Heisman candidate warms to spotlight
Vail, CO Colorado
LOUISVILLE, Ky. ” The nervous kid who always looked just a little uncomfortable in the spotlight is gone.
In the pictures you see of Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm these days ” just take a look at the magazine rack, you’re likely to find one ” he’s smiling. The right leg that used to bounce incessantly during interviews is relaxed. He no longer looks off in the distance when talking, and even tries to crack the occasional joke.
Doesn’t seem like a player who’s sweating his decision to pass up potential NFL millions and return for his senior year, does it?
“Once you make that decision, you move on,” he said. “You don’t play the ‘What if’ game, ‘What if you went out?’ I focused on this team this season and will try to make this season the best it can be.”
It’s a season rich with possibility, one Brohm figured was worth the risk.
The NFL will be there next year. The chance to take his hometown team to heights he never imagined while watching older brothers Jeff and Greg lead the Cardinals to respectability, but not exactly national prominence, will not.
Louisville went 12-1 last season and was a second-half meltdown against Rutgers away from a shot at the national title. For a player who grew up watching his brothers play in front of sometimes listless crowds at old Cardinal Stadium in the early 1990s, the significance of how far the program has come ” and how much he feels he owes it ” is not lost on Brohm.
Though the school has launched the requisite Heisman Trophy campaign complete with its own Web site, http://www.brianbrohm.info, Brohm sees his success as a way to promote the school, not the other way around.
“Just to be a guy from Louisville (up for the Heisman) would be big for this program, this university,” said Brohm, who threw for 3,049 yards and 16 touchdowns last year.
Yet for all the statistics, victories and magazine covers, there’s also a small sense of unfinished business. Even though he led the Cardinals to their first Big East championship and BCS victory last season, Brohm knows there are questions he must answer over the next four months.
The biggest one is about his durability. He’s never started all 12 games in a season, splitting time with Stefan Lefors as a freshman and having his sophomore and junior years marred by injury.
When backup Hunter Cantwell looked Brohm-esque while leading the Cardinals to road wins over Kansas State and Middle Tennessee last year after Brohm injured his throwing hand against Miami, it led to questions about how much of the offense’s success relied on Brohm and how much of it relied on former coach Bobby Petrino’s play-calling and preparation.
There was even brief talk of a quarterback controversy when it took a few weeks for Brohm’s crispness to return.
While Brohm maintains his motivation for returning was to win a national championship, he knows it won’t hurt his draft stock if he’s able to run new coach Steve Kragthorpe’s offense as efficiently as he guided Petrino’s complex attack.
“Those guys are going to want to see if you can work in multiple systems because you change coaches a lot,” he said. “If you can work in multiple systems and if you show you can adjust and play in multiple systems that’s going to make you more valuable to teams in the NFL and we can use that as a plus.”
Brohm bulked up in the offseason to become sturdier. Now at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Brohm thinks he’s better prepared to take a pounding. Still, he’s looked nimble during scrimmages, rolling out with ease on knees that have shed the protective braces he wore last year after injuring his right knee as a sophomore.
“The measure of a great quarterback is consistency,” said Kragthorpe, who helped Drew Bledsoe make the Pro Bowl as quarterbacks coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2002. “Brian is going to be the benefactor of having had experience and he needs to draw from it. He’s got all the tools.”
The biggest one may be his maturity. It’s not easy growing up as the prince of Louisville football’s first family.
“He knew what he was getting himself into,” Kragthorpe said. “It would have been easier in some respects if he had gone some place else and didn’t have to live up to the names of his father and his brothers. But it’s something he accepts and embraces.”
He hasn’t really had a choice. Every game of his high school and college career has been dissected and scrutinized by the local media, though it’s nothing compared to the judgment that awaits at the family’s Sunday dinner table.
Jeff Brohm, Louisville’s passing game coordinator, has long been his brother’s biggest fan and harshest critic, and he drew criticism last year after having an animated discussion on the sideline with Brian during the loss to Rutgers. He’ll spend this year up in the press box, where his impassioned pleas for perfection will be just a phone call away.
It took awhile, but Jeff Brohm thinks the constant pressure he put on his little brother has finally allowed him to no longer view it as a burden, but a challenge.
“I think he’s learned that the more you relax, the better you’re going to play,” Jeff Brohm said. “He’s put all the expectations and accolades on the side and just tried have some fun. It means a lot to him to finish what he started. He’s rolling the dice a little, but he knows how great the rewards are.”