The following is an excerpt from The Daily’s upcoming book, “Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football,” by Joseph Beyda, George Chen and Sam Fisher. The book will be sold electronically starting on July 15, and we will publish excerpts every Friday, including today’s installment on the 2008 season. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to sign up for updates on ordering information and future excerpts.
But the questions surrounding the quarterback position remained. With a third of the season already over, Jim Harbaugh needed to decide quickly whether he should redshirt Andrew Luck.
Tavita Pritchard was not playing like the master of the offense that he had worked to become in the offseason. In his first four games, Pritchard had struggled with his efficiency, completing less than 54 percent of his passes while throwing four interceptions. He only had one touchdown through the air and his scrambling ability, while useful, remained only an inconsistent dimension of his game.
Luck, on the other hand, continued to impress coaches and teammates as the quarterback of the scout team. One of those teammates was Toby Gerhart, who was Luck’s Big Brother in the mentorship program installed by running backs coach Willie Taggart. Gerhart and Luck met once a week on Thursdays for lunch at the Lagunita Dining Hall, and Gerhart would ask the freshman how he was adjusting to life on the Farm. Among their conversation topics were football, classes and, of course, girls.
“I was still a little bit in awe,” Luck says, “just because it was Toby Gerhart, you know, this football god who took the time out to sort of talk to me and show me some of the ropes. And Toby is, I think, a fairly quiet guy. He’s not going to talk your head off. That made him very effective to listen to because you know if he was saying something, to him it was important.”
The future Heisman Trophy finalists shared one particular bonding moment, though it may have been harrowing at the time for the freshman. Luck borrowed Gerhart’s car to move into Roble Hall, his freshman dormitory, after training camp, but the quarterback lost the keys right before the TCU game. Not wanting to bother Gerhart before the trip, Luck elected not to tell him that he lost the keys until the team got back after the game. Deserted by Luck, Gerhart’s car sat illegally parked in the Roble parking lot as Stanford lost to the Horned Frogs. After finally mustering the courage to tell his Big Brother, Luck spent every day searching for the keys. A week later, someone in the training room bailed him out.
“Someone’s like, ‘Whose keys are these?’” Luck says. “And I’m like, ‘Oh my god. Thank god.’”
While Gerhart got the opportunity to know Luck and his forgetfulness better off the field, he also witnessed firsthand how quickly the freshman was developing on the field. Gerhart specifically remembers one play in practice that made him pause and appreciate Luck’s potential. With Gerhart standing behind the huddle next to Harbaugh, the two watched Luck drop back to pass, escape the pressure coming off the edge, step up in the pocket, throw off-balance and hit freshman receiver Chris Owusu right in the chest on a 50-yard post for a touchdown against the starting defense — all in one fluid motion.
“I remember just watching that throw and looking towards Harbaugh,” Gerhart remembers, “and Harbaugh looked towards me and we both just shook our leads and laughed. At that moment I came to the realization that this kid was something special…That was probably the moment when I realized how good that kid was going to be. I still have a good memory of Harbaugh’s face when that play happened.”
Owen Marecic, Gerhart’s backfield partner in crime, has a similar take on Luck’s early days.
“[Luck] would make throws every day in practice where it was like, ‘This kid’s ridiculous,’” Marecic says.
Partway into the season, Harbaugh still had lingering concerns about Luck’s physical development, but for him, making the best decision for the team as a whole was also crucial. The coach consulted with Luck’s father, Oliver Luck, who said, “It’s your decision, coach. You’re the one who’s thought about this the most.”
In the week before the fifth game of the season, a road trip to Washington, Harbaugh called Luck into his office.
“Andrew, I’m thinking about starting you in this game,” Harbaugh remembers saying.
“I would really be excited to do that,” Luck replied, “but I don’t feel like I beat anybody out. I don’t feel like I deserve it.”
“Well, you really haven’t been in that position,” Harbaugh said. “The competition’s been between those other three [quarterbacks]. You’ve shown enough in practice. I think you’re ready and you’re the best thing for the team.”
“I’d be excited and I’d do anything for the team,” Luck said, “but I don’t feel like I’ve earned the job.”
Luck’s response made Harbaugh think it over for another day before he made his final decision: Luck would redshirt, and Pritchard would keep his job.
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