What's Left for Brady Quinn?

It's been almost four years since August 12, 2002. I remember the day the news came. The Irish had been in a fierce battle with Michigan over a top quarterback prospect, Brady Quinn. The scales tipped on either side daily….Irish fans were sweating, Michigan fans were sweating, but Quinn went with his heart and ultimately chose Notre Dame.

I remember talking to Quinn that day and many days afterwards. Quinn seemed supremely confident in his decision to attend Notre Dame. He spoke with a passion and obligation to restore the Irish to their lofty perch atop college football. He talked of championships, extending tradition, and helping build his future team, which is exactly what he did.

Quinn took to the phone like he did the weight room, and if you ever saw Quinn as a true freshman, you know what I'm talking about. One doesn't get the nickname "beach body" by being a slacker. Quinn will likely always regret telling me that.

He got to know his future All-American receiver Jeff Samardzija quickly. He was already best friends with Irish wide receiver-turned-safety Chinedum Ndukwe. He also placed numerous calls to future starters Ryan Harris, Tommie Zbikowski, John Sullivan, Trevor Laws and many others top performers in the class of 2003. He also worked on former five-star tight end Greg Olsen and had success, albeit short-lived. From the word go, Quinn was showing a leadership and commitment to being the best, and he knew he'd need help to get there.

His leadership didn't stop with phone calls. In the summer of 2003, Quinn set a new standard by leaving his hometown of Dublin, Ohio for the Notre Dame campus long before his August report date. Quinn saw no need to sit and wait and took it upon himself to report early to Notre Dame to start learning the new system. His early presence prompted many of his future teammates and eventual starters to join him on campus to get a head start on their Notre Dame careers.

That commitment paid huge dividends for Quinn.

"I'm very pleased with his progress up to now. I think he's probably a little bit further ahead than most freshmen when they would come in," said then Irish offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick of Quinn the day former No. 2 quarterback Chris Olsen saw the writing on the wall and ultimately decided to transfer out of Notre Dame.

"The one thing that Brady did do was a tremendous amount of study, not only last spring, but definitely over the course of the summer. I think it really gave him an extra boost coming into camp, and I think throughout camp he was able to compete on a very equal basis."

I remember speaking to Quinn late July in 2003 before he reported to his first fall camp. Quinn had spent the entire summer working out with his new teammates and working within the system. I remember asking him if he felt he had a chance to take the No. 2 spot in the fall. I remember his response like it was yesterday. It went something like this: "I'm not competing to be No. 2, I want to start."

Little did I know how attainable that goal actually was at the time……

In the second game of Brady Quinn's college career, the wide-eyed freshman stepped in for a struggling Carlyle Holiday against the team he spurned, the Michigan Wolverines. Quinn was hardly spectacular that day with a 3-for-10 performance and an interception, but most Irish fans knew it was just a matter of time before the kid took over at quarterback.

Quinn didn't start the next game but was inserted again to spark a struggling offense against Michigan State. This time Quinn had a better day, 7-of-17 with his first career touchdown and zero interceptions.

The following week was a hectic one for both Holiday and Quinn and the media. Who would start the next game on the road against Purdue?

"There's going to have to be a little bit of significant separation between the two. If it's close you're probably going to lean towards your starter, the guy who's experienced, at least in the beginning," said Diedrick leading up to the game.

In the end Quinn was that much better and got the nod and never looked back.

What we didn't know at the time, and Irish fans and Quinn himself quickly found out, was how tough Brady Quinn was/is, both mentally and physically.

I look at the stat sheet from the Purdue game and I'm floored to see Purdue's defense credited with only one sack of Quinn in that game. He might've been sacked only once, but he had to have been flattened at least 15 times, and I'm sure Quinn and many Irish fans can remember every one of them.

Funnily, the stat sheet shows only 13 sacks on Quinn all season, but I'd have to guess he took at least 113 vicious hits during that inaugural season. If nothing else, Irish fans knew that Brady Quinn was one of the toughest quarterbacks they have ever seen.

Quinn's freshman season was a forgettable one. The next great Irish quarterback finished the season as a 47 percent passer, throwing for nine touchdowns, but also throwing 15 interceptions. More importantly, he was 4-5 as a starter.

