edge out Antoine, who had established the top previous throw at 64 yards.

Martin's arm strength throughout the course of Saturday's drills, however, earned him the overall strongest arm honor. His release is trigger-quick, and the velocity with which the ball comes out of his hand is quite impressive.

It was a bit of a different type of experience than the usual combines or camps, which involve all positions. This event centered around quarterbacks only and that gave the players a little more leeway for hamming it up, but they do want to beat each other.

"Combines, that's not really my strong point. Being a quarterback, that's what I do so this is much better," Francois said. "I just wanted to come out here and make a statement."

Martin has played just one season at QB after being mostly a linebacker coming up. That quick transition makes his overall ability even that much more impressive.

"I did OK last year, rough at times, but looking to move forward into my senior season and have a better season," Martin said.

Saturday's accuracy competition consisted of three stations: a trash can target, net target and the goal-post crossbar, all three from 20 about yards out.

The only players to put a ball in the trash can on three attemps were Jonathan "Beans" Lindstrom of Poinciana and Rudy Norwood of Dr. Phillips.

Three players were able to hit the targeted hole on the net station, as Israel, Jaeger and Antoine accomplished the task.

Israel then sewed up the accuracy portion by putting two straight balls on the money at the crossbar station.

"I just tried to do my best out here. There were some great kids. especially Bud from Fort Lauderdale. I've seen him around at a few Nike camps," said Israel, who threw for almost 4,000 yards last season and has a nice touch on his passing control. "He's a great quarterback and then there's Francois, another great quarterback also, so I just tried to compete and do my best, see what I could do."

Francois put everything together and, as usual, made it all look simple. His effortless delivery and fluid motion is what is making him the talk of the 2015 class in the state, along with his crosstown counterpart Israel.

"I felt like I was poised today and I came out here with a chip on my shoulder," said Francois. "I had a lot of fun. All these guys, we're all friends out here, but deep down, we're all competing, so it was a great experience.

"There were a lot of good quarterbacks like Bud Martin, who I thought was one of the best ones out here, and Tucker Israel, my arch rival I shall say ... he's a really good quarterback too."

Drafts, who had a stellar collegiate career at Charleston Southern (2003-06) where he completed 64 percent of his passes for almost 10,000 yards and 78 touchdowns over four seasons, hosted the camp with the help of several other area coaches.

Drafts was coached by current West Orange head coach Bob Head for his first two seasons at Charleston Southern, just before Head left to take the head coaching position at Olympia in 2005. 

The former Orlando Predators quarterback, who has played for a few other AFL teams, as well, is now the offensive coordinator at Winter Garden West Orange. He organized this camp with the help of another former Preds QB Nick Hill, who was not in attendance Saturday after recently signing with the AFL San Antonio Talons.

Varsity was not the only level for which awards were doled out Saturday.

In the Junior Varsity (8th/9th grade) competition, the overall winner was Patrick Knight, a 6-foot-5, 190-pound man-child of a specimen who is an eighth grader at Bellalago Academy in Kissimmee. He said he was not sure which high school he will attend. 

The accuracy award went to Taymel Christian, a freshman at Edgewater, and the strongest arm was won by Khalyn Strickland a freshman at Olympia.

In the Middle School category (all players 7th grade and under), the overall award went to Jake Novello, the most accurate was Gino English and the strongest arm went to Kendall Bohler.


Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.

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