STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
Layton Rabb bet on himself and won.
That has been the great lesson for the athlete since graduating from Llano High School in 2014.
The 6-foot-4-inch quarterback completed his college eligibility last semester at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, where his 6,399 passing yards and 62 passing touchdowns each rank second all-time in the program. He earned a degree in accounting, and had a 3.71 grade-point average, bringing in Google Cloud Academic All-Super Region 4 and Lone Star Conference All-Academic Team honors the past two years.
Now, he is entering the NFL Draft and hopes to be one of the more than 200 names called during the three-day event April 25-27.
Not bad for player who didn’t have a college roster spot when he graduated from Llano.
“I didn’t have an offer,” he said about playing on the collegiate level. “I had all these dreams and goals I set. I wasn’t ready to give up the dream.”
Rabb spent all of junior high and half of his high school playing days running the Slot-T offense, a run-based scheme using misdirection. After the Yellow Jackets varsity team finished 1-9 in 2011, a new coach brought a new scheme.
Craig Slaughter was hired in 2012 primarily because of his spread offense and immediately saw he had the ideal quarterback to operate his version of the passing scheme. Equally important was that Rabb had running back Carter Tatsch and receiver Isaac Hutto. The players formed a tremendous trio that led Llano to a playoff berth. It was Llano’s first trip to the postseason in five years, though the Yellow Jackets lost 35-26 to Glen Rose in a bi-district contest.
Without a scholarship offer, Rabb’s family contacted Bryan Hill, a longtime friend and graduate assistant at Midwestern State. Hill talked up Rabb to Adam Austin, the MSU Mustangs’ new offensive coordinator. They then told Rabb he could be a walk-on player.
Walk-ons are expected to undergo the same preparations as scholarship players: strength-and-conditioning early in the morning or later in the afternoon, scouting reports and film study, and all the other more mundane but important tasks needed to build a successful team.
Walk-ons don’t get as many repetitions on the field as scholarship athletes. They usually come early or stay late to practice a play. They’re taking mental reps as they stand behind the starters.
Rabb noted that running the spread his final years in Llano put him in a great position because he better understood the receiving routes. The most important trait he learned as a Yellow Jacket? Committing to working hard with a “lunch pail” mentality.
So, for two years, Rabb toiled as an MSU walk-on. He rarely came home and spent every summer in Wichita Falls. Every spare moment he had, he was working on his game. That might mean his footwork or throwing motion. It might mean getting stronger by lifting more weights or camping out in the film room.
Finally, by his third year, he earned a scholarship.
“It took a lot of perseverance and hard work,” Rabb said. “I’m happy with the way I did it, but it was a hard route to take. I proved myself every day.”
He played in five games for MSU in 2016, completing 17 of 26 passes for 185 yards, three touchdowns, and only one interception.
In 2017, Rabb was the breakout player of the Lone Star Conference, throwing for 31 touchdowns and leading MSU to an unbeaten regular season at 9-0. The Mustangs (10-1) reached the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs, where they lost 63-21 to Minnesota State University, the No. 1 team in the country.
Entering the 2018 season, Rabb was the conference’s preseason Player of the Year.
As a two-year starter for the Mustangs, he had a 14-2 record in conference play. Last season, he was the recipient of the J.W. Rollins Award as the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year after winning six Offensive Player of the Week honors.
He finished the season with 3,114 passing yards — 325.7 yards a game — and 29 passing touchdowns, ranking fourth best nationally.
“There was something I wanted to prove in Texas and the (Lone Star Conference) as well as to everyone in the country, regardless of division. I wanted to prove that I could play,” Rabb said. “There are always naysayers. Believe in yourself. If you’re willing to put in the extra work and time it takes, you can carve your own path.”
In 2018, Rabb was a first team all-conference selection and nominated for the second time for the Harlon Hill Trophy, Division II’s version of the Heisman Trophy, which goes to the most outstanding player in college football.
“It was a great honor and accomplishment,” he said.
As for the NFL Draft, Rabb isn’t too concerned if his name isn’t called. If the NFL passes on him, there are other opportunities such as the Canadian Football League or the reboot of the XFL, scheduled to return in 2020.
He still plans to have his phone handy after the draft and believes a team will sign him as an undrafted free agent. He’s preparing for the opportunity the same way he did several years earlier: showing up early and staying later than everyone else.
All Rabb wants is a chance because he is still betting on himself.