Liam Nadler: The Path to the Pros for a D2 QB

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Late last January, at Erie, Pennsylvania, several NFL scouts for various teams attended a workout at Gannon University. The main draw? Liam Nadler, already established as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play for the Golden Knights, poised to enter his final collegiate season. For Nadler, this moment was the first time a professional career started to truly feel “real.”

“It was the first instance of ‘wow, this is serious stuff…this could really happen,'” Nadler said in an interview with Optimum Scouting.

By: Cory Burrell

It is easy to focus on the traditional first-round quarterbacks, such as Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook, to the point of overlooking some of the lesser collegiate signal callers looking to earn a shot in the pros. Nadler is one such player.

Nadler put together a record-setting collegiate career, but not for an FBS or even an FCS team. Nadler played in Division II at Gannon University, but teams should not be turned away from his lack of FBS playing experience. Nadler may lack the prestige and pedigree of the projected top quarterbacks of his class, but teams willing to look outside the traditional Division I prospects may find a talented, low-risk quarterback in Nadler.

Nadler grew up in the small, close-knit town of Leipsic, Ohio, where he attended Leipsic Local High School. He was a fairly accomplished athlete in high school, lettering in basketball as well as football and earning all-conference and all-district honors in both sports. The size of Leipsic prevented Nadler from drawing virtually any attention from colleges. He eventually decided on Gannon, one of the few schools Nadler received an offer from, a choice Nadler said he was very pleased making.

“Gannon just felt the most at home to me,” Nadler said in an interview with Optimum Scouting. “The coaches, the teammates, the people I met…it all felt right. I couldn’t have made a better decision.”

Nadler said he approached athletics primarily as a means to better himself. Even as his career progressed, Nadler said he tried to keep this goal in focus.

” I wanted to improve myself, get a degree,” Nadler said. “Football was a means to an end, that was the focus from day one.”

Nadler stuck with these aims his entire collegiate career. He finished his undergraduate studies in political science with a 3.87 GPA, earned a number of Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference scholar-athlete honors, and began working toward an MBA (Nadler has since put his MBA on hold to pursue his football career). He also made community service a major part of his life, joining the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

“Community service honestly wasn’t a big part of my life until college,” Nadler said. “[Teammate] Chris Pike really got me interested. He did a fantastic job tutoring and helping kids…I really wanted to make a difference.”

Even as Nadler kept football in perspective with the rest of his life, it soon became apparent his playing days could extend beyond college. After redshirting his first year at Gannon, Nadler took over starting quarterback duties from the first game of the 2012 season. In his first collegiate game against Lake Erie, he threw for 420 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions in a 36-33 win.

From that point on, Nadler began to turn the school’s records into a list of his achievements. By the end of 2012, he already set Gannon single-season records for passing yards, pass completions, and passing touchdowns. Before the start of his final collegiate year, he already owned the career records for passing yards (8, 519) and passing touchdowns (58).

Personal statistics were not the only numbers going up at Gannon. In 2012, Gannon struggled to a three-win season. After that, Gannon posted a winning record every year Nadler helmed the offense, including a stellar 8-2 2014 campaign.

Ask Nadler about any of these impressive accolades or his role as a leader, and he will quickly defer to his teammates and coaches and credit them as a big reason behind his success.

“My focus wasn’t on the numbers,” Nadler said. “[Head Coach Brad Rzyczycki] runs a brilliant offense. We had quality athletes at so many positions, the offensive line gave me great protection…they made my job easy. I can’t thank those guys enough.”

As Nadler’s success continued, especially the eight-win 2014 season, NFL scouts became interested with Nadler, coming to games and practices. Rather than feeling pressure from the added attention, Nadler said he began “adapting to this lifestyle” and embraced his pro potential and the positive effect it had on the team.

“You would think it would be a distraction, but it actually benefited our practices,” Nadler said. “Guys would practice harder when scouts came, trying to be that ‘diamond in the rough’ guy that would be discovered…that intensity made practices a lot more fun and beneficial.”

At the same time, Nadler quickly realized the need to keep his mind on his own play instead of scouts.

“Playing the game of football is stressful enough, I didn’t want to put any extra pressure on myself,” Nadler said. “I didn’t want to focus on ‘oh, the scouts are here, I need to make this throw or do this at practice.’ I just put it all on the backburner.”

Nadler will likely not be taken until the very tail end of the draft, if he is drafted at all. According to Optimum Scouting’s quarterback rankings, Nadler projects as an undrafted free agent, likely to be signed as a priority free agent. There are several cases of late or even undrafted quarterbacks who end up putting together very successful careers. Tom Brady, a former sixth-round draft pick, is the most well-known late/undrafted player, but others include Tyrod Taylor, another sixth-round pick who may be the future franchise quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, and Tony Romo, a former undrafted quarterback who is now the face of the Dallas Cowboys.

Fellow Division II players have made their mark in the NFL as well. Danny Woodhead, Jahri Evans, and Jacoby Jones are just a few recent D2 alumni who carved out crucial roles with NFL teams. Division II quarterbacks, however, are more of a rarity – according to, there is only one former D2 quarterback active in the league, Dustin Vaughan.

Nadler knows he will not be anywhere close to the top pick of the draft. He is realistic of the work he will need to continue to put in to survive in the league. But he also believes he is more than capable of succeeding if given the chance.

“I know I am considered a risk,” Nadler said. “But I’m a risk that will pay off tenfold. I know that I am capable of playing, I know I will be the hardest-working guy wherever I go. I want to be a part of whatever organization that takes that chance on me to prove myself.”

Nadler will finish his collegiate playing days in the Dream Bowl. The four-day event starts today.

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