Hok­ies now, draft later

Stand­out quar­ter­back ex­cels while main­tain­ing a low pro­file for Stan­ford

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY MARK GIANNOTTO gi­an­nat­tom@wash­post.com

Stan­ford Coach Jim Har­baugh, right, and An­drew Luck want the quar­ter­back to fo­cus on the Orange Bowl and not the NFL.

fort laud­erdale, fla. — The headaches that Stan­ford quar­ter­back An­drewLuck gives op­pos­ing de­fenses are well known at this point. He fin­ished sec­ond in­Heis­man Tro­phy vot­ing this sea­son, win­ning a school-record 11 games and lead­ing the Car­di­nal to its first-ever Orange Bowl ap­pear­ance Mon­day against Vir­ginia Tech.

But try fac­ing him ev­ery day in prac­tice, a mind-numb­ing propo­si­tion linebacker Chase Thomas sim­ply calls “frus­trat­ing” since touch­ing theirown­quar­ter­back is off lim­its even as he picks apart their de­fense.

“He’s the su­per­star, he’s the quar­ter­back, he’s the man, he’s the cap­tain,” se­nior de­fen­sive end Brian Bul­cke said of Luck. “But at the same time, there’s that burn­ing de­sire to lay that lick on him, and none of us have been able to.”

When told of this Fri­day morn­ing, Luck, a red­shirt sopho­more, smiled from his seat atop a small podium. He un­der­stands his team­mates’sen­ti­ments, but“what they’re not telling you is that they pick me more than not, too.”

This sort of state­ment is what makes him so spe­cial, ac­cord­ing to thosearound­himev­ery­day. His tal­ent throw­ing the foot­ball is so prodi­gious that even his own coach, for­mer NFL quar­ter­back Jim Har­baugh, says “God put the fin­ger” on him. But ul­ti­mately, the sig­nal caller many around the coun­try be­lieve is the next great NFLquar­ter­back­doesn’t con­sider him­self as any­thing more than one of the guys.

“When he makes plays, we don’t re­ally think about [the fact] his body is worth $50 mil­lion,” wide re­ceiver Doug Bald­win said. “Ob­vi­ously he’s a very phe­nom­e­nal ath­lete, phe­nom­e­nal quar­ter­back, but I think what doesn’t get talked about enough is An­drew’s per­son­al­ity, his char­ac­ter. That’s whatI think is the­mostim­por­tant thing that peo­ple need to get.”

Born in the District, Luck spent the first nine years of his life in London and Frank­furt, Ger­many, as his fa­ther, for­mer NFL quar­ter­back and cur­rent West Vir­ginia Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Oliver Luck, ran NFL Europe. The ex­pe­ri­ence gave him “a dif­fer­ent ap­pre­ci­a­tion for dif­fer­ent cul­tures,” and a love for the game of soc­cer.

When his fa­ther moved the fam­ily back state­side to take a job as pres­i­dent of­Ma­jor League Soc­cer’sHous­ton Dy­namo, Luck took to the grid­iron as a de­fen­sive line­man and run­ning back. Even though his pedi­gree would sug­gest play­ing be­hind cen­ter im­me­di­ately, Luck says he made the po­si­tion switch only be­cause “I guess I had a de­cent arm.”

But by the time he grad­u­ated as vale­dic­to­rian of his class at Strat­fordHigh in 2008, Luck­wa­so­neof the top quar­ter­back re­cruits in the coun­try and a player Har­baugh re­al­ized could be the linch­pin in trans­form­ing a pro­gram that went 1-11 in 2006. It was dur­ing this re­cruit­ing process, though, that the coach got the first hint he may have found an “anti-su­per­star.” “I can re­mem­ber one time on the phone, I was in the habit of call­ing An­drew ev­ery week and An­drew said, ‘Coach, I’m com­ing to Stan­ford and you don’t need to bother with call­ing me ev­ery week,’ ” Har­baugh re­counted ear­lier this month. “It was just re­fresh­ing. . . . He wasn’t one of those guys that needed con­stant at­ten­tion.”

This, it seems, is why the past few weeks have been es­pe­cially an­noy­ing to Luck. He’s el­i­gi­ble to declare for the NFL draft fol­low­ing the Orange Bowl, a de­ci­sion he says hasn’t been on his mind ex­cept when re­porters bring it up.

An ar­chi­tec­ture ma­jor with a 3.5GPA, Luck is more likely to talk about his de­sire to one day de­sign sta­di­ums in­stead of what the plans for his foot­ball fu­ture may be. Luck’s been so fo­cused on end­ing the sea­son with a vic­tory, he didn’t even re­al­ize it was New Year’s Eve when the topic was brought up dur­ing his ses­sion with the me­dia Fri­day.

“I’m try­ing to avoid it,” said Luck, cring­ing at the mere men­tion of his pro­fes­sional ca­reer. “I don’t want it to get in the way of the team, of our chances in the Orange Bowl. I think if I start think­ing about it too much, it’ll be adetri­men­tand­my­head­will be in the wrong place. . . . But I guess it’s just part of play­ing quar­ter­back for a ma­jor team and be­ing an un­der­class­man. It’s part of the gig.”

And af­ter com­plet­ing more than 70 per­cent of his passes, throw­ing28­touch­downs­for­more than 3,000 yards, and even run­ning over a Cal­i­for­nia de­fender on a 58-yard-run, the spec­u­la­tion sur­round­ing Luck con­tin­ues.

Ear­lier this month, Vir­ginia Tech de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bud Fos­ter likened Luck’s com­bi­na­tion of ac­cu­racy and mo­bil­ity to a cross be­tween Pey­ton Man­ning and Dono­vanMcNabb when they were in col­lege. ESPN an­a­lyst Ron Ja­worski thinks a more apt com­par­i­son may be cur­rent At­lanta Fal­cons quar­ter­back­Matt Ryan— as in a player ready to lead an NFL team right away.

“He will be the No. 1 pick in the draft if he de­cides to come out,” Ja­worski said. “His skill set projects beau­ti­fully to the NFL.”

But Luck re­fuses to let this no­tion al­ter his de­ci­sion-mak­ing process. He wants to wait and see what Har­baugh — who has also dealt with ru­mors that he may leave Stan­ford forMichi­gan or an NFL head­ing coach­ing job — will do.

More im­por­tant, buy­ing into his own hype would mean putting him­self ahead of his team­mates. And no mat­ter how many peo­ple pre­ma­turely anoint him, Luck would never al­low that to de­fine him.

“I would like to think I’ma good team player, put the team in a po­si­tion to suc­ceed and don’t de­tract from any­body else on the team while lift­ing ev­ery­body up,” Luck said. “It’s a team game. The quar­ter­back’s gonna get the at­ten­tion, but maybe it’s not so de­serv­ing all the time.”

HANS DERYK/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Vir­ginia Tech vs. Stan­ford: 8:30 p.m. to­mor­row (ESPN) An­drew Luck is wait­ing to see whether Coach JimHar­baugh, left, is re­turn­ing be­fore de­cid­ing if he’ll be back at Stan­ford next sea­son.

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