When Drew Viotto walks into a room, one of the first things you notice about him is his six-foot-three, 210-pound frame.
He’s a big kid with a big smile and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think he’s just another baby-faced 15-year old without a care in the world.
But while many of his peers are focused on social media sites such as Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, Viotto’s sights are set on one thing and one thing only: a Division I football scholarship.
The Sault Ste. Marie native has little time for child’s play and spends most of his days crafting his trade as a high-end up-and-coming quarterback. He has made huge sacrifices over the last year, moving with his dad Ross to Novi, Michigan, just outside of Detroit where he works regularly with well-respected quarterback coach Donovan Dooley, whose Quarterback University organization has produced several Division I quarterbacks. And based on Viotto’s progress, Central Michigan University invited him recently to a prospects camp where he performed so well that the head football coach gave him a verbal scholarship offer.
However, because of Viotto’s age and NCAA regulations — he’s only in Grade 9 — a verbal offer basically means the school is highly interested in him and provided he continues to progress, they will likely sign him once he’s of age. For a small-town kid from Sault Ste. Marie, that’s an amazing accomplishment and for Viotto, it’s validation that moving away from home and seeking the best training possible, is paying huge dividends.
“It’s just given me more motivation to work harder and it’s rewarding to know it’s all paying off,” said Drew, who is a freshman at Walled Lake Western high school in Novi, Mich.
This past season, he started for the junior varsity team and threw for over 2,200 yards while tossing 22 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. He also served as a backup QB on the varsity team.
While the decision to move to Novi with his dad was a difficult one, Viotto felt it was necessary in order to chase his dream. He knows he has to play against the best to be the best. And despite being 15, he knows he’s already auditioning for a job and he embraces the challenge and responsibility of doing so with the kind of poise and maturity that belies his youthfulness.
“The first thing I thought of is it’s going to be a huge sacrifice to be away from my mom (Andrea) and sister (Taylor), but once the opportunity came up, it was too good of a thing to not take it,” he said. “We knew it was a big sacrifice, but it’s slowly starting to pay off.”
A standout during his Soo Minor Football League days, Viotto got his first taste of U.S. ball in 2019 as an 8th grader when he played for the Walled Lake Braves minor travel team. He followed that up with a stellar season during his first year of high school and says his game has grown immensely since his Sault Ste. Marie playing days.
“One of the things that I’ve improved on is my mental game,” Viotto said. “I’ve gotten smarter and my thought process throughout the game has been much better. I’m reading defences better and understanding coverages. My feet are a lot faster and my arm’s stronger and my mechanics are a lot better, too.”
And lot of credit for that goes to Dooley, who spends a lot of time educating Viotto on his mechanics and on breaking down defences during their one-on-one training sessions.
“Right now it’s validation for all the hard work and sacrifices all of us have put in,” said Drew’s dad, Ross, who was able to get what’s called an E2 Investor VISA and now works the real estate market in Michigan while still commuting back and forth to tend to his business in the Sault. “We’re super proud of him as parents because he’s so passionate and loves it and now his confidence is at a different level.”
For the Viottos, the thought of packing up and moving their 15-year-old son to a school in Michigan was extremely nerve wracking. They know the odds of making it are against him, but Drew’s size and potential convinced them to give it a shot. And now, just one season into it, they take solace in the fact they are seeing results as Drew’s game has definitely reached another level.
During football season, he spends Mondays studying film of their upcoming opponent followed by a two and a half hour practice. They lift weights at school daily and, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning at 6 a.m., they’re up for Rise and Grind, which is a grueling workout session in the gym. In addition to that, they generally practice four hours a day on non-game days.
“I’m completely invested in this,” said Drew. “I love it. I’ve probably adjusted more because most of the guys there have the same goals as I do. They all want to play football and they’re all very dedicated to it.”
His dad says the progress Drew’s made has served as reassurance they made the right move, particularly for a kid who plays a position that requires so much responsibility and mental concentration.
“He does a lot of cerebral thinking,” Ross said. “The Xs and Os are the big thing and he’s getting bigger and stronger and he can throw the ball with accuracy. “He’s going to be there (Novi) for the duration for sure and the goal is for him to go on and play at the highest level he can.”
Michigan has always been a football hotbed and Drew says just being in that atmosphere has made him more determined to make it to the college ranks. Last summer he was invited to attend a camp at Michigan State University and this spring he’s been invited to visit the University of Michigan this spring for a spring camp and a chance to meet the coaches. He’d ultimately love to attend one of those schools, but his final destination will hinge on his next three years at Walled Lake, a school with an enrolment of 1,200 kids.
“He sees a lot of the kids down there that are in their sophomore, junior and senior year that don’t have any (verbal) offers and he understands that he already has one and he’s only in Grade 9 so he realizes he has to keep busting his hump,” Ross said.
Drew echoed those sentiments, saying he has no choice but to work harder if he wants to compete with the big boys. He realizes that nothing in life is guaranteed and just because he has a verbal offer doesn’t mean it will come to fruition by his senior year.
“All the guys are just bigger, faster and stronger,” said Drew who also plays on Walled Lake’s junior varsity basketball team. “The competition is so much more intense.”
For now, Drew is comfortable in his new surroundings and while he misses some of the home-cooked meals his mom used to muster up, the thought of cooking up a Division I scholarship appears to be a fair tradeoff.