There's not a much better breeding ground of college-ready football players than Southern California's Trinity League.
Thursday the Montana Grizzlies received a verbal commitment from not just a battle-tested gridder from the Trinity, but a three-star quarterback recruit rated so by multiple national agencies. Just days after being extended a full scholarship offer from Griz head coach Bob Stitt, JSerra Catholic QB Matt Robinson became the third member of UM's recruiting class of 2018.
Robinson, a mobile passer and three-year starter, is Scout.com's No. 15 QB prospect for his class in all of California's fertile recruiting ground. He moves well, throws even better and has faced some of the most difficult high school football competition in the nation.
"It's definitely the best league in California and the West Coast," Robinson explained, "and maybe even the best from a talent standpoint of any league in the country."
That's no exaggeration either. MaxPreps.com, the comprehensive high school sports website, called the six-member Trinity League the toughest high school conference in the country. The Trinity last year included the No. 2 and 3 ranked teams in the United States -- St. John Bosco and Mater Dei -- and Robinson's JSerra squad also matched up with No. 8 Centennial in the first round of the CIF-SS Division I state playoffs.
That makes for a pretty daunting schedule.
"But that's why they come to our school," said Pat Harlow, head football coach at the 1,200-student private Catholic school in San Juan Capistrano, mid way between San Diego and Los Angeles.
"They come from high achieving parents. They expect a lot from themselves and they come to the Trinity League to play against each other."
It takes a lot to start for a team facing such competition week in and week out, and Harlow said he saw it in Robinson from the beginning. Though listed at a generous 6-foot-1, the 180-pounder frustrated defenses with his evasiveness and was dangerous with the deep ball. Headed into his senior season, the quarterback has honed his passing prowess to match his scrambling ability.
"He's always had a cannon, but really understanding his footwork and learning when to take something off the ball -- those touch passes -- he's really becoming a better thrower," said Harlow, a former New England Patriots first-round NFL draft pick out of USC.
Harlow, who won the Morris Trophy as the nation's top collegiate lineman in 1990, is in his first year as JSerra's head coach after three years as an assistant.
Robinson's dual-threat capabilities appealed to the Montana coaching staff, the QB said in recounting his recruitment conversations with Stitt. The Orange County Register reporter that he threw for 2,053 yards and 20 touchdowns and ran for another 459 and five scores as a junior.
"They told me they wanted a guy who could throw, but who could run around a little bit," Robinson said. "... I can throw first, but I can also extend the play or if the play breaks down I can make a play, use my legs and take off and run it."
Montana's coaches are prohibited from commenting on recruits until they've signed a letter of intent. National Signing Day is Feb. 7, 2018, but Robinson said he plans to take advantage of the recently approved early football signing period this December.
Robinson has been on Montana's radar since receivers coach Mike Ferriter watched the QB throw last season and Stitt invited Robinson to attend an individual skills camp in Missoula earlier this June. He'd attended similar camps with major programs like Cal, Oregon, Washington and Arizona State last summer and had scholarship offers from Coastal Carolina and Florida International.
But the personal touch of Montana's coaching staff -- Robinson spent almost an hour and a half on the phone with Stitt early in his recruitment -- and the scenery and football facilities in Missoula had him convinced. There was no need to wait for another offer or chase a bigger school. Montana was the right choice, he said.
"Montana is pretty big time football even though it's at the FCS level," he said. "I just wanted to find a place that's a good fit for me."
Robinson is the first QB and first out-of-state commit of Montana's '18 recruiting class. Valier athlete Colten Curry committed just last week after attending camp, and Missoula Sentinel receiver Nick Germer started the club with his commitment in April.