‘Coach’s dream’: Ohio State commit Dylan Raiola shows jaw-dropping skill as Chandler quarterback

Chandler junior quarterback Dylan Raiola hands off to running back Ca’lil Valentine at a recent practice. Raiola, who is committed to Ohio State, leads the 7-0 Wolves against Basha (6-1) Friday. (Photo by Cole Topham/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Dylan Raiola can do things as a quarterback that seem impossible – even in a “Madden NFL” video game.

During a game in September during his sophomore season at Burleson High in Texas, Raiola surveyed the field from his perch in the pocket, used his eyes to freeze the safety, then eyed a receiver streaking downfield from the slot position.

Raiola’s receiver, who was even with the defender and about to break free in the seam, was already looking for the ball. The play had all the makings of a wide-open touchdown – with just one small problem.

Raiola hadn’t finished his dropback yet.

With no pressure on the play, Raiola still had plenty of time to take the remaining steps and establish a balanced platform for the throw. However, that slight delay also might have given the defender a chance to recover.

The window for a big play could quickly close.

Playing loose and confident, Raiola decided to freelance, flinging the ball off his back foot like a shooting guard putting up a fadeaway jumper in a hoops game. The ball arrived on target, reaching his receiver right in stride for a 77-yard score.

It’s the kind of play that has made Raiola, who transferred to Chandler High before his junior year, the unanimous No. 1 overall prospect in the 2024 class according to every major recruiting service. Now at Chandler, Raiola is a must-watch signal-caller who committed to play at Ohio State and will be the jewel of the Buckeyes’ class if he signs.

In just his third year playing the position, Raiola has led the Wolves to an undefeated 7-0 record ahead of Friday’s game against Basha (6-1). One of those games was a 31-21 statement win against Saguaro High in Scottsdale, the rival that trumped Chandler last year in the Arizona Open Division championship game.

“He makes things look easy and effortless at the high school level,” said Chandler coach Rick Garretson. “The guys that dominated Arizona high school football – Christian Kirk, D.J. Foster, N’Keal Harry – it’s almost like they were not even trying because they were so far ahead of everybody.

“Raiola has that ability.”

Celebrities flock to the sidelines to watch Raiola’s games. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and YouTube influencer Donald “Deestroying” De La Haye, whose channel has over 4.8 million subscribers, were among the celebrities in attendance for Chandler’s revenge performance against Saguaro. Raiola’s superstar status even led Twitter to verify his personal account ahead of his 17th birthday.

According to Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney, Raiola – the son of former Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola – is so talented that he could challenge Arch Manning of Isidore Newman School in New Orleans at the top of the 2023 rankings if Raiola wanted to move up a class.

Manning is the grandson of former Saints quarterback Archie Manning and nephew of Super Bowl champion quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning.

“If Dylan Raiola were to reclassify to the 2023 class, he would absolutely be in the conversation to be the No. 1 player in the country,” Gorney said. “We did that a few years ago with Quinn Ewers. When he reclassified, he moved right to No. 1 in the country because we thought he had a really special ability.”

Raiola already looks the part of a major college quarterback.

At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Raiola is practically a physical carbon copy of his idol, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. While Mahomes is significantly more accomplished, having established himself among the NFL’s best with an NFL Most Valuable Player season, two Super Bowls and a championship ring, there are similarities.

Raiola’s unique combination of size, mobility, elite arm strength, anticipation, and ability to ad-lib plays on the fly are all the qualities that Mahomes uses to mesmerize NFL audiences.

Raiola was able to work out with Mahomes over the summer at Team APEC, an athlete performance facility with two locations in Texas. He even sports the same curly Mohawk haircut that Mahomes rocks under his helmet.

“If Raiola walked into a college quarterback room tomorrow, he would blend in perfectly with the guys that have been there for two, three, or four years,” Gorney said. “I don’t think that would be a problem, not only from a physical standpoint but also from the mental makeup. He’s very focused on what he wants to do professionally, and he has all of the gifts to do it.”

Raiola is now enchanting Chandler fans with the same magic he showed on that crazy play in Texas. Faced with fourth-and-12 against Notre Dame Prep, Raiola coasted from sideline to sideline to keep the play alive. After breaking three tackles, he swiveled his hips and fired a cross-body dart to an open receiver who took it to the end zone.

