Learning the Hard Way
I wasn't considered a "great" player in high school. Our offense was built around the legs of our running backs, which put us squarely in the option, as it funneled the ball to them, with space to run. After my first year as a starter, I spent a lot of time in the offseason working on the traits that make an option quarterback. I did a lot of work on my lower body, making me a more explosive runner, and allowed me to put a lot more zip into passes. We had 2 more successful season, capping my senior year with a State Title in Tennessee.
That's when all the questions started pouring in.
"Where are you going to college, Will?" they'd ask, trying to get some idea. Everyone expected me to jump right into a big SEC school, like Florida, South Carolina, even Tennessee. I didn't have the heart to tell them what I was really looking for. I didn't want a program with those kinds of expectations. I wanted to go to college somewhere that would be a low-key school that played enough football to get me noticed by scouts when the time was right. I also wanted a really good quarterbacks coach, one known for sending players to the NFL. This actually made my decision pretty easy. Duke University was a building program, under the tutelage of Quarterback guru David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe, who put Peyton and Eli Manning into the upper echelon of the NFL, who got production and a draft position out of Erik Ainge and a national championship out of Tee Martin. If there was anyone who could teach me to be a good quarterback, it was him, no question.
Signing day came, and when it came time to make my choice, I didn't hesitate, putting on my Blue Devils hat and grinning for all the world to see, shocking most of it. No one expected me to go to such a bottom-feeding team, but they didn't understand my motivation, and probably never would. Playing in practice with Duke meant I was at a lower risk for injury during the week, and allowed me to save up quite a bit of strength for Game Day, where we would put all the preparation I was known for to use.
Coach Cutcliffe stayed in constant contact with me over the spring, sending me the playbook and talking me through some of the coverage reads. When the time came for my first practice, I was blown away by how good he really was. He spent a lot of time helping me refine my footwork, quicken my release, and improve my pocket presence. After a handful of practices, he told me I would get a good chance to compete for the starting job once all the other players came back, and any walk-ons were evaluated. I was ready to go. I spent the remainder of the summer practicing the anticipation and timing he had talked about with his offense, throwing thousands of slant and curl patterns to friends and family that were willing. I still kept my legs in shape, as the ability to step through my throwing motion was giving me a great zip on the ball.
Fall was on the horizon, and I had to be ready. Duke was not exactly a team to be reckoned with, and whoever started at quarterback needed to be ready for a battle each and every week.
Some call it bad luck, I call it a blessing in disguise. Michael Vick gives way to Matt Ryan, and the Falcons are doing things they've never done before.