Years before he took over as a full-time high school starter, Jarrett Guarantano began receiving scholarship offers. The New Jersey quarterback now holds nearly 30 of them despite throwing just three varsity touchdowns.
Guarantano, a junior at Bergen Catholic High School, is among the most coveted class-of-2016 prospects and has a chance to match the hype this season as he assumes primary duties behind center. The 6'4", 200-pound passer began to see significant playing time during the final stretch of his sophomore campaign, closing out a frustrating two-win season with four starts.
He begins the fall on a mission to help a proud program rebound by meeting high individual expectations.
"This year is big for Bergen Catholic and for me," Guarantano said. "We both have a lot to prove."
Guarantano finished the fall by throwing for a career-high 151 yards against Don Bosco Prep, per MaxPreps. His 449 total passing yards provided a small sample size of what he can do, though senior quarterback Colin McGovern (993 yards, six touchdown passes in 2013) received the bulk of snaps as starter.
Now the undisputed offensive leader, Guarantano has a chance to consistently show off skills that have colleges clamoring. He described those attributes during a self-assessment.
“I’m more of a pro-style quarterback who operates better under center then a guy who wants to take off running all the time," Guarantano said. "I can read coverage, go through my progressions and get the ball out in a hurry. But I can also use my feet when I need to. I’m a good enough athlete to get around the corner.”
He flashes a lively arm, above-average mobility and displayed improved passing mechanics during Nike's April football camp at the New York Jets' facilities. Those abilities have many anticipating a bounce-back season for his squad.
Expectations continue to mount as he finally takes the keys to Bergen Catholic's offensive attack. Early returns are impressive, including a 395-yard, four-touchdown passing performance in a scrimmage last Thursday, per JJ Conrad of NorthJersey.com.
"It's all about making improvements to get where you want to be," Guarantano said. "Proving yourself is important."
Focusing on His Finalists
Collegiate coaching staffs across the country are already believers. His offer list includes Penn State, Louisville, UCLA, Michigan State and Tennessee, along with several other Power 5 conference members.
Guarantano, the son of Rutgers Hall of Fame wide receiver James Guarantano, landed his first verbal offer from the Scarlet Knights as a rising freshman. Interest quickly spread beyond the state borders.
His recruitment became so regionally diverse that none of his four "finalists" share a conference.
He identifies Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson and Alabama as teams still under consideration. The choice to narrow his focus to just a few teams sends the message that Guarantano plans an early commitment.
"Cutting my list down to four teams gave everyone an opportunity to see that I’m really looking to reach a decision rather than wait a long time and have this process go into next season," he said.
Guarantano, rated sixth nationally among 2016 pro-style quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, is targeting late winter as the time frame to end his recruitment. There's plenty to consider before then.
"There's a lot to think about during the recruiting process," he said. "It's important to collect as much information as you can."
Guarantano has already been diligent in that regard, visiting three of his four finalists. Oklahoma is the one exception, though he can cross them off his list in September.
He plans to attend the team's Sept. 13 matchup against Tennessee. It's a big weekend for the Sooners, who will also welcome 5-star Florida quarterback prospect Torrance Gibson to campus.
Guarantano views the program as a proven bridge between high school and professional football.
"Oklahoma always seems to produce NFL quarterbacks because of the way they use and prepare players at the position," he said. "My main goal after college is to play in the league, so Oklahoma stands out. I’m excited to get out there for a visit and see how they get their quarterbacks ready for games."
Guarantano already has a solid understanding of the process at Ohio State, where Urban Meyer made a strong impression on him during camp and throughout his recruitment.
“I’d have to say my closest relationship is with Coach Meyer," he said.
The two-time national champion has produced multiple first-round picks at the position and routinely puts quarterbacks in Heisman Trophy contention. Guarantano gained a strong indication of how the Buckeyes view him when Meyer compared elements of his game to two star quarterbacks he's coached.
"He made it clear to me that I’m more like Alex Smith with my passing abilities, but he thinks I’d also be able to run the read-option offense like Braxton Miller does," Guarantano said. "Ohio State likes that I can do both."
Guarantano admires the way Miller competes and is compelled by the offense partially because of his success in Columbus. He was saddened to hear the Buckeyes leader will miss this season.
“It’s just awful what happened to Braxton, especially right before his senior year," he said. "He could have been a Heisman Trophy candidate and helped get Ohio State to the national title game. He’s definitely one of the country’s best players.”
Guarantano weighed in on another hot topic in preseason college football conversations: Alabama's quarterback battle. Nick Saban has yet to officially announce whether the Crimson Tide will roll with Jake Coker or Blake Simms.
“I think Coker will wind up as the starter," he said. "Alabama has handled the situation very well in my opinion. They’re letting things play out and giving both guys a chance to earn the job."
Whoever takes over the spot is in good hands with Lane Kiffin calling plays, according to Guarantano. The first-year offensive coordinator is a big part of the reason he views Tuscaloosa as a possible landing spot.
“USC was a team I always grew up watching because I loved their offense and what they did with quarterbacks," Guarantano said. "With Coach Kiffin in Alabama, I think it’s going to be a big deal, especially with all the talent they bring in down there.”
He views Clemson as another program currently stockpiling playmakers on offense. The promise of a strong supporting cast with the Tigers presents an alluring opportunity.
“The amount of athletes they're getting at Clemson is pretty crazy," Guarantano said. "That definitely matters as a quarterback because you want to play with talented guys who can make big plays. The Clemson coaching staff is one-of-a-kind, and they're getting the job done."
Possibilities Loom Large
Though Guarantano is set on four finalists moving forward, he's leaving the door open for a pair of programs that could soon extend offers.
"Stanford and Notre Dame stand out," he said. "I’ve had a lot of contact with them lately, and I’d really like to get offers from both programs. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to earn those this season."
He hopes to visit Palo Alto sometime soon. Stanford recently offered fellow New Jersey quarterback Brandon Wimbush, a 2015 Penn State commit whose team faces Guarantano and Bergen Catholic on Sept. 11.
If the Cardinal decide to reach back into the Garden State for a 2016 passer, interest would be mutual.
“Stanford is one of the best schools to have an opportunity to attend because of their academic history," Guarantano said. "Their football team isn’t too shabby either. They’ve had a lot of success lately, and there’s a lot to like about the offense.”
The Fighting Irish are on his radar particularly because he likes the positional outlook. Head coach Brian Kelly may not pick up a passer in the 2015 class, creating an obvious need for 2016 recruiting efforts.
“Notre Dame’s depth chart at quarterback looks like I could have an opportunity to compete early," he said. "That’s important to me, and I think there’s some potential there."
Potential is the key word when breaking down Guarantano's game. We still aren't exactly sure what to expect from the coveted signal-caller this season due to limited reps at the varsity level.
Based on strides he made late last season and improvements that have followed during camp appearances and preseason scrimmage, Guarantano appears to be on the verge of validating early praise and earning his spot among America's elite quarterback prospects.
"I'm ready for the challenge, and I know my team is too," he said. "It's an opportunity I've been waiting for."
All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.