“If Raiola is comfortable that he can do it, he does it,” said Luca Sartirana, an expert for RiseNDraft Scouting after analyzing the play. “That’s the process. If Raiola can do this, he can do everything else.”

Garretson said Raiola is, in his opinion, what a first-round NFL draft pick looks like at this point.

“And we’ll see how he develops,” he added. “But I’m saying his ceiling is so high because he hasn’t played the position very long. He’s learning all the time. We’re pushing him as well, of course, and he’s not afraid to be coached hard.”

Chandler was an Arizona football powerhouse well before Raiola took the helm. The team boasts a 34-2 record under Garretson and has won six state titles since 2014. Chandler ranks seventh nationally among high schools for the most NFL Draft selections over the past 10 years, according to MaxPreps.

The school’s most recent pick was Lions nickel cornerback Chase Lucas, who was taken in the seventh round of the 2022 draft after setting Arizona State’s record for career starts.

It is easy to see why Chandler has enjoyed more recent success than any high school in the Valley. Chandler runs a pro-style offense with a heavy dosage of motion, backfield-eye-wash, and run-pass-option designs.

The structure alone gets playmakers open and is engineered by a vigilant coaching staff that trains basic technique with the same level of intensity as it teaches more complicated patterns.

However, when countered by difficult coverage, Raiola can foresee potential consequences before the snap and call an audible to put the offense in a better play.

“We coach and teach our kids that if they see things that are going on – because they’re playing, you know – we will go ahead and make adjustments,” Garretson said. “He knows how to check us out of a bad play. If he doesn’t like the call in the run game, he will go to certain bubbles or to a side that doesn’t have an extra man on it and things like that. His football IQ is way advanced.”

And Raiola’s creativity and natural improvisation have stretched a well-tuned offense’s capabilities.

“I just imagine some crazy scenarios that could happen in the game,” Raiola said. “One of my coaches back in Texas, Phil Tanner, told me it happens twice – you see it mentally, then you do it. I really believe in that. So when the opportunity presents itself, I want to be ready for it.”

While in shotgun formation during a Wednesday practice, Raiola had to lash out with one hand to reel in a snap that went askew.

The play call was a screen pass to the flat on the boundary, which is the smaller side of the field when the ball is placed on a hash mark. Boundary defenders typically line up closer to the line because the throw distance is shorter.

That’s what Chandler wanted to accomplish – a quick throw from Raiola to get his wide receiver the ball with space to run.

Raiola could have brought the ball in, set his feet, and gone through a full throwing motion.
But the bad snap messed up the timing of the play. The Chandler defense had already keyed on the screen and moved to close in on the intended receiver.

Instead, in Mahomes-like fashion, Raiola generated velocity from his elbow up and sidearmed the throw from his hip. He didn’t even bother getting his fingers over the laces. The missile hit home – a tight spiral directly on the numbers – and the play went for seven yards.

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Without Raiola’s talent to operate outside the box, the play might not have resulted in a completion at all, much less a positive gain.

“The arm slots, the variation in practice,” Garretson said. “He practices it pretty much all on his own, but it’s uncanny. It allows you to do certain things where sometimes you’re like, ‘Oh gosh, no, no, no … Oh, nice!’ That type of thing. When you haven’t been around something like that, it’s unique and special in that way.”

Raiola’s heroics were endless in that practice. On the first play of the 11-on-11 team period, he rolled to his right on a bootleg play-action pass and geared up to launch the ball when he felt backside pressure coming. Raiola was forced to finish his release suspended in mid-air, high above any arms trying to deflect the ball.

Nearly 40 yards downfield, the ball was caught by a receiver in traffic. Raiola strutted the distance to congratulate his teammate, one arm raised high above his head in celebration.

Chandler kicked field goals at the end of practice, the final task on the agenda before the Wolves played that week against unbeaten Casteel on Oct. 8.

“Not that we’re going to need it,” assistant coach Chad Carpenter said, joking.

And he was right – the Wolves scored six touchdowns (three courtesy of Raiola’s arm) in a decisive 40-21 win.

“He is every coach’s dream,” Sartinara said. “They would love to work with a quarterback of this caliber.”

Although he is still two years out from hitting the college circuit, Raiola is already locked into his future destination. He verbally committed to Ohio State in May, and his decision to play football for the Buckeyes seems all but finalized. A compression sleeve on his throwing arm with Ohio State’s colors and logo is a staple at every practice.

