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Rising QB star Macon hopes to start for Mizzou in 2021

Dave Matter
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
East St. Louis quarterback Tyler Macon (5) eludes a Detroit King defender in a 2018 game. Macon, who has committed to Missouri, impressed in the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp in Nashville last week and may see his 3-star recruiting rating rise in the next few months.

Tyler Macon went to Nashville last week with a clear purpose. The East St. Louis quarterback and 2021 Missouri commitment wanted to prove he belonged at the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp and could hold his own against his peers from around the country.

He didn't leave any doubts. Of the 20 quarterbacks invited to the event, Macon finished the three-day camp among the field's top 11 and ranked fifth overall in the week's final pro day session.

"I came in ranked 19th out of 20, so I had a lot to prove to people," he said in a phone interview. "I'd say it was a moral victory for me."

Macon's strong performance left one question for Mizzou fans – and maybe his future college coaches, too, though they'll never admit it publicly: Will Macon be rewarded with a ratings bump by the national recruiting outlets the next time they recalculate their rankings? The three-star prospect and 2019 Post-Dispatch All-Metro offensive player of the year is rated the country's No. 15 dual-threat quarterback by Rivals.com and No. 25 by 247Sports.com.

Macon wonders, too.

"It matters to me because I know the work I've put in," he said. "I know what I deserve. I feel like I need my proper respect because I've done everything those other guys have done. So why can't I have the same ranking or even better?"

Like everything in the world of sports, the Elite 11 camp had to improvise and adjust to the coronavirus pandemic. The event organizers couldn't host their series of regional events that led up the final round of competition and instead put more emphasis on the quarterbacks' junior season game footage, plus questionnaires and essays. Quarterbacks were also asked to film their own scripted pro-day workouts and submit them to the camp.

"Whatever we asked the guys to do Tyler was always one of the first guys to get things done and try new things," Elite 11 president Brian Stumpf said. "He was always quick with the responses and they were always well thought-out."

Before the QBs arrived in Nashville, the camp's staffers were especially curious to see how Macon stacked up as a passer. As a junior last fall, he produced gaudy passing numbers (4,241 yards, 39 touchdowns) and added another 827 rushing yards and 17 TDs on the ground for the Illinois Class 6A champions.

"He put up huge numbers and he won," Stumpf said. "He also plays with two guys around him (Power 5 wide receiver recruits Dominic Lovett and Keontez Lewis) where sometimes all you need to do is get a little bubble screen out and someone's going to take it 70 (yards). That looks great on the box score. Looking back on his film, that's the one thing we looked for: Does he have repeatable mechanics? Is his stroke smoothing out?

"On the first day where they make a ton of throws in drill work we saw repeatable mechanics. We also saw a guy when he took the first rep on a drill, sometimes it was new to him and that throw might be one you want to throw away. But the next one he already picked it up, either the footwork or tying his lower body to his upper body. The second throw was always better. He's a quick learner."

Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, the Elite 11 camp's head coach, didn't hold back his praise for the 6-foot, 202-pound Macon, comparing Macon to the late Steve McNair, the former Heisman Trophy finalist, NFL MVP and three-time Pro Bowler for the Tennessee Titans.

In Nashville, a mechanics analyst worked with Macon to adjust his delivery by shortening his stride on passes out of the shotgun. Macon also worked closely with camp counselor Justin Fields, the Ohio State quarterback and last year's Heisman Trophy third-place finisher.

"He's a pass-first guy, but he has the ability to run and make plays with his feet if he has to," Macon said. "That's right in my lane."

Macon's performance in Nashville underscores his value as the only committed quarterback in a Mizzou class that ranks No. 21 by Rivals.com. Should he stick with his pledge and sign with Mizzou in December he'll be the fifth Elite 11 alumnus to play for the Tigers, following Chase Patton (Class of 2003), Chase Daniel (2004), Blaine Gabbert (MVP in 2007) and Drew Lock (2014).

He's also one of Eliah Drinkwitz's most active and important recruiters. Mizzou has heavily recruited Macon's two receivers, Lovett and Lewis.

"I'm definitely pushing them to come join me," he said. "I've got a good feeling about them."

Back in Nashville, beyond the stats and mechanics, the Elite 11 staffers were impressed with Macon's "emotional maturity," said Stumpf, who connected Macon's presence to some tragedies he's experienced. Five years ago Macon's older brother, Djuan Jr., was killed in a car accident in St. Louis. He was just 17. Last year, the East St. Louis football community mourned the death of two players in the program, Jermaine Falconer, 16, who passed out while lifting weights last March, and Jaylon McKenzie, 14, who was fatally shot last May.

"He's always acknowledged that not everyone gets out of East St. Louis and he takes pride in wanting to carry that flag and do greater things," Stumpf said. "It's a singular focus for him."

"He's very comfortable in his own skin," he added. "He's proud of where he's from. That allows him to not only survive but thrive in environments like this. That's going to be something that's going to help him at the next level when he gets thrown in with 23-year-old seniors and he's asked to take on a leadership role within a program early. I think that's something that's not too much to ask for a young man like Tyler."

On that part, Macon agrees. He's taking six core courses this fall at East St. Louis High so he has enough credits to enroll early at Mizzou next January. From there, he expects to play immediately in 2021. Who's going to doubt him?

"The ultimate thing with (Missouri's coaches) is you come in and compete," Macon said. "As long as I do what I've got to do with enrolling early I feel like I have a good chance to come in and start as a true freshman."