Oct. 7, 2010
By Michelle Smith
STANFORD, Calif. - Andrew Luck is the Stanford starting quarterback and, frankly, he hopes not that many people notice.
There are academic stars and political powerhouses and titans of technology every day on the Stanford campus, being smart, being inventive, being accomplished. Luck is just happy to blend in. And does he blend in. Luck is proving to be all of those things in his second season as the Cardinal quarterback in a season that's shaping up to be the program's best in a very long time.
"So far it's been good," Luck said. "We've made some mistakes and we've made some good plays, and we have a lot more work to do."
Luck finds himself following in the considerable footsteps of Stanford quarterbacks such as Jim Plunkett, John Elway, Steve Stenstrom and Trent Edwards. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh has taken to calling Luck the "anti-celebrity" quarterback, the "anti-big-manon- campus."
Luck isn't looking for attention, even when the spotlight shines directly on him.
"The most striking thing about Luck is he's really, genuinely humble," Harbaugh said. "He has a good mix of humility and confidence. He's almost embarrassed if somebody compliments him or wants to talk about him. He's very quick to deflect to teammates."
Luck said he wants to be "just another Stanford student."
"There are so many incredible students and people here, I just feel like I would like to move around pretty anonymously," Luck said.
He said the attention he is receiving -- stories in the New York Times and USA Today, features on ESPN and in the Sporting News -- is just part of being a quarterback on a team that is ranked nationally. "My teammates keep me down to earth when I need to be," Luck said.
When does he need to be?
"All the time, they make fun of me constantly, about everything," Luck chuckles.
Whether he feels that way or not, in his second year as a starting quarterback, Luck is a star. Like Toby Gerhart last year, momentum is building for Luck's inclusion in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
But Luck isn't going to go there. He wants to win this week's game and then the next.
And he would certainly like a chance to play in the bowl game that he missed last season after a broken finger kept him out of the Sun Bowl, the Cardinal's first bowl appearance since 2001.
It was not a fitting end to what had been a stellar redshirt freshman season for Luck, who threw for 2,575 yards and 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency.
Last year, the Stanford offense belonged to Gerhart and his smash-mouth running style. Gerhart's success -- he finished as the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy -- allowed Luck to come in and play without the pressure of carrying the offense. Gerhart produced nearly 1,900 yards of offense and set the tone.
But Luck is the focus of the offensive playbook now, taking snaps behind one of the top offensive lines in the country and leading a group of young tailbacks and an experienced wide receivers group.
Harbaugh said he thinks Luck has improved. "He's decisive and accurate, and he really wants to understand everything about the scheme and the opponent," Harbaugh said. "He's not one of those guys that just goes back and slings it and doesn't understand the protection and what everybody is doing."
As the story is well known by now, Luck is a quarterbacking legacy. His father Oliver was an NFL quarterback for the Houston Oilers and is now the athletic director at West Virginia. Andrew has said that he doesn't talk football with his dad, but they talk about his football experience and how to make the most of it. "He reminds me to have fun," Luck said.
Oliver Luck said his son is a better player than he was. "I'll be the first to admit that. He is a pretty good player," Oliver Luck said. "It's fun to see him: number one, do well and see him develop this year into a team leader, as opposed to last year when he was still young and playing for the first time. I know from talking to Coach Harbaugh he's gotten very vocal at practices."
Luck finds himself in good company in the Pac-10 this year, where the conference is full of talented passers such as USC's Matt Barkley, Washington's Jake Locker, Arizona's Nick Foles, and Cal's Kevin Riley.
Luck admitted that he is keeping an eye on the other top quarterbacks in the Pac-10.
Harbaugh said that's only natural.
"Having played the position myself at the college level, you go into the game, and you want to help your team, and you want to help your team more than the other guy helps his team," Harbaugh said.
Luck laughed when asked about how he spends his "down time" away from football. Between classes and practice, meetings, homework, and media demands, down time is in short supply.
But Luck said he finds himself hanging out with friends and watching soccer highlights on the Internet. Luck became a huge soccer fan when he lived in Germany when his father worked as an administrator in the World League of American Football and then NFL Europe.
Luck said he is feeling much more confident in the early days of his second season as a starter than he did in the first. It's all a matter of experience.
"It makes a huge difference," Luck said. "What's lost in the whole game thing is how many spring ball practices you go through and how much summer conditioning, throwing to the wideouts and then another camp.
"There's been a lot of football played by this team and myself between that year gap. I definitely feel a lot more comfortable. I think I'm starting to understand things a little more out on the football field. I guess last year, I still didn't know what to expect."