Steve Clarkson played quarterback for Coach Jack Elway at San Jose State University and backed up Elway's son, John, at quarterback for the Denver Broncos.
So Clarkson, volunteer offensive coordinator for the Palisades High School football team, seems eminently qualified to give an opinion on Palisades junior quarterback Perry Klein, who has been nothing short of astonishing this season. In the first three games, Klein has passed for 1,314 yards and 11 touchdowns.
To put that into perspective, Jay Schroeder, who has been a pretty fair quarterback for the Washington Redskins and has been touted as probably the best passer ever at Palisades High, passed for 1,284 yards and four touchdowns in his senior season, 1978. However, Schroeder, operating in a balanced offense that had strong running, did not pass nearly as much as Klein. As a junior, Schroeder shared quarterback chores with another player.
Clarkson's opinion of Klein is high--though couched in slightly cautious terms: "If he stays healthy and keeps his head, I think he will develop into the best quarterback in the history of high school football."
He said that the 6-2, 170-pound Klein, who played mostly on defense at cornerback last year, reminds him a lot of John Elway. "He has the same build, the same character and is a pass-oriented quarterback.
"He is a scrambler, has a strong arm, reads defenses well and has been completing about 65% of his attempts."
Jack Epstein, Palisades head coach, compares Klein to Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers, and Epstein coached Moon at Hamilton High and at West Los Angeles College.
Epstein said Klein "is much further advanced at his age" than Moon. He said Moon also had the arm and was a good runner but that Klein has a better passing touch at this stage.
However, he cautioned that Moon had "tremendous potential that came out as the years went on." The evaluations of Clarkson and Epstein could be dismissed as biased, but Klein is also getting very high marks from coaches of opposing teams--and the three Palisades games have been against superior teams.
The Dolphins have lost to always-tough Santa Monica and to Banning, the perennial Los Angeles City 4-A champion, but have defeated Beverly Hills, like Santa Monica one of the better teams in the CIF-Southern Section.
In his team's opener against Santa Monica, Klein passed for 378 yards and four touchdowns, but the Dolphins, who led at the half, 30-13, were outlasted, 48-42.
Mike Griswold, who coaches Santa Monica running backs and defensive backs, said that after seeing Klein in action he was "trying to hide the fact" that defense is one of his responsibilities.
Griswold said that "you can't be too superlative after only two games, but what I saw I was very impressed with.
"He's hard to tackle, has a quick release and when you try to rush him he gets the ball away quickly. He's good with the timing pattern on the slant-in. He's tremendous. He throws the ball without looking and knows where his receiver is going to be.
"When things weren't there for him he did an excellent job of finding the open person and getting it to him."
In a 28-24 upset of Beverly Hills, Klein passed for 457 yards and three touchdowns. Dick Billingsley, Beverly Hills co-head coach with Bill Stansbury, said that is the most yardage an opponent has gained through the air against the Normans in the seven years that he has been in charge of the defense.
Like Griswold, Billingsley said Klein has benefited because Clarkson has replaced the wishbone offense with multiple sets that emphasize the pass and flood defenses with five receivers on many plays.
Clarkson played wide receiver and quarterback for Coach Vic Cuccia and his overpowering Wilson High School teams of the mid-1970s, was a top quarterback at San Jose State and played for the Denver Broncos and in the Canadian Football League.
He said his offense is "a circus. It's a combination of everything my coaches taught me--a combination of everything I've watched, played or heard about. It has multiple sets--everything from a wishbone look to the I Formation and the pro set. It has doubles, triples, stacks, is unbalanced."
Billingsley said he thinks "the addition of Clarkson has helped them tremendously." He added that when Klein played some at quarterback in a 26-0 loss to Beverly Hills last year, "I wasn't real impressed.
"This year he was always aiming at (a receiver's) proper shoulder and leading his receivers away from our defenders. We tried to confuse him by running four or five pass coverages, and sometimes we were successful, sometimes not.
"He is a gifted athlete who is very intelligent and reads defenses very, very well. He has the ability to pick out a second and third receiver. And coupled with all that, he has very, very good football instincts and is a very good runner."
What does the gifted athlete think of all this praise? Is he modest about his accomplishments? Yes.