Heisman Trophy finalist profile: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck excels on and off the field

December 10, 2010 

Was valedictorian in high school

This is the second in a series of stories on Heisman Trophy finalists.

By JOSH DUBOW

AP Sports Writer

STANFORD, Calif. -- Andrew Luck seemingly can excel at just about everything.

His ability to thread passes with pinpoint accuracy makes him a possible No. 1 overall draft pick whenever the 6-foot-4, 235-pound junior decides to go to the NFL.

His hit on one defender and tackle on another became instant YouTube sensations and showed he can do so much more than sit back in the pocket and pass.

He is a high school valedictorian now majoring in architectural design at Stanford, showing he has the smarts to go with his athletic skills.

“The only thing Andrew can’t do very well is sing,” teammate Doug Baldwin said. “He’s a horrible singer. That’s about the only thing he can’t do.”

Fortunately for Luck, he is a finalist for the Heisman Trophy not “American Idol” and he will be judged by his on-field performance not his shower renditions of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

On the field, Luck measures up against just about anyone. He broke John Elway’s single-season school record with 28 touchdown passes while leading the Cardinal to more than 40 points per game, a school-record 11 wins and a berth in the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech.

He has completed more than 70 percent of his passes for 3,051 yards and rushed for 438 more, including three runs of at least 50 yards.

“He’s very rare in that I just don’t see any flaws in his game at all,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “He’s going to be a great, great player. It’s really amazing watching him and what he’s able to do before the snap. They change so many plays and protections. The guy that I compare him to most is Rich Gannon when Rich was playing real well in the NFL. So smart and so prepared and able to run as well when things aren’t open.”

Numbers don’t do Luck justice as much as particular moments do. There was the weaving 52-yard run through the entire Wake Forest defense early in the season or the hit on USC’s Shareece Wright that possibly saved a touchdown and has generated more than 1 million YouTube hits.

There was the 44-yard pass to Baldwin against Arizona State he threw almost from his knees as he was falling down. And then there was the cold shoulder that knocked down Cal’s Sean Cattouse on the way to a 58-yard gain that got Baldwin in trouble with his coaches because he watched the play in awe instead of blocking down field.

For coach Jim Harbaugh, it was a simpler moment that stood out -- an 18-yard pass to the opposite sideline on third down on the opening drive against Oregon State that had to fit in between two defenders in a window so small that Harbaugh described it as the strike zone on a pitchback toy.

“It still amazes. It’s every game there’s something similar to what we’ve seen and something altogether new,” Harbaugh said. “He’s the best football player I’ve been around, on the same team or coached. And he’s equally one of the finest young men I’ve ever been around too.”

That’s heady praise considering Harbaugh was a Heisman finalist himself who played on a pair of top 10 teams at Michigan, spent 15 years as a player in the NFL and was an assistant coach on the Oakland Raiders when they won the 2002 AFC championship.

Harbaugh said Luck best epitomizes what the mission of the Heisman Trophy, which is supposed to go to the player “whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”

That could be seen as a shot at two of the other finalists. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was briefly ruled ineligible after his father was accused of working with the owner of a scouting service to get up to $180,000 for his son to play for at Mississippi State.

Oregon running back LaMichael James was suspended for the season opener after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge against his ex-girlfriend.

“If I win the award, I hope it’s because of my merits on the field and nothing regarding anyone else’s off the field or anything like that,” Luck said.

While Luck acknowledges it would be quite a shock if he beat out heavy favorite Newton for the award, it would be a notable accomplishment for Stanford if he finished as runner-up.

Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart was beaten out by Alabama’s Mark Ingram last year in the closest vote ever. No school has had two different players finish second in the voting since Leroy Keyes and Mike Phipps did it for Purdue in 1968 and ‘69.

With Luck as a finalist, Stanford will join traditional football powers USC, Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State, Florida State and Notre Dame as the only schools in the past 25 years to have different players finish in the top four in successive seasons.

What makes the feat even more remarkable is that it comes at a program that won just one game in 2006 and hasn’t won a bowl game since 1996.

“It speaks volumes for where this program is headed, where it is right now, what a great job coach Harbaugh has done and what great players are at Stanford right now,” Luck said.

Luck is clearly the greatest, earning comparisons to some of the past great quarterbacks at Stanford like Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Jim Plunkett and Elway.

While he downplays the personal accolades and is always first to give credit to the offensive line or his receivers, his teammates know better.

That’s why they’re enjoying every minute they have with him and never take for granted the greatness they see each day on the field.

“With Andrew you notice all of it because it’s just amazing,” Baldwin said. “The things Andrew does, you just don’t usually see those. Guys know that. You look on highlight film of the NFL and you don’t see the things Andrew does at the college level. We’re definitely in amazement, but we’re thankful to have him on our team.”

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