REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- As a freshman at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, Dorian Thompson-Robinson watched as a sophomore quarterback took over the starting role of the varsity team in such decisive fashion that he instinctively thought about leaving the state.
"It's going to be a long haul," he remembers telling himself. "I'm not going to play behind this dude."
So long as Tate Martell -- No. 127 in the Class of 2017, eventually signing with Ohio State -- was at Gorman, Thompson-Robinson wouldn't be a starting quarterback, and two years was a long time to wait for a player with big-time college aspirations. Maybe, he thought, he could transfer to a school in California where he could be installed immediately as the starting quarterback. Then, surely, college recruiters would notice him, and the rest would take care of itself.
Ultimately, though, after he sat down with his mom, he made the decision to remain at Gorman. He would continue to practice at quarterback and knew he would be in line for routine mop-up duty -- enough to put together a highlight tape -- as the program regularly put opposing teams away before halftime. Thompson-Robinson would also spend time at wide receiver. If the combination of minimal game action and camp performances wasn't enough to generate recruiting buzz, he would still have his senior year and the spotlight that comes with playing for one of the nation's most visible teams.
So far, that plan has worked out better than he could have ever hoped for.
Of the two-dozen rising high school seniors at the Elite 11 finals over the weekend -- a showcase event for some of the nation's best quarterbacks -- Thompson-Robinson's path to get there might be the most unique. Most of the players have started two season's worth of games and attempted hundreds of in-game passes. Thompson-Robinson, who recently committed to UCLA and is ESPN's No. 3-ranked dual-threat quarterback, enters his final high school season having attempted just career 48 passes and only once has thrown for more than 100 yards in a game.
There might come a time where his relative lack of experience works against him, but as he worked out side-by-side with his more proven peers, Thompson-Robinson certainly didn't look out of place. In fact, he was among the best, most consistent performers over the duration of the three-day event and was one of 12 players selected to participate in The Opening at the end of the month.
Still, his presence begs the question: How did he get there? He's ranked No. 50 in the Class 2018. How, without playing any significant snaps at quarterback for his high school team, did he generate scholarship offers from some of the best programs in college football?
It goes back to his freshman year at Gorman. After his season ended, he joined the varsity squad for the playoffs and served as the scout-team quarterback through its run to the state championship. Soon after, the coach of that team, Tony Sanchez, left to become the head coach at UNLV. After taking the job, Sanchez almost immediately offered Thompson-Robinson a scholarship.
"He just saw my potential when I was serving as the practice QB," Thompson-Robinson said.
And thanks to being at a school with several talented players -- nine Gorman players in the Class of 2017 signed with FBS teams -- there was a steady presence of college coaches on campus. Many of them swung by the school during their spring practices and somewhat accidentally got to watch Thompson-Robinson up close. That's when things started to pick up. Between his on-campus showings and those in 7-on-7 and camp-like settings, college coaches became convinced that he was among the top quarterback prospects in the Class of 2018.
In April, he committed to UCLA over offers from Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and several more. His decision to head to the Pac-12 school, he said, was based on the combination of location, the academic offerings and impression he got from being on campus and around players on the team.
Gorman operates a read-option offense, but one college coach who recruited Thompson-Robinson said the quarterback's future success isn't dependent on the type of offense he has the keys to.
"He can be a great pro-style player or spread," the coach said. "Big and strong, can run well, but doesn't have to be a zone-read guy. I love his upside. And in this day-and-age of 'me, me, me' he stayed and didn't transfer. That doesn't happen anymore. Great kid."
On Friday at Redondo Union High in Southern California, the future UCLA Bruin spent the day rotating from drill-to-drill with the player he will eventually be in the mix to replace: Josh Rosen. They met for the first time the previous weekend at another quarterback event, and Rosen made a point to have Thompson-Robinson focus on the details of playing the position.
Thompson-Robinson's first start of his career at quarterback will come Aug. 25 against DeMatha (Maryland) in a game that will be televised on ESPN.