Mike Giovando, who runs Elev8 Quarterback Academy

Mike Giovando, who runs Elev8 Quarterback Academy, said he has limited the number of players at each of his workouts to maintain a safe environment while helping them train.

Arizona’s rise as one of the premier destinations for college coaches searching for next-level quarterbacks doesn’t come as a surprise to players or coaches. 

In fact, it’s been one of the main goals all along for two of the state’s premier private trainers, Dan Manucci and Mike Giovando. But with businesses shutting down and people staying inside due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, both trainers and the players have had to make several adjustments to maintain a safe atmosphere for all involved. 

“I wipe off my ball with Clorox wipes and use hand sanitizer on it and my hands,” said Christopher Arviso II, a freshman quarterback at Mountain Pointe. “Coach Gio helps me on a lot of stuff with my form and mechanics. I also would go to his classroom schedule. He teaches me everything I need to know to move up to 6A.”

Arviso transferred to Mountain Pointe from South Mountain in January. As a freshman for the 5A Jaguars, he threw for 1,255 yards and 27 touchdowns while only playing in three full games. When Mark and Marcus Carter, South Mountain’s co-head coaches last season, were hired to take over the Desert Edge program, he saw an opportunity under new Mountain Pointe coach Eric Lauer. 

“I love Coach Lauer,” Arviso said. “My first practice with him and the team they all asked me where I came from and welcomed me. I just think Mountain Pointe is a good situation for me.”

Arviso will be in competition to start next season with sophomore Amier Boyd, who also transferred from South Mountain. 

Less than 4 miles away at Desert Vista, another quarterback competition is heating up between three players who also receive coaching from Giovando. 

“It’s cool working out with them,” Desert Vista junior Taron Thomas said. “I’m still a whole class ahead of them but we text all the time and especially for Jackson (Akins), I just try to explain what it’s like on varsity.”

Thomas played quarterback as a freshman for Desert Vista but transitioned to defensive back on varsity. Last season, he had 80 total tackles and three interceptions. 

With the departure of Central Florida-bound quarterback Parker Navarro, Thomas has emerged as a potential starter under center and on defense along with freshman Jackson Akins and sophomore Landen Powell, who transferred from Mountain Pointe. 

To help him tune up his throwing mechanics, he’s started going to Giovando’s workouts at times. But still does workouts on his own to stay safe.

“I go workout with coach Gio sometimes, but my dad and I also take what he taught me to a park on our own,” Thomas said. “At the same time, I do DB drills. It’s all about limiting the amount of people.”

Giovando knows what it takes to breed a star-caliber quarterback.  

He’s trained the likes of Spencer Brasch, a standout quarterback at Higley who is now at Cal-Berkeley. Others include former Gilbert and University of Arizona quarterback Will Plummer and his brother, Jack, who plays for Purdue. Ohio State quarterback Jack Miller, who attended Chaparral, also trained with Giovando. Perhaps one of Giovando’s most notable players, however, is former Pinnacle star Spencer Rattler, who is an early candidate for the Heisman next season. 

Some of his current allotment of high school players is also impressive, with Hamilton sophomore Nicco Marchiol, a four-star rated prospect, Higley junior Kai Millner, who has picked up offers from Miami, Michigan State and others, as well as Red Mountain junior Evan Svoboda.

“A lot of these guys have been coming to me since the sixth grade, which has given us a lot of time to get the mechanics down,” Giovando said. “When you get to the point they’re at now, it’s kind of fun.”

Manucci, who played three seasons in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills, also has an impressive list of quarterbacks.

He’s coached former Hamilton and current Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough, as well as former Notre Dame Prep and Auburn quarterback Cameron Yowell. He’s also mentored former Chandler High quarterback Darrell Garretson, who went on to play for Oregon State. Garretson’s father, Rick, is the current head coach of the Wolves. 

“I tell them not to go through a workout but to grow through a workout,” Manucci said. “My passion is to teach them the right way, to respect the game and what it takes to get to that next level.”

Normally in large groups, both coaches have cut down the number of players in each training session.

Other additional measures have also been put in place, including not allowing high-fives, fist bumps and remaining 5 to 10 yards apart at all times.

Both coaches emphasize mechanics and footwork, putting each quarterback through simulation drills. Of course, they both admit it’s hard to replicate 11-on-11 football in pads while in a small group setting. But both have seen some of the drills pay off during games. 

Facing a third down deep in Florida territory during the 2019 Orange Bowl, former Chandler standout Bryce Perkins escaped pressure in the pocket, leaping over a would-be tackler and stiff-arming another to throw back across his body and find his receiver in the back of the end zone. It was one of the premier highlights of the game, and it was something Perkins and Manucci worked on together.

“The hurdling was him just being a phenomenal athlete,” Manucci said. “But we would go right and make him throw back to his left accurately. Things like that just happen automatically in games, even if it seems repetitive in training.”

 “We all want to get a workout in, but be safe while doing it,” Desert Ridge junior quarterback Austin Kolb said. “We all keep a safe distance from each other, I wash my hands and just overall have good hygiene.

“This offseason I’ve been working harder, working out every day. I have to keep grinding for my team.”

Manucci and Giovando remain keen on emphasizing player safety as their main goal. 

“We’ve got the wipes, we’ve got sanitizer, the kids all wash their hands and spray down the balls,” Giovando said. “We all have the same goal in mind to keep everybody safe.”

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