Aug. 30, 2004
by Chris Masters For many Americans, investing in the stock market can be a test of patience and trust. In the short term, people have to deal with the ups and downs that go with a changing economic climate. But those who are willing to wait through the early moments of trepidation often are rewarded with long-term success and financial security. In some ways, the Notre Dame football program has made an investment of its own in sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn. The Dublin, Ohio, native was thrust into the harsh spotlight of college football right from the opening weekend of the 2003 campaign, eventually stepping into the starting lineup at Purdue in week four. Quinn would be one of just six true freshmen in the country to start at quarterback in 2003 and, at times, his inexperience showed. During the final nine games of last season, he led the Irish to a 4-5 record, including impressive wins over eventual bowl qualifiers Pittsburgh and Navy. Quinn wound up setting Notre Dame freshman records for pass completions (157), pass attempts (a school-record 332) and passing yardage (1,831), while his nine touchdown passes were second-best among Irish rookies. However, those numbers were countered with a .473 completion percentage and 15 interceptions, including four in that first start at Purdue last September. Notre Dame offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill Diedrick knew Quinn would have to endure some growing pains in his initial season under center for the Irish. “Brady really had to learn on the run last year, but I was pleased with his progress over the course of the season,” Diedrick says. “By the end, I thought he had a good understanding of the offense and what we’re looking for from our quarterback.” Fast forward to the spring of 2004, where Quinn appeared to be every bit the poised leader that the Irish coaching staff has been envisioning. After spending much of the off-season alternating between the weight room and the film room, the 6-4, 220-pound signal caller demonstrated confidence and maturity in the complex Notre Dame offensive scheme. His growth was most evident in the Blue-Gold Game, when he completed 17 of 22 passes for 263 yards and one touchdown while guiding his Blue squad to a 35-7 victory. “The offseason gave Brady a chance to step back and evaluate his play outside of the heat of regular season competition,” Diedrick says. “During the spring, he was able to get a good handle on things and ultimately take that next step as a true leader of this football team.” Notre Dame will enjoy the luxury of a veteran backup quarterback in 2004, as senior Pat Dillingham returns to be Quinn’s understudy. Dillingham saw limited action last season, but proved to be a valuable asset in 2002, playing in seven games and completing 41 of 81 passes for 434 yards and one touchdown. He also started a mid-October game against Stanford, guiding the Irish to a convincing 31-7 win over the Cardinal. But Dillingham is perhaps best known for his late-game heroics at Michigan State in 2002, when he came off the bench to throw a game-winning 60-yard touchdown pass to Arnaz Battle with 1:15 to play, lifting Notre Dame to a storybook victory. A former walk-on, Dillingham has displayed a strong grasp of the Irish offense as well as tremendous poise on the gridiron. He turned in a solid performance in this spring’s Blue-Gold Game, completing seven of 14 passes for 66 yards and one touchdown with one interception. “I look for more growth out of Pat this year,” Diedrick says. “I’ve challenged him a great deal to improve his skills and get to a level where he is prepared to perform if called upon.” Behind Quinn and Dillingham, a pair of freshmen will compete for the No. 3 quarterback slot in 2004. Darrin Bragg is a nimble, strong-armed passer from San Jose, Calif., who threw for 1,904 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior at Bellarmine Prep. Meanwhile, David Wolke is a lanky 6-4, 205-pound native of Mount Juliet, Tenn., who threw for 6,232 yards and 54 touchdowns during his prep career at Smyrna High School. “These two players are in a similar situation to what Brady saw last year, coming in and competing for the No. 2 spot as a freshman,” Diedrick says. “We’re looking to see not only how they will adapt to our system, but also to their teammates. Those are areas we will be closely following in fall camp.” After riding out the short-term travails of a young and inexperienced quarterback corps, it appears the Irish have achieved a level of comfort and stability at the position. As a result, Notre Dame now is poised to reap the rewards in the long run. Is Second-Year Success Looming For Quinn And The Irish? The history books are mixed when it comes to evaluating second-year Notre Dame quarterbacks who started as freshmen. To be sure, only six other players besides current sophomore Brady Quinn have gotten the starting nod as rookies in the past 53 seasons — Ralph Guglielmi (1951), Blair Kiel (1980), Steve Beuerlein (1983), Kent Graham (1987), Paul Failla (1992) and Matt LoVecchio (2000). Of those six men, only three (Guglielmi, Kiel and Beuerlein) retained the starting quarterback spot throughout their sophomore seasons. Guglielmi led Notre Dame to a 7-2-1 record in 1952, completing 61 of 142 passes for 683 yards and four touchdowns with nine interceptions. Kiel went 5-6 as the second-year starter in 1981, connecting on 67 of 151 pass attempts for 936 yards and seven scores with 10 interceptions. Beuerlein experienced perhaps the most success of this group with 140 completions on 232 attempts (a .603 completion percentage) for 1,920 yards and seven touchdowns with 18 interceptions. He piloted the Irish to a 7-4 mark and a berth in the 1985 Aloha Bowl, where Notre Dame fell to SMU. It should be noted that Guglielmi, Kiel and Beuerlein all went on to play extensively in the National Football League, while Guglielmi was a consensus All-American in 1954 and is a member of the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame. LoVecchio was the most recent freshman to return as a sophomore starter at quarterback. Coming off a 9-3 season and trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in 2000, LoVecchio appeared in seven games in 2001, starting three and completing 34 of 69 passes for 287 yards and one touchdown. Both Graham and Failla started in emergency situations as freshmen, but spent much of their careers in a reserve role.