Up until two months ago, Greg Paulus had never suited up for a college football practice, let alone an actual game. Yet, last Monday, he was officially named Syracuse's starting quarterback for the upcoming season.
Is this a ploy to try and revive excitement around a dead program, or can Paulus actually succeed at lifting up the Orange football program from the depths of despair?
In case you're wondering, the NCAA does allow a student to transfer like this, if certain criteria are met. Since Paulus did not redshirt for Duke basketball and because he completed his degree at Duke in four years, he is eligible to apply for a waiver from the NCAA in order to attend graduate school elsewhere and compete in a different sport. However, he is only allowed to play for one season, meaning it's now or never for Paulus on the gridiron.
When it comes to Duke basketball, people either love 'em or they hate 'em. Those who love 'em cite the team-first mentality, floor burns, lack of "thugs," and Dick Vitale's annual claim that the Blue Devils lead the nation in charges taken. Those who hate them do so for the same reason that people hate the Yankees or Patriots – because they've been good for too long.
But whether you love or hate the Dukies, you have to admit that Greg Paulus epitomized Duke basketball. He was a good, not great player who went hard and did everything he could to help his team win. While Paulus lacked the innate athletic ability to be a superstar in the ACC, he compensated by playing as hard as he could. Who doesn't love a player like that?
Perhaps you heard the jokes when Paulus decided to join the Syracuse football team:
"I hope he doesn't try to take a charge from a linebacker."
"Is he trying to become the first player to ride the bench in both college football and college basketball?"
That last one wasn't exactly a joke, but it did show up many times, in many variations, on blogs and comment pages around the country. Whether you hate Duke doesn't really matter. The question is whether Paulus can actually play college quarterback at a high level.
Let's rewind to five years ago.
Greg Paulus attended Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, where he excelled in both basketball and football and was an All-American in both sports. For his high school career, Paulus quarterbacked CBA to a 42-3 record over four years. In 2006, Paulus was named the New York State Player of the Year in both football and basketball. He was also the recipient of Gatorade's National High School Player of the Year Award (all sports). Several colleges wanted him to come in and play quarterback, while others recruited him for basketball.
But that was then, and this is now. Many have said that, after taking four years off from football, Paulus will not be able to adjust to the speed of the college game. That may prove to be true. However, Paulus is not the first player to sit out a few years before playing college quarterback.
In 1991, Chris Weinke decided to forgo college football at Florida State, choosing instead to give baseball a go. He spent six years in the Toronto Blue Jays system before calling it quits and attending Florida State. Even with the long absence from football, Weinke still managed to have a great college football career, winning a Heisman Trophy and a national championship. He even played several seasons in the NFL.
Every situation is different, but Weinke is not the only person to play professional baseball for a few years before returning to major college football. Yet Weinke's story proves that you can take several years off and still be a successful college quarterback.
It makes sense when you think about it. Although the physical aspect of college and NFL football is extreme, the rest of the game is very organized. For a quarterback, it's all about knowing where everyone is. If you have the physical tools and you can master the formations and plays, then you can be successful.
When it comes to Syracuse football, the bar has really been lowered the past few years. The school should send a formal letter of apology to former head coach Paul Pasqualoni. Everything went downhill after the school fired him. Of course, the grass is always greener.
If Greg Paulus performs as an average college quarterback, he will be a huge upgrade for the Orange. Over the past six seasons, Syracuse has thrown only 64 touchdown passes, for an average of 10.7 per year (0.9 per game). Over that span, the team has a 9-32 record in Big East play. By comparison, Boston College, not exactly an offensive juggernaut, has averaged 19 passing touchdowns per season over the past six years. Oklahoma threw 51 last year alone.
This year, the Orange are once again picked to finish last in the Big East. But this season, the 'Cuse have a new coach, Doug Marrone, and a new quarterback. As Greg Paulus tries to come home again, upstate New Yorkers wonder if this will be a "local boy makes good" story.
Perhaps this is the year when things start to turn around for the Orange. After all, it can't get any worse.
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