To play quarterback at any level requires a sound mind. It helps to have a little brawn, too.
Glenwood Springs Middle School student Dante Sparaco, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 200 pounds, is blessed with both. And he's receiving national attention for his football abilities.
Sparaco will play on a huge stage at this weekend's Football University (FBU) Championship in San Antonio. The GSMS quarterback has been traveling back and forth to the Front Range to practice with FBU Colorado's eighth-grade team, which is one of four squads remaining in the organization's 64-team national tournament.
Colorado will face a squad from St. Louis in tonight's semifinals. If Sparaco and company win, a berth in Sunday's championship at the Alamodome awaits. The semifinal winner will play either North Georgia or Massachusetts.
"We came down here to win, that's for sure," said Sparaco, who plays tight end and defensive end for Colorado's FBU squad because the quarterback roster spots had already been doled out by the time he found his way onto the team.
FBU is a national organization that affords youngsters with elite skills and makeup a chance to compete at the highest level. Players are hand-selected.
Sparaco, who also recently played in the National Underclassmen (NUC) Youth All-American Bowl in South Carolina, found out about the FBU team late in the game. He actually missed the Colorado team's October tryout.
"I ran down the name and number of the director of FBU in Colorado and told him my son played ball," said Dante's father, Dean. "He said, 'You know, we're finalizing the roster today. It's too late. ... We've had our quarterbacks set for months.'"
But fate then took a turn in Sparaco's favor.
"He asked if Dante played any other positions," Dean relayed. "I said anywhere on defense, really."
So Dean sent over some of Dante's video highlights. It didn't take long for a response.
"He called back in 10 minutes and said, 'Yeah, we'd love to have him.'"
And Dante is fitting right in among the nation's best young football players.
"When I got to practice, I was like, 'OK, now I know what these guys are about,'" Dante said. "Once I played in a game, the speed didn't surprise me. I was comfortable with the speed of the game. I was keeping up with everyone."
If he continues on his present trajectory, a bright future awaits the future Glenwood Springs High Schooler. Sparaco, whose favorite college programs include Notre Dame, Stanford, Oregon and Alabama, wants to play in college and in the NFL.
Being identified by national organizations like FBU at such a young age only boosts those aspirations.
He also recognizes that football is an avenue to a high-caliber education.
"The educational standards are high at those schools," said Sparaco, whose favorite subjects are science and history. "My first priority is to get an education. You could go to the NFL and get hurt and never play a football game. If I get an education, I'd be able to get a job. I could have that fallback."
Dante's dad, an architect who played linebacker at Montana State University, certainly made the most of his education. The Raton, N.M., native's job brought the family to Glenwood Springs in December of 2011.
Athletic prowess runs in the Sparaco family.
Dante's grandfather, Mike, crafted quite the athletic career in football and wrestling. He enjoyed a long run as Raton High School's football coach.
Just like his father and grandfather, young Dante is making a name for himself.
"It's a great honor [to play for FBU Colorado]," he said. "These kids are the best football players in the nation at this age group. To be associated with that is a great honor. It's a great opportunity to get my name out there with all these people watching. At the age I'm at right now, it's great."