Raiola told Cleveland.com that he was left “speechless” after his trip to the school’s Columbus, Ohio campus, which included a throwing session with coach Ryan Day and a handful of 2023 five-star recruits.

“I don’t talk to any other schools and probably won’t unless something changes,” Raiola said. “But right now, I don’t see anything changing because that connection that I have to Ohio State is just really strong. Just knowing where I’m going for college, I can give my undivided attention to my team, pour into these kids, and build relationships that I will have for the rest of my life.”

Raiola also feels strongly about Ohio State because the school has one of the best track records at churning out NFL talent. The Buckeyes claim the most first-round selection (85) in NFL history. Only USC and Notre Dame have more than Ohio State’s 479 overall draft picks.

Wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave (the school’s all-time career touchdown receptions leader) were taken back-to-back in the first round of the 2022 draft. Wilson was taken by the New York Jets with the No. 10 pick, while the New Orleans Saints traded up five spots to select Olave right after. The last two Ohio State quarterbacks to enter the draft, Justin Fields and the late Dwayne Haskins, were also first-round picks. Current starter C.J. Stroud is projected to be the next first-round pick at the position.

“They bring in the best athletes every year,” Raiola said. “It’s arguably up there in the best classes every year with Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, all the top schools. Ohio State’s in the running for that.”

Case in point, Raiola knows the players he will be throwing to will be some of the best in the country. But his role as Ohio State’s quarterback has extended off the field well before he will receive the keys to his dorm room. Since his commitment, Raiola has become a relentless recruiter not only for his class but the prospects above him. Brandon Inniss and Carnell Tate, the top two receivers in the 2023 class who both herald from Florida high schools, both committed to Ohio State a month after catching balls from Raiola during the same visit.

It would appear that the building blocks of a Raiola dynasty at Ohio State are already in place, with certainly more brick and mortar to be added before he arrives.

“I don’t think there is any question in my mind that Raiola has taken a forward approach to recruiting others,” Gorney said. “I think it’s just in his nature. He has an outgoing personality to begin with when it comes to that kind of stuff. But from a competitive landscape, being on the field and winning games is super important to him. So winning recruiting battles is also super important to him.

“He’s going to develop relationships with those guys, he’s going to get to know them, he’s going to communicate with them. Recruiting can be a very competitive business, and Raiola has taken the approach that he wants the best players to be with him to win national championships in Columbus. And if you look at a quarterback of his skill level, he’s definitely someone who can be competitive recruiting at the highest level.”

Raiola’s eagerness to recruit reflects a similar trend of college quarterbacks becoming not just the leader of the locker room, but a persuasive mouthpiece for their program. The evolution of the quarterback’s responsibilities partly stems from the NCAA’s decision to implement a one-time transfer rule in 2021. All Division I athletes can now enter the transfer portal once and be immediately eligible to play upon their commitment to another school.

Of course, Raiola is not yet in college and presently has no plans to transfer from Ohio State once enrolled. But the influence he already wields bodes well for his ability to convince some talented players searching for a change of scenery to consider the Buckeyes.

Gorney has seen it happen, and recently.

“If USC did not get Caleb Williams, I don’t know if Jordan Addison is transferring for an unknown quarterback situation,” Gorney said. “Mario Williams is not transferring to play at USC if Williams isn’t there. And if you look at that USC offense, it is a completely revamped team. Quarterback, all of their best wide receivers, their two best running backs. Everybody basically followed Caleb Williams.

“It used to be that those good players wanted to go somewhere to be the man, and now it’s like good players want to play with other good players on all-star teams. Ohio State was going to load up anyway. But having Raiola makes it so much easier for Ryan Day because Raiola will recruit guys to play with him, and the top receivers want to play with the best quarterbacks.”

For now, all of that will have to wait. At the moment, Raiola just wants his next throw to be his best one. And above all else, he wants the Wolves to win.

He is content being a kid just chucking a football to his buddies, even if he does do it in remarkable ways.

“I want to be in the present, be in the moment where my feet are,” Raiola said. “I love being at Chandler and just being with these guys every day, playing games every week. It’s a true joy, and I love doing it.”

Cole Topham kohl taw-pum (he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Cole Topham expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in marketing. Topham has worked at Rivals, USA Today and PFF.