In 2009, Matt Barkley was one of the droves of strong-armed teenagers gunning to be the next Tom Brady at Steve Clarkson's signal calling academy.
Instructors work with attendees of Steve Clarkson's Air 7 Quarterback University on the field at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, May 6, 2007.
Credit: Mason Levinson / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Actually, what separates most of those who make it is the money to see their dream through. "This isn't for the poor," said a dad at the March camp, having brought his young passer and two of the boy's receivers thousands of miles west that weekend. "Kids from the inner city, I don't see how they compete," admitted Kurt Wittek over dinner in Norwalk during a business trip back East. "No position coach, no film room, no pro-style playbook – it's not a level field for them."

Indeed, you can't drop by one of Clarkson's camps without feeling pressed to do the math. Of the 135 attendees at the quarterback camp in March, no more than 20 were kids of color, and the majority of those were wide receivers. It's much the same story at the top of the line. By last count blacks made up 67 percent of the players on active rosters in the NFL, but of the 32 regulars at quarterback last year, only three were black. Yes, there are dozens of other camps for passers with NFL dreams, but none are as costly or prestigious as the one being run by a black ex-pro whose color may have cost him a shot at breakthrough stardom. Clarkson treads very lightly, however, saying the issue is about want-to, not whiteness. "I've worked with kids from single-parent families, but they didn't hold their end up," he says. "They'd stop coming out here or ignored what I told them. In other words, didn't value the chance. I can make you good, but I can't make you care, and a kid has to want this more than anything else or it's never going to work for him, skills or not."

He's every bit as careful on the subject of age, and how much is too much at 12. "Some kids are just naturally old for their years and can handle all the things I throw at them," he says. Or others throw at them. The summer of 2007, while still in his 13th year, Max Wittek was cruised at one of Clarkson's camps by a big-name coach from the ACC. No formal offer was given, though the intent was clear. "He said, 'We'd love for you to come to our school,'" says Max, who was stunned and flattered. The NCAA prohibits colleges from recruiting middle school kids, and any contact made before their junior year in high school must be initiated by the boys or their families.

"Big-time coaches don't care about rules. If they want a kid, they'll go through a third party," says Tom Lemming, of CBS College Sports, who hosts a show called 'Generation Next'. "They'll call up Clarkson and say, We like your guy; have him call us and we'll get it done." Every couple of years, he adds, schools move the process up, getting kids to commit now as high school sophomores or, in the case of major talents, as freshmen. "In 20 years," Lemming snickers, "they'll be offering it to newborns whose moms played some field hockey in high school. It'll be like, 'Hey, here's your blankie and your letter of intent; just make your little X there on the line.'?"