The 2022 NFL Draft is officially here, and hundreds of college football athletes are hoping for the chance to play professional football.
This year’s quarterback class features a wide variety of well-known athletes, including Ole Miss star Matt Corral, Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh and Liberty’s Malik Willis. Among the many quarterbacks anxiously waiting on a very important phone call are two of the Air Raid offense’s newest stars: Carson Strong of Nevada and Bailey Zappe of Western Kentucky.
Strong was not the most highly recruited quarterback out of high school, but he certainly defied the odds in college. He didn’t see playing time in 2018 but played a major role on the team during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. This past season was by far his best. Strong finished the year going 367-of-524 passing for 4,186 yards with 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Under Strong’s command, the Nevada Wolf Pack finished with an 8-5 overall record in the Mountain West Conference. They beat programs such as California, Boise State and San Jose State. Strong finished ranked eighth in the nation in total passing yards and seventh in completion percentage. What’s even more remarkable about all of this is that he did it all while recovering from a knee injury. Former Nevada offensive coordinator Matt Mumme said that his ability to perform well against the odds was part of what made him stand out from other quarterbacks.
“He wasn’t healthy for the season, but I think that’s what makes his season even more remarkable,” Mumme said. “That he did everything that he did with a 70 percent, 80 percent knee.”
If the name Mumme sounds familiar, it’s probably because it is: Matt is the son of Hal Mumme, one of the founders of the Air Raid offense. He followed in his father’s footsteps working with college football stars and teaching the pass-heavy offense. Mumme was one of the only coaches to recruit Strong out of high school and worked closely with him. By the time his senior season rolled around, Mumme was thoroughly impressed with the arm talent that Strong had developed.
“You just don’t see guys make those kinds of throws on a weekly basis,” Mumme said.
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In the offseason, Mumme was given a new position as the offensive coordinator at Colorado State, but that didn’t end his support of Strong. Overall, he believes that working in the Air Raid offense helped prepare his quarterback for the NFL more than anything else could.
“Obviously, the natural part of the Air Raid is that we throw it a bunch,” Mumme said. “I mean, he’s seen every kind of coverage that could possibly be thrown at him. So, that’s helped him move forward.”
In the state of Kentucky, another Air Raid quarterback spent his final collegiate season working hard to prepare himself for a potential future in the NFL. Bailey Zappe transferred to Western Kentucky from Houston Baptist for his 2021 senior season and put up some of the biggest numbers in recent college football history.
Zappe finished the season 475-of-686 passing for 5,967 yards with 62 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was ranked first in the NCAA in total passing yards, total touchdowns and passes attempted. He led WKU to a 9-5 overall record, including a 7-2 record in Conference USA games. The Hilltoppers also won the Boca Raton Bowl against Appalachian State by a score of 59-38.
Western Kentucky uses Air Raid pass concepts but also incorporates various rush options into its offensive scheme. This is unlike most traditional Air Raid schools, but Zappe said that he believes it prepared him quite well for a future in the NFL.
“I think that kind of helps me a lot too because in the NFL systems of course they’re all different,” Zappe said. “And to be able to show that, you know, diversity that I have in offenses and stuff I’m able to run and learn can only help me as well.”
Zappe came from humble beginnings in college, but his hard work has certainly come to fruition this year. He is looking to become only the third quarterback drafted in school history and the first draft pick from WKU since 2018. For Zappe, this is simply a dream come true and something he has wanted for as long as he can remember.
“I’ve been dreaming of this since I was five, and to be in this position is kind of surreal,” Zappe said. “It honestly hasn’t hit me yet, and I don’t think it will hit me until–I think– my name is called.”