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Quinn deals with life under pressure – from within

Ken Fowler | Friday, April 21, 2006

It’s all about winning games. Everything else will come later.

That’s how Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn handles the hype surrounding his upcoming senior season. The early favorite for the Heisman Trophy, Quinn handles the pressure the way Irish coach Charlie Weis and quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas want him to – ignore it.

“[The Heisman hype] is obviously flattering, but at the same point in time, it’s something that’s handled after the season, so it doesn’t really matter,” Quinn said. “If everything goes well for us, good things will come.”

Quinn said he knows the stat-tracking media and Heisman hype will be omnipresent during the 2006 season, but he’s confident he can put the outside pressures aside and focus on game strategies and the offensive playbook.

At the annual spring media day March 21, Vaas said Quinn’s experience as a starter since freshman year has helped him learn to handle pressure.

“Obviously, the quarterback position at the University of Notre Dame is an extremely high-profile position,” he said. “To be able to handle that on a daily basis is what’s important. Handling it on a daily basis means you go out and you do your job with the expectation that you’re going to get better.”

For Weis, that’s an imperative.

The coach who told his team “9-3 is not good enough” expects Quinn to hone his mental skills to accompany the 6-foot-4, 232-pound star’s physical abilities.

“He has very few limitations physically,” Weis said at the media day. “I think mental is what holds you back more than anything. [But] I think now we’re at the expanding mode.”

Less than a month later, Weis was a little more forthcoming about Quinn’s mental prowess.

“If I slip up, he knows it,” Weis said in a press conference April 12. “I can’t hide if I make a mistake with him. If I call a play and I call it a little bit wrong, he’ll say, ‘You mean this.'”

Weis said part of Quinn’s development mentally is attributable to the way the team critically assesses itself, even when it succeeds.

“Sometimes when you look at a play in the game and it’s a completed pass, you’d say that’s a nice job,” Weis said. “I’ll say to him, ‘What’s your first read? Was he open? Did you see him? Did you even look at him?'”

Quinn has taken that challenge from his coach to become a better quarterback – and he has also taken the challenge to become a better leader.

“Every team wants to have that in their quarterback – someone who understands the offense and how things are supposed to go,” Quinn said. “If coach is saying that, then that’s a good thing.”

But Quinn’s leadership style is different than his coach’s, and he gives credit to some of his school courses for the way he handles himself.

“I’m a business major, so you go through a basic requirement of courses and … you learn management and team building – ways to deal with people, not necessarily in a negative way,” Quinn said. “You’re not always trying to get down on people when they’re doing something wrong. Maybe tell them what they’re doing right.”

Notre Dame running back Darius Walker said Quinn is an ideal leader by example in the locker room and in the huddle.

“Brady carries a certain aura about himself,” Walker said. “He’s [definitely] grown as a leader.”

While Quinn will be examining his teammates this year as the offensive captain, he will be the one under the microscope most intensely in the national press. After throwing for 3,919 yards and 32 touchdowns in the 2005 campaign, he knows people will be expecting him to top his record-setting season. But he also knows that worrying about high expectations and praises will only hinder his achievement of goals.

“If you’re worrying too much about … what people are writing or saying about you, you’re going to waste too much time rather than preparing for the next week’s game,” Quinn said.

Vaas said that approach works for Quinn because of the source of his drive to improve.

“One of the things that’s nice about Brady is that he is an extremely self-motivated individual,” Vaas said. “I wouldn’t think he’d use [the attention] as a motivational tool, not at this point in time … because that’s him – he just works at [getting better] every single day.”

For Quinn, every single day is a day not just for improvement – the days are for ignoring the hype.