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Luck and the residue of design at Stanford

First of an occasional series of stories looking at Pac-10 football contenders.

August 22, 2010|Thomas Bonk

PALO ALTO — He has a 3.8 grade-point average, his field of study is architectural design and his favorite architect is Frank Lloyd Wright, so you have to figure that if the need came up in the huddle, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck would have no problem drawing up something that works.

On the sideline, Cardinal Coach Jim Harbaugh knows that the shortest distance between the line of scrimmage and the end zone is often the straight line the football takes once it leaves Luck's hand and finds a receiver.

Harbaugh also said it is simple to design just the right quarterback, probably because he sees him every day at practice. He said Luck is the best quarterback he's ever been around.

"He's exceeded some very high expectations," Harbaugh said. "What makes a kid this good? Mom, dad, God and a really strong work ethic."

And so it goes on the practice field at Stanford, where any improvement on last year's 8-5 season largely depends on a 6-foot-4, 235-pound, 20-year-old sophomore who speaks German and is also fluent in yardage.

Luck, the son of former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, may be one of the top quarterbacks in college football -- and he's the primary reason for optimism here at a school famous for producing quarterbacks such as John Brodie, Jim Plunkett and John Elway.

Is Luck next on the list? Let's just say he's off to a good start. Luck passed for 2,575 yards last season as a redshirt freshman, when he completed 56.2% of his passes, threw for 13 touchdowns with only four interceptions, directed the highest-scoring team in school history, led the Pacific 10 Conference in passing efficiency and ran for 354 yards as the team's second-leading rusher.

He made it look easy. Perhaps part of the reason is that Luck has the temperament to pull it off. He doesn't let much bother him, especially in the huddle.

"I think it's important not to get emotionally hijacked," he said. "You just try to make the best of situations, try to be a steady and calming influence in the huddle. Make sure guys know you know what you're doing."

Luck knows what he's doing, and is not alone in that regard. Two of his favorite targets a year ago, wide receivers Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu, are back, and so are four starters in an offensive line that allowed the second-fewest sacks in the nation. Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart is gone after rushing for 1,871 yards and there is a trio of young running backs attempting to fill in, but after depending so much on Gerhart last year there will undoubtedly be more pressure on Luck to move the ball.

If that's a worry, Luck doesn't show it. He's happy and confident on the field, the same as when he's off of it studying 3D computer models for his architectural design courses, pouring over his calculus or relaxing with his favorite video game, FIFA 2010.

Last year, Stanford swept UCLA and USC, scoring 55 points in a 34-point defeat of the Trojans. Stanford scored 51 points the week before, in a victory over Oregon, which, like USC, was a top-10 team at the time.

Luck's reaction: "It was nice," he said.

His father, Oliver, was a Rhodes scholarship candidate and a two-time first-team Academic All-American at West Virginia, where he is now athletic director. The elder Luck was quarterback with the Houston Oilers, the city in which Andrew was raised and was valedictorian of his high school class.

Andrew was born in Washington, D.C., but he got a world tour early. He traveled overseas when Oliver took on the job of introducing the NFL to Europe. Young Andrew went to kindergarten in Frankfurt, Germany, first and second grade in London, and half of fourth grade back in Frankfurt.

When traveling with his father on the weekends to watch NFL Europe games, Andrew was struck by the grand stadiums and their design and structure. That's how he got hooked on architecture. How he got hooked on football had nothing to do with his father.

"I can honestly say I didn't influence him to be a quarterback," Oliver said. "I told him 'You've got to play something.' And I remember seeing him play basketball once, he had good vision, good court vision, kept his head up when he was dribbling and I thought to myself, 'He could be a good quarterback.' "

That time has arrived. At Stanford, they hope Luck's stay will be longer than just two seasons, and with the NFL collective bargaining agreement expiring, the chances improve that Luck will remain the big man on campus for this season and next.

If that happens, the folks in red and white hope Luck can help them draw a straight line from here to the Rose Bowl.

sports@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Up close

How Andrew Luck fared vs. UCLA, USC last year, and when he's scheduled to face them this season:

vs. UCLA

Sept. 11, at the Rose Bowl

Last season: Luck's 198 yards passing helped Stanford defeat UCLA, 24-16, in Palo Alto.

vs. USC

Oct. 9, at Palo Alto

Last season: Luck's 144 yards passing and two touchdowns helped the Cardinal beat USC, 55-21.

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