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The Consummate Quarterback
Once every generation or so, the game of football produces a quarterback who is so gifted and so well-rounded that superstardom becomes an almost inevitable next phase of his athletic evolution. Andrew Luck is one such player.
Luck is delightfully different than most of his peers. He recognizes things on the field that most at the college level cannot see. He carries himself with uncommon poise, class and humility, particularly for a 22-year-old in the spotlight. And when just about everyone in a similar situation would have parlayed their talents into NFL riches a year ago, Andrew returned to Stanford to earn his degree in architectural design, and to play one more year with his Stanford teammates. How refreshingly unconventional.
“Andrew is all that’s right about college athletics,” confided one of Luck’s former blockers, OG Andrew Phillips. “His effort is remarkable. He throws his whole heart and soul into everything he does. Even as a redshirt freshman, he’d earned the respect of the seniors because of how hard he played and practiced. And yet, no matter how successful he became, to this day he remains the same goofy, fun-loving guy who never takes himself too seriously.”
Andrew used his final season on the Farm to author all kinds of impressive and memorable achievements. He helped guide the Cardinal to 11 wins and a second consecutive BCS bowl game, smoothing out the coaching transition as David Shaw succeeded Jim Harbaugh. The All-American also threw for a school-record 37 touchdown passes, to just 10 interceptions, elevating his craft behind center from NFL-ready to ready to start on Sundays as a rookie. Often lost in his outstanding junior year is the fact that his wide receivers were a modest group that lacked an all-star or someone who could consistently stretch opposing defenses. For Luck, it all added up to one crowning individual achievement, the 75th Maxwell Award for the Collegiate Player of the Year.
While Luck’s numbers have been impeccable, and his importance to the rise of Stanford into a national contender undeniable, understanding what makes him so special requires a more granular breakdown of his play. On film, he’s even more impressive than he is on grass. By just about every possible measurement, the 6-4, 235-pounder is the prototype at the position, nuancing great touch and accuracy with elite mechanics and underrated athleticism in and out of the pocket. However, it’s before a play even starts that Andrew really built separation from his peers at the college level. He sees the field exceptionally well, reading defenses and making his own calls at the line of scrimmage. His degree of aptitude and overall intelligence—the proverbial football IQ—is off the charts for an amateur.
“Andrew plays the mental part of the game at a very high level,” said his dad Oliver Luck, who played quarterback at West Virginia and for five seasons with the Houston Oilers. ”He has a great work ethic, and he knows how to flush the bad plays out of his system as quickly as possible. We were all fortunate that he benefitted from good coaching at all levels, from middle school and high school in Texas to Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw at Stanford.”
Although no one is prepared to suggest that Luck is without flaws, a device more powerful than the human eye is required to spot them. How do you expose a quarterback who can make all throws, remains unflappable in the pocket and radiates the kind of positive personality that helps make those around him better? It’s a vexing question with which Pac-12 defensive coordinators no longer must contend, but NFL coaches will. Comparisons are always controversial and dicey propositions, but it’s hard not to envision Luck as Peyton Manning 2.0, a more athletic version of the sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterback, and 1997 Maxwell Award recipient. Their cerebral approach to the position, ability to fit the ball into tight windows and impeccable character on and off the field make for an almost uncanny resemblance.
“Andrew just works his butt off,” offered TE Coby Fleener, who pulled down 10 of Luck’s 37 scoring strikes last season. “His natural ability is obvious, but he makes a conscious decision to get better every single day. He’s the epitome of a leader, who’s quick to push the limelight over to one of his teammates. And the way he connects with his receivers without any verbal communication gives him a major advantage over defenses. I can honestly say that it was an honor to have played with him the last few years.”
True greatness defies conventional measurements, such as one-dimensional statistics. Andrew Luck’s production at Stanford has been plenty prolific. The way he’s played the quarterback position, elevated a program and represented the game, however, transcend whatever shows up in a box score. The consummate young man with the golden arm is the pitch-perfect recipient of the Maxwell Award’s diamond anniversary. Luck is a rare gem of his own the likes of which doesn’t come around very often.