As expected Coach Mark Dantonio made the official announcement this week most analysts speculate about. Redshirt freshman Dustin Grutza (6-2 202 Maysville, Ky.) is the favorite to be selected to replace UC long-stay and record-setting QB Gino Guidugli (Tennessee Titans) as the 2005 Bearcat quarterback.
Grutza, a fleet-footed QB with pinpoint accuracy, put his name on the top of the list of the possible candidates to replace Guidugli after an impressive showing during this year's spring practice. However, you will be unlikely to hear that come from the soft-spoken Grutza.
"I don't really look at myself as the starter yet, I still think I have a lot to prove," said Grutza. "I think I need to go out on the field and show that I can rally my team behind me and get my team ready to win games before I can really call myself the starter."
In all, Grutza has been in competition for top billing on the UC depth chart with six other gun-slinging Bearcats shooting for playing time.
Coming into the season, many would have gravitated towards the idea of having the coaching staff to lean toward experience, meaning sophomore Todd Spitzer would be the odds on favorite to win the job, having already spent two seasons in the Bearcat system. While it was the combination of skill and knowledge displayed this spring (and late summer) that may have won him the job, Grutza recognizes just how important his role as scout team quarterback last season was in his development.
"Playing on the scout team got me a lot of reps and work against a good defense, and that experience was really important for me," said last season's winner of the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year award. "I really got a chance to get a look at a lot of different defenses and at the same learn to run a lot of different styles of offenses. It really taught me a lot about the game, and it really prepared me to know how to deal with the overall speed of the game when I got the chance to play."
Other than Spitzer and Grutza, freshman Tony Pike (joined the team mid-year) is the only other Bearcat with any real experience with the program.
Nick Davila, a two-time junior college All-American, progressed during the spring as he picked up the UC system, but is still wet behind the ears when it comes to knowing the ins and outs of Coach Treadwell's offensive scheme. Newcomers Craig Carey, Dominick Goodman, and David Wess were expected to make their presence felt when they begin fall practice, but Goodman has moved himself to receiver and Wess while showing great athletic ability is still learning the system after sitting out last season.
Grutza is able to combine his passing skills and athleticism with a familiarity with the position to gain his advantage.
"I would definitely say the biggest strength of my game is the fact that I can throw and run, really do a lot of different things on the football team and really help lead my team."
With the relative uncertainty of how the offensive will look/play during the regular season, having the added advantage of an allusive body in the pocket could save the Bearcats valuable yardage and the medics valuable ice, as you can expect their to be a lot of pressure in the backfield this season. In the first few days of practice, Grutza has shown the ability to escape a broken pocket and scramble to pass, throw the ball away or scramble for a gain. Even more impressive is the fact that the freshman has shown the ability to run designed scrambles for a positive gain against a tough-looking Bearcat front seven.
Like his predecessor Guidugli, Grutza brings an impressive pedigree, having posted the eighth-highest career passing yards total in Kentucky high school history (Guidigli actually ranks in front of Grutza on that list).
"I am always going to put pressure on myself to put numbers up. I am willing to put that pressure on myself, and that is the way that I want it to be. I am here to be the best player I can be and to make my team perform and play to the best of their abilities."
While Grutza, a self-proclaimed "risk taker" (enjoys riding dirt bikes and motorcycles), had to take chances on the field in order to put of the sterling numbers he did in high school, he is resigned to accepting the fact that early on in his career he may have to play it relatively "safe" early on.
"I want to take chances and put up numbers, I really enjoy the pressure I get to place on myself. However, when it comes to what the coaching staff wants, well, that might be a different story. I am happy to play the role that they want me to, but I just want to be the best player that I can be based on the situation the team decides to put me in."
For the coaching staff, an impressive high school career and experience as a scout team standout are not quite enough on their own to remove "green" as one the adjectives used to describe him. In terms of knowing what it feels like to lineup on Saturday afternoons in front of hostile, blood-thirst crowds on the road, as well as booing, disgruntled Bearcats fans at the friendly confines of Nippert Stadium, Grutza still has a lot to learn.
However, with that being said, Grutza refuses to allow his relative
immaturity on the field affect how maturely he will handle all that people throw
at him during this early stage of his career.
"My major weakness is that I am young, but I don't feel young with the team. I feel like I can lead them and that we can get it done this season."
While this would be seen as a cliché, politically correct response by most young athletes thrust into a position of high scrutiny, from Grutza the response is very fitting, as this young man has always been able to exercise his leadership skills all his life.
"I've been a leader all my life, on the playing field and off," said Grutza,
who was a class officer and member of the fellowship of Christian Athletes while
at Mason County High. "I really have always been in a position of leadership
when playing sports though. I was also the point guard in basketball, which is a
lot like quarterback, because you have to settle the team and really run the
show. You have to make good decisions and know what to do at the appropriate
time and place."
Grutza's abilities in the classroom have definitely helped grasp a more full understanding of "time and place," which are so crucial in sport. A 4.0 honor-roll student and National Honor Society Member in high school, Grutza's book smarts are definitely an asset on the football field.
"You have to be smart to be a quarterback, so being a good student really helps you," said the Civil Engineering major. "You have to be a true student of the game to really understand and feel comfortable on the football field, so the academic side of things is really something that I think works well for me."
Committed to both football and the classroom, Grutza is challenged daily to attempt to balance the chaotic schedule of a scholar and a starting quarterback at a major college program. However, this is an aspect of college life that the youngster is more than willing to embrace.
"It is difficult trying to manage your time with both your football responsibly and your class work, but you find a way to get it done. It is difficult, but both are worth it in the end. That is why we go to college; we are here to play football and to be a student athlete."
With a good head on his shoulders, and a strong arm right arm attached to one of those shoulders, Grutza is poised to carry the University of Cincinnati football program into a new era of excellence. You can expect to hear great things about this young man in years to come, both in the game of football and in life.