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Passing his test

Joe Hettler | Friday, October 8, 2004

Before every football game, Brady Quinn takes a shot.Of honey, that is.Notre Dame’s second-year quarterback has kept the same pre-game ritual since third grade.”Usually, I’ll come in about 20 minutes before the game and about then I’ll take a shot or a good amount of honey … my uncle told me ‘Take it before a game, it gives you some extra energy’ and I’ve been doing it every since,” Quinn said. “It’s kind of tradition.”As the Irish quarterback, Quinn is hoping to follow another kind of tradition – that of the great Notre Dame signal-callers before him. Players like Montana, Theismann and Mirer have already proven themselves under center, and Quinn hopes to eventually add his own name to that impressive list. Quinn knows he has a long journey ahead before being compared to those Irish legends. But midway through his sophomore season, the Dublin, Ohio, native is showing progress from when he started nine games as a freshman in 2003. Like any team, the 2004 Irish will continue relying on their quarterback’s decision-making and productivity to help tally victories for the remainder of the season. Quinn knows what’s expected of him and says he’s ready for the challenges.”It’s important to have goals every season and every week,” he said. “Individually, I’m trying to become a better leader. That’s something I’m trying to stress and to keep trying to improve on the little things.”Thrown into the fireQuinn had plenty of choices for college. Throwing for 2,149 yards, 25 touchdowns and just four interceptions opens up doors for any high school quarterback. Of the more than 30 schools that recruited him, Quinn narrowed his options to three – Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State.It didn’t take the Dublin Coffman High School star long to make a final choice.”The decision was based on the overall feeling I got here,” said Quinn, who committed early in the recruiting process. “[Head] coach [Tyrone] Willingham, the coaching staff and the players gave me the impression that [Notre Dame] was some place I saw myself going.”While recruiting Quinn, Willingham told the young quarterback what he tells every recruit – the best player will play.”He told me, ‘You’ll have an opportunity,” Quinn said. “He didn’t say anything else – where I was to play, whatever it was. I just took that and tried to do my best and work myself into that role.”It didn’t take Quinn long to see his first game action as a freshman. When Notre Dame quarterback Carlyle Holiday left the opening game against Washington State for a few plays with an injury, Quinn got the call. He didn’t do too much, just handed the ball off to running back Julius Jones. But the drive resulted in a touchdown, and Quinn got his first taste of the field.The next week, during a 38-0 drubbing to Michigan, Quinn entered the game late and threw his first pass. He finished the game 3-for-10 with an interception.After seeing significant playing time in a loss to Michigan State, Quinn was named the starter for the Purdue game. In that 23-10 Irish defeat, the Notre Dame offense couldn’t run the ball at all, forcing Quinn to throw 59 passes – the second most in school history. Quinn started the final eight games, finishing the season with 1,831 passing yards, nine touchdowns and 15 interceptions, as Notre Dame struggled to a 5-7 mark. But for Quinn, the season wasn’t a total loss.”It was just something that when you’re the quarterback, you’re going to have some good games and bad,” he said. “There will be times when you get hit a lot and games where you don’t get hit or touched at all, so you just have to go with the flow, with the good and bad. “But I thought it was a good experience for me. Obviously I’ve learned a lot over the past year.”Making his stridesIn 2004, Notre Dame players and fans expected the entire Irish team to show significant improvement after a dismal 2003 season. But against Brigham Young in the opening game, the Irish fell flat in a 20-17 loss.Quinn managed to finish the game 26-for-47 for 256 yards and one touchdown, but Notre Dame’s offense was anemic for most of the game. The stats weren’t important; the final result was.”It’s frustrating to the standpoint you always look to see what you could have done better to get things done,” Quinn said. “Statistically, maybe it was a good game. But a good game comes to down to winning and losing, regardless of the stats. That’s how you grade yourself, so any time you don’t get a win, that’s extremely frustrating in itself.”But Quinn, along with an impressive game from freshman tailback Darius Walker, led Notre Dame to a critical victory against then-No. 8 Michigan the next week. In the win against Michigan State, Quinn and the offense began to click even more. After the win, Irish offensive lineman Dan Stevenson credited Quinn with leading the offense and helping the unit mesh together during the first few games of the season. “You need somebody who can take charge of the huddle and typically that position is given to the quarterback just because he’s calling the plays and calling the shots,” Stevenson said. “He comes in there with a lot more confidence. He knows what he’s doing and he’s not afraid to make the calls.”Quinn helped the offense follow its Michigan State performance with a trouncing of Washington, where the quarterback tossed four touchdown passes in the first half, tying a Notre Dame Stadium record. Then last week, in a loss to Purdue, Quinn matched the Boilermakers’ Heisman Trophy candidate Kyle Orton in every quarterback category, except touchdown passes. Willingham said he has continued seeing improvement from his sophomore quarterback.”I’ve said all along that I have a great deal of respect for Brady, his skill level, his leadership, his focus, his concentration,” the third-year Irish coach said. “I think we have an excellent quarterback to command our system. And I think he keeps getting moreknowledgeable each day and I think he’s driven to be the best.”Still, Quinn seldom, if ever, pats himself on the back.”If you want to be the best and try and achieve perfection, you have to be your biggest critic,” Quinn said. “You have to look for any little thing you can improve on, which will better yourself and, in turn, better the team.”Eyeing his goalsQuinn said, even before signing with the Irish, that he understood the pressures of being the Notre Dame quarterback. If the team does well, he gets much of the credit. If they struggle, he gets much of the blame. With either situation, Quinn was ready for the challenge. “That’s just being a quarterback,” he said. “Any time you assume that role, you have to realize the spotlight comes with it. All the stuff outside of playing football and watching film comes with it, so you just have to take the pressures of it and the different situations you may come into with it.”Quinn said he still has many aspects of his game to work on for the remainder of the 2004 season. He also has one overriding objective to reach before his four years are finished at Notre Dame.”I just want to be more efficient in taking care of the football and become more consistent,” he said. “Keep the chain moving, keep the offense flowing. … You always want to set goals for yourself. Obviously, a national championship is on [the goals list]. Trying to get these teams going undefeated and things like that.”And what if Quinn does lead an Irish team to the national title? Eating honey may become a new trend.