But he showed signs of potential like his first start against Purdue, and his best game, Boston College, where he completed a shade under 60 percent, threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns. His two interceptions proved costly, however, as both ended potential scoring threats.

However, Quinn did lead the Irish back from a 24-6 second-half deficit and almost completed the comeback before running out time at the BC 32-yard line—one of many coaching blunders seen throughout 2003.

The Heisman hopeful improved during his sophomore season, throwing for over 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns while throwing only 10 interceptions on the season. His completion percentage was just an average 54 percent, and again, more importantly, he was just 6-6 as a starter.

But just like his freshman season, Quinn showed promise, like his Washington performance where he was 17-of-32 for 255 yards and four touchdowns, and his Pitt performance where he threw for 260 yards, completed 58 percent of his passes and threw another three touchdowns.

Quinn finished his sophomore season as a two-year starter with a career 10-11 record and much frustration. Quinn showed so much promise but was a man without direction or solid leadership. Irish fans were frustrated. Obviously Notre Dame was frustrated as a change was made, and one could tell Quinn was frustrated, although he never threw his coaches under the bus…..something those same coaches seemed to do to him and his teammates weekly.

Enter Charlie Weis

The anticipation of Quinn running a Weis offense was music to Irish fan's ears. But like anyone else, I had questions about Quinn. Can he limit his mistakes? Can he become a truly effective passer? Can he carry this team? More importantly, can he win the big games? Does he have that something special?

Suddenly, under Weis, the "happy feet" and "deer in the headlights" look Quinn had been known for vanished.

Quinn won the opener and looked outstanding doing it. Quinn won a big game at Michigan. Quinn brought his team back against Michigan State. Quinn made the world forget about Kyle Orton at Purdue, and Quinn almost did the unthinkable against USC….he did his part but the defense just couldn't hold up.

Quinn broke what seems like every passing record in Notre Dame history during his junior year while completing 65 percent of his passes for 3,919 yards, 32 touchdowns and throwing just seven interceptions on the year. More importantly, he led the Irish to a BCS game and nine wins.

Nobody has probably benefited more from the hiring of Charlie Weis than Brady Quinn. But to credit Weis for all of his success would be a huge disrespect to the talent, work ethic and resolve Quinn has shown over the years.

What is left for Brady Quinn? As Quinn has said many times, quarterbacks are judged by wins and championships.

People ask me all the time; "do you think Brady Quinn will win the Heisman?" My first reaction is no. It's not that I don't think he'll be deserving, but I just don't see the schedule lining up for him or the Irish to win it all this year. Quinn can't do it alone, and I'm not sure Notre Dame's defense is up to a championship level yet.

But I think a lot of people have been doubting Quinn since he arrived on campus. I doubted he'd start as a freshman. I certainly never imagined he'd have so much success this past season, so maybe a championship and the Heisman isn't out of the realm of possibility.

Regardless, it seems almost surreal to think we are watching what many will consider to be the best quarterback to ever play at Notre Dame—at least statistically. But as even Quinn admits, quarterbacks are judged by wins and championships.

When the dust settles on 2006 Irish fans will probably not understand the impact Brady Quinn truly has had on the Irish program. When Quinn is likely picked in the top 5 in the NFL draft next season people will say; "he sure owes Charlie Weis a lot for his success."

But Charlie Weis and Irish fans owe Quinn a lot of thanks as well. Does anyone think Jimmy Clausen would be enrolling in Notre Dame this next January had Quinn had an average junior season? Would Duval Kamara be committed now had "the Shark" and Mo Stovall not emerged? What about Mike Ragone? Weis will certainly get a lot of mileage out of Brady Quinn in the end.

No matter what happens in 2006 Brady Quinn has left a huge imprint on the Notre Dame football program. His name will likely decorate the Notre Dame record books for years to come. He'll be remembered fondly by all Irish fans for restoring respectability to the Irish football program. But will he be remembered as the greatest ever? 2006 and a championship will likely be the deciding factor.

No matter what the end result is, Quinn has led this Irish team the past three seasons with a work ethic unmatched by many, a leadership seen in few, and with character and maturity not seen often in a player of his age.

He's about as perfect as anyone could be (it's almost sickening), but can he be perfect in the win column? It's the only thing left that Quinn has yet to accomplish at Notre Dame.


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