This time last year, Will Stein was the starting quarterback for the University of Louisville football team. A former walk-on from Trinity High School, Stein won the battle during fall camp and started the first three games of the season.
But a shoulder injury during the Kentucky game cost Stein his job as true freshmen Teddy Bridgewater stepped in and led the Cardinals to a bowl game.
So, this preseason has been different for Stein.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior is the backup quarterback for the Cardinals, but that doesn't mean he's prepared any different than if he was the starter.
"You never know what is going to happen," Stein said. "So, I have to be prepared and I know that when my times comes, I will be ready to step in."
Stein, who has always been doubted because of his size, said he's used to being in this position. He has played in 12 games during his career, starting two as a freshman in 2009 and three last season.
I have been in this position more often than I have been a starter," he said. "The coaches told me, and I think it's true with any team in the nation, that the backup quarterback can be the most important player on the team. It was that way last year when I went down and Teddy came in."I practice everyday like I am the starter and I am ready at all times. You never want to get used to being a backup but I always tried to be a starter and I think with ups and downs it has made me a better player."
Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said the staff feels "very confident," in Stein's abilities if something were to happen to Bridgewater during the season.
"He's unbelievable," Watson said. "He has such a feel for the game and he's just so efficient. He really makes our (second string) – which is a lot of young guys – look like a real operating unit. He's made it a lot easier for us in that regards.
"If he's 6-foot-2, he's playing for anybody in the country."
One of the jobs Stein had this preseason – besides improving his game and knowing the offense – was to keep pressure on Bridgewater.
"Will Stein is still doing a great job," U of L head coach Charlie Strong said. "I told Will, ‘I still want you to push him. Because at some point, we're going to need you.'"
Bridgewater said Stein has "been huge" in his development as a quarterback. He said the two have become close and "really work well together."
"It shows that he's not a selfish player or anything like that," Bridgewater said. "He's all about the Cards. He wants to see me and this team get better. He's my second pair of eyes for me. He's there to tell me about my mistakes."
Stein is one of the team leaders and showed that last season with his situation. He threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the opener against Murray State and then threw for a career-high 349 yards and two TDs in a loss to Florida International during the second week of the season.
But in the UK game, Stein completed just 2 of 4 passes for 40 yards and one TD before being knocked out with the injury.
He ended up playing in three more games and finished the season 52 of 84 passing for 620 yards and five TDs with just one interception.
At first, I thought I was going to be back pretty soon," Stein said. "But the injury lingered and it was a pretty tough grade 3 or 4 sprain. There was some tear in my AC joint, so it was rough physically and mentally.
"Once I got over the poor me and realized what the potential was last year, I did what coach Bedford said and hopped on the train and I was in it to win in no matter who was out there. It didn't matter to me as long as we were winning."
Stein, who said he wants to get into coaching after his career, has already graduated and Strong said he's been accepted into the MBA program.
On the field, Stein is just being a leader and trying to be prepared.
"One play and I might be in there, needing to lead the team for a score," he said. "I am striving to every day be productive and make sure I am ready. I prepare myself just like I have since I was 8 years old when I was quarterback.
"Last year did stinkin hurt, but the program at the University of Louisville is a lot bigger than Will Stein. I just have to be ready to go in there if my number is called like I have the past four seasons."