Spencer Rattler’s ‘QB1’ reality show followed him to NFL draft – but did it really matter?

Spencer Rattler’s ‘QB1’ reality show followed him to NFL draft – but did it really matter?


Six quarterbacks were taken in the first 12 picks of the 2024 NFL draft. The seventh, Spencer Rattler, waited five rounds and two days to be drafted at 150th overall – a record gap between passers in the draft – by the New Orleans Saints. 

What NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported about a dozen picks earlier, as the Los Angeles Chargers were on the clock at No. 137, is why figures from Rattler’s past feel that the pre-draft process was another opportunity for his detractors to misconstrue his character.

“This is kind of weird to say, honestly. Spencer Rattler did a reality show in high school. It’s called, ‘QB1: Beyond the Lights,'” Rapoport said on the NFL Network draft broadcast. “It did not make him look great, and it is unbelievable how many different teams mentioned to me the image of him in that show, and how they can’t get it out of their heads. Which I think would be a public service announcement to all 17-year-olds, but it is fascinating as teams weigh whether or not to draft him.”

Rattler began his college career at Oklahoma only to lose his starting job to Caleb Williams (the No. 1 pick in the draft) amid a tumultuous sophomore campaign, later calling the events surrounding his departure a “toxic” situation. In high school, though, Rattler appeared on the third season of the documentary series directed and produced by “Friday Night Lights” TV show creator Peter Berg. The episodes aired in 2019 and chronicled Rattler’s senior season the previous year at Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, Arizona.    

One clip from the show, which has nearly 775,000 views on YouTube, shows Rattler laying into receivers during practice and also getting into an argument with junior quarterback J.D. Johnson. 

“What did you do in one-on-ones?” Johnson asked Rattler. 

“I blamed it on you,” Rattler replied. “Because you sucked.” 

Although Rattler told Johnson later in the clip he “made him better,” he also called Johnson “soft” and “a girl.” 

“You never lift me up,” Johnson said at one point in the nearly two-minute video.

Reality television also has a way of distorting perspectives. 

“It does make him look pretty bad, but in the same breath, there’s not a lot of context to it,” Johnson told USA TODAY Sports. “The reason why they put that clip together the way they did was to make him look bad and to create exactly what they created.” 

USA TODAY Sports’ request for comment to Berg’s production company, Film 45, was not returned. 

‘Clickbait’ to some, not the full story to others

The image of Rattler in “QB1” as a combative teammate with nefarious leadership tendencies followed him around to his early enrollment with the Sooners and his transfer to South Carolina. And it was something NFL teams mentioned during their interactions with Rattler’s high school coach, Dana Zupke, and his trainer, Rube Oliver. 

“I think that’s clickbait,” Zupke said of “QB1” being a reason why Rattler waited a while to hear his name called in the draft. “I don’t think that that had much bearing at all on where he ended up in the draft.” 

Based on the feedback he received in his discussions with teams, Zupke – who provided teams with written evaluations and also spoke directly with a handful – said he’s “really confident that was not an issue.” 

“It came up, but I don’t think there was a lot of concern about how he was portrayed on ‘QB1,’ to be honest,” Zupke told USA TODAY Sports.

The microscope of “QB1” exacerbated Rattler’s suspension due to an eligibility rule violation toward the end of his final high school season. That Rattler and his parents first tried to mask the suspension as an injury didn’t help and put Zupke in a difficult situation since he knew his quarterback was healthy.

But the Rapoport report was the first time Oliver had heard “QB1” rubbed people wrong at the NFL level. Rattler’s people-handling skills and leadership abilities have only improved since then, Oliver said. 

“He was a kid, man. A lot of kids act like that,” Oliver told USA TODAY Sports. “But he was the No. 1 QB in the country. So it’s highlighted. Doesn’t make it right.”

While the interaction might appear cruel to a viewer outside the Pinnacle locker room, what the clip does not account for is the relationship behind the words. Rattler and Johnson were friends. And like most people, Zupke said, Rattler isn’t the same person he was in high school.

“He was one of my good friends and I can confidently say he’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever met,” Johnson said. 

The animosity in the clip, Oliver said, is “like brothers bickering, ‘Hey, man, I’m better than you.’”

They hung out away from school and football. Rattler would drive Johnson to their private quarterback workouts. And everything was a competition. 

“The clip didn’t show me giving anything back to him, but there was days I was … screaming at him, ‘You suck, Spencer!’ That’s what we did,” said Johnson, who committed to Michigan but had to medically retire and became a student-coach. “Honestly, that’s what made both of us so good, in my opinion.” 

No NFL teams contacted Johnson during their vetting processes. 

‘Come out the other side a really good dude’

Rattler was the consensus seventh quarterback in the class and placed in a tier below those who went off the board before him.

There are many football-related reasons to explain Rattler’s fall to the fifth round. Teams that needed quarterbacks got them early. Entering the draft, most teams didn’t need a starter, or even youthful depth at the position. On “The Pat McAfee Show,” ESPN insider Adam Schefter said the two teams most interested in Rattler heading into the draft were the Atlanta Falcons, who took Michael Penix at No. 8 overall, and the Denver Broncos, who got their guy in Bo Nix at No. 12.

“Those are all good players, good quarterbacks,” Rattler said in a news conference regarding the crop of quarterbacks picked at the top of the draft. “Whatever team felt like they needed to make that pick, they did. You got to control what you can. That’s something I live by. I knew my time would come.”

Multiple teams leaking their concerns regarding Rattler to Rapoport because of the documentary troubled Johnson. 

“I think that’s pretty (expletive) to do to a kid in high school and ultimately have a long-time effect on what people think of him,” Johnson said. 

Rattler’s college career began auspiciously. As a redshirt freshman in 2020, he completed 67.5% of his passes in Lincoln Riley’s offense for 3,031 yards with 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Williams arrived in 2021, though, and Rattler – who measures at 6-foot, 211 pounds – was benched during the “Red River Rivalry” game against Texas. He never regained his starting role and transferred to South Carolina in 2022.

Gamecocks head coach Shane Beamer raved to NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah about Rattler’s growth while playing with the Gamecocks; the quarterback was a two-time captain and started all 12 games in 2023, throwing for 3,186 yards, 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions with a 70.1% completion percentage.

“For the immaturity that he got tagged with from the show when he was in high school, and maybe some of the early stuff at Oklahoma, he’s made it through all that stuff,” Jeremiah said last month on the “Mina Kimes Show.” “He’s come out the other side a really good dude on top of somebody who’s gotten better throughout his college career.”

And for all of the baggage Rattler has had to check because of “QB1,” the idea itself wasn’t misguided. Quarterbacks such as Justin Fields, Jake Fromm and Sam Hartman also appeared on the show. Zupke and Rattler’s parents had to be the ones who agreed to allow camera-crew access, and Zupke said he still sees more upside than downside because of the national recognition for the program that came with the show. 

“I don’t know if anyone would ever want a camera crew following them around like that for the rest of their life, but for six to eight months, it’s a good experience,” Johnson said, adding it was good publicity for the vast majority of the team. 

But not for Rattler. 

“The ones closest to him understand him and know who he is at heart,” Oliver said. “And he’s always known who he is at heart. He’s just now reflecting it.”

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