Could Tony Pike Be The Guy?

Before summer practice started, all the quarterback talk centered around Dustin Grutza and Ben Mauk, but the kid from Reading High School is making a case for himself.

If a Bearcat fan were to look at the 2007 media guide to find information about Tony Pike, here's some of what he'd read. In 2004, "participated in preseason practice." For the 2005 season, "redshirted." In 2006, "challenged for the backup quarterback role." These are hardly ringing endorsements for a guy that could be taking the first shotgun snaps of the season at quarterback for the Bearcats, but if you look a little closer at Tony Pike's resume, you'll also find these statistics/awards from his days at Reading High School: completed 319 of 531 passes (60%) for 4,355 yards and 46 TDs and voted Division II-III Player of the Year.

The tallest of the Bearcat quarterbacks at 6' 6", Pike enjoys a couple advantages over most of his peers. First, he can more easily see over the offensive and defensive linemen, and second, his release point on passes is high enough that few defensive linemen can get a hand up to bat down his throws.

After graduating from Reading High School in 2004, Tony had very few Division IA options. His best offers came from Toledo and Cincinnati, who both gave him a chance to greyshirt. Greyshirting is when a player doesn't enroll at a school until after the football season. That way his eligibility clock doesn't start until the following year and his scholarship counts toward the next year's recruiting class. Even though Tony benefited by participating in the 2004 summer camp at UC, he didn't actually enroll in classes until January of 2005. This also allowed Tony to participate in spring football before becoming a true freshman for the 2005-2006 academic year.

Despite entering his fourth year at UC, the redshirt sophomore has yet to throw a pass in a game, but Tony feels he's ready for the challenge. "My first year, I got to come in and sit behind Gino Guidugli and learn from him. The next two years there was Dustin and Nick (Davila), who are great leaders. They've been real nice and helped me out."

Tony elavuated his play from Saturday's scrimmage. "I think I did pretty well today. I started off good as far as reads, and that's been the hardest part, picking up the reads and when to throw hot." The statistics kept for Saturday's scrimmage apparently didn't include some of the situational plays earlier in the day because Pike connected with Doug Jones for a 3 yard touchdown in a red zone play, and later coming out from his own endzone, Pike got really hot when he connected with three different receivers on three straight passes-Goodman for 6 yards, Giddens for 6 yards and Guidugli for 12 yards.

In high school, the slender Pike was considered a dropback passer, but Tony explained the extenuating circumstances and said he welcomes the chance to use his feet in Brian Kelly's offense. "I feel very comfortable running the football. I would have run a lot more in my senior year of high school, but I separated my shoulder in the first game and that inhibited me. I have no problem running the football." That may be a prerequisite to winning the job since last year at CMU, Coach Kelly had to insert redshirt freshman quarterback Dan LeFevour after the third play of the season opener due to an injury to his starting quarterback, and LeFevour ended up with 132 rushes for 521 yards, a 3.9 yard per carry average. But that statistic is a bit deceiving since sacks count against a quarterback's rushing numbers. The Central Michigan "Freshman of the Year" actually ran 102 times from scrimmage for 735 yards, a 7.2 yard per carry average. Those 735 yards would have made LeFevour the top rusher at UC last season.

Tony feels the new staff and offensive system have helped jump start his career. "With the last coaches, I made a move, and then just stayed still for a while. With this group, I feel it's a whole new ball game, and I really like the spread offense."

Some head football coaches are administers only on the practice field, but Coach Kelly is very involved, especially with his quarterbacks. At times in practice, Coach Kelly's exchanges with his quarterbacks resemble a major league manager's disagreement with an umpire, but Tony focuses on the message and not the volume in which it's occasionally delivered. "The way I see it is if he wasn't yelling, he wouldn't be caring. As long as he's yelling at me, I know he still cares and is still giving me a shot. I have no problem with that."

When the squad resumes practice at Higher Ground on Monday, there's a good chance Tony will continue to hear Coach Kelly's "caring." And if the local kid continues to perform well, he may even hear it from the Nippert Stadium Field Turf on August 30th when the Bearcats open the season against Southeast Missouri State.

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