Heard it From Hoard: Column 49
Dustin Grutza says Brett Favre is his all-time favorite quarterback, and like the Packers' legend, wears the number 4 on his jersey.
But if Grutza is going to be compared to a Green Bay quarterback it should probably be Aaron Rodgers.
Just as Rodgers tries to ignore the Favre soap opera and stake his claim as the Packers' new starting QB, Grutza knows he won't officially be the Bearcats starting signal-caller until Ben Mauk's eligibility issue has been resolved by the NCAA.
"I would love to know already, but me and Ben are friends and have talked though this stuff," Grutza told me at the BIG EAST's annual media day on Tuesday. "It's not bothering me and it's not making me worry. I'm going to prepare like I'm the starter and if he does come back I'm not going to quit working hard."
While head coach Brian Kelly hasn't given up hope of having Mauk back, he says the Bearcats are in good hands with Grutza under center.
"To have a senior quarterback that has experience in the BIG EAST - that's a valuable commodity - and we feel pretty good that we have a guy like Dustin," Kelly said. "Ben Mauk was an important part of what we did, but it wasn't one guy that allowed us to win 10 games. You don't win 10 games with one player. Our football team is confident in its ability to overcome the loss of any senior."
As the Bearcats prepare to open camp this week, Grutza is the clear-cut starter. Highly-touted transfer Demetrius Jones, who started Notre Dame's season opener last year, isn't physically ready to battle for the starting role yet.
"He's coming back from what I consider the 'Tommy John surgery' of college quarterbacks," Kelly said. "He had a labrum tear that required reconstructive surgery and has to strengthen that to the level where he can make all the throws. Can he play a little bit for us - probably - but not at a level where he can win a championship yet.
Grutza has also overcome a serious shoulder injury, although surgery was not required.
"A couple of years ago against Pittsburgh (week two) I separated my shoulder and broke my collarbone and it really took a toll on me," Grutza said. "It still affects me now when I try to sleep - I can't really lie on that shoulder certain ways. If you see me with my shirt off, the collarbone sticks out about an inch forward on my right side."
Grutza's injury has never been fully disclosed publically, even though it undoubtedly affected his ability to throw the football.
"You don't want to say anything because then teams are really going to go after that shoulder," Grutza told me. "When people are criticizing how you're throwing and questioning your arm strength you'd like to say, 'Man, if people only knew the pain I'm in.' But that's part of the game and part of what you go through."
Cornerback DeAngelo Smith has faced Grutza on a regular basis at practice and says arm strength is not an issue.
"He has a strong arm," Smith said. "Most people don't see him at practice. He's very confident in what he wants to do with the ball and makes good decisions. He's come a long way. He just keeps pushing and keeps working and is getting better every day. He's just gotta have fun and play the game."
Unless, of course, the NCAA reverses course and grants Mauk a 6th year of eligibility. In that case, unlike the Green Bay Packers, the Bearcats would almost certainly give last year's starter his job back.
"Right now I can say definitively that Grutza will be the starting quarterback against Eastern Kentucky unless circumstances change, and that is, if Mauk is in the picture," Kelly said. "If Mauk's in the picture than all bets are off."
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BIG EAST media day is conveniently held in Newport, RI, a short drive from McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket where the Pawtucket Red Sox currently have the best record in the International League. That plus the always-delightful handsome lad (photo attached) have made for a great summer. See you at Nippert on August 28th.