Heard it From Hoard: Column 52

In Brian Kelly's 18 years as a head coach, this surely isn't the first time he's lost his starting quarterback to injury.

In fact, he laughed when I asked him about it.

In 2001, Kelly took an undefeated Grand Valley State team - averaging more than 50 points a game - into the Division II playoffs, only to lose star quarterback Curt Anes in the first round to a season-ending knee injury.

No problem. Second-stringer Todd Wojciechowski took over and the Lakers advanced to the second round with a win over Bloomsburg.

In round two, Wojciechowski suffered bruised ribs. No problem! Kelly moved wide receiver Ryan Brady to quarterback, revamped the offense, and advanced to the national championship game with wins over Saginaw Valley and Catawba.

In the NCAA title game against North Dakota, a touchdown run by Brady gave the Lakers a 14-10 lead with 2:46 to go, but the Fighting Sioux responded with a last-minute drive to win the national championship 17-14.

Still, not too shabby for a third-string quarterback.

Perhaps that helps explain why Kelly doesn't seem too worried about handing the keys to the car to untested junior QB Tony Pike - quite possibly for the rest of the season.

"I think he's ready," Kelly told me on Friday. "He's a veteran in the sense that he's been in the program going on four years and he knows the system very well. I'm excited for Tony, quite frankly. I think he's very strong-armed, he's got escapeability; he's 6-foot-6 so he can see the field very well. We need to let him throw the football - that's definitely a strength of his. He's a little different than Dustin (Grutza) who may be a little quicker in some of the things that he does. Tony is a guy that knows the offense very well, so it's going to be fun because we can really let it go. Sometimes you get in this situation and you have to pare back a little bit. We don't have to - this is a guy that knows the system."

Dustin Grutza's injury turned out to be more serious than originally thought, as doctors found ligament damage in addition to his broken fibula, but Kelly is hopeful that Grutza will return this season.

"When you're rehabbing you have to have a burning desire to want to get back and he does," Kelly said. "If anybody can come back from this injury I think Dustin Grutza can because he has what it takes to overcome adversity - he's done it a lot over the past couple of years. In a week or two when we take the cast off, we'll get a better feel and sense for what kind of damage was done to the ligament. The bone's going to heal - that's not really the issue. It's more about the ligament damage and the ankle. Some heal better than others - I know that Dustin is going to do everything in his power to get back this year."

For now, the spotlight is on Tony Pike who hasn't started a game since his senior year at Reading High School when the Blue Devils lost in the playoffs to eventual state champ Versailles.

That was 1,778 days ago.

And you think you're anxious to see what he can do?

Hope to see you at Nippert tonight. If you're can't be there in person, we'll have the radio call on 92.5 FM due to Reds baseball.

With Son

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