Paulus to Start at Quarterback for Syracuse

After four seasons on Duke's basketball team, Greg Paulus will start at quarterback for Syracuse. He was a football all-American in high school.
After four seasons on Duke's basketball team, Greg Paulus will start at quarterback for Syracuse. He was a football all-American in high school. (By Lauren Long -- Associated Press)
By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Earlier this year, when weighing whether to offer a roster spot to someone who hadn't played competitive football in more than four years, Syracuse Coach Doug Marrone asked himself a question: "Is the skill good enough for him to help us win football games?"

Apparently, the answer is yes. Not only did Marrone offer a spot on the team to Greg Paulus, who spurned the gridiron after high school to play four years of basketball at Duke, but late Monday night he named Paulus his starting quarterback for the 2009 season after only one week of preseason practice.

"He has been on a big stage nightly, daily, weekly," Marrone said in a telephone interview before the decision was made. "He's been a successful athlete with tremendous leadership. No matter what happens, people will never be able to measure that."

Other athletes will take a first crack at football this season, as well. Jimmy Graham, who ranks eighth in Miami basketball history with 104 career blocked shots, will play tight end for the Hurricanes this fall. Houston has two such players in tight end Fendi Onobun, who played four years of basketball at Arizona, and Barry Laird, a former pitcher for the Cougars' baseball team. And at Virginia, four-year lacrosse defenseman Matt Kelly had earned a spot on the football roster until he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in preseason camp.

Paulus, 23, was a high school football all-American at Christian Brothers Academy near Syracuse but decided to play basketball at Duke, where he played in 139 games and is ninth on the program's all-time assists list. Because he used up his college basketball eligibility in four years without redshirting, he is eligible to play one season in another sport after enrolling in graduate school and receiving a waiver from the NCAA.

Marrone insisted that he values player development and admitted that taking on a quarterback who can only play for one year is not ideal, but that Paulus's situation was unique.

"Here's the important [part] for me," Marrone said. "What he's bringing to the table, he's highly competitive, a high-academic individual with tremendous confidence and tremendous work ethic."

Duke Coach David Cutcliffe wanted Paulus to join the Blue Devils this season but could not offer him a spot at quarterback. The Blue Devils return senior Thaddeus Lewis, one of the best players in the program's history. Plus, Cutcliffe thought it would be too difficult for Paulus to relearn the position in one year.

"It's very difficult to play quarterback in our system, but it's extremely difficult when you haven't played football in four years," Cutcliffe said. "Big challenge on him, but I loved his grittiness. And I'd loved to have him on our team, which is what I told him. But I thought it be wasting his time to play quarterback. I'd love to see him play somewhere else. But he was dead set on playing quarterback. I don't blame him for doing what he did. But I wouldn't bet against that guy."

Unable to perform for Marrone during the summer because of NCAA rules, Paulus worked with Joe Casamento, his high school coach, and Syracuse's wide receivers. North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates said Paulus also ran through passing drills and watched film with his brother Mike Paulus, who is Yates's backup with the Tar Heels.

"If you play for any major program and you have a leadership role on the team -- whether it's as a quarterback or a point guard -- you got to know what everyone is doing at all times, you got to tell people what to do if they're in the wrong position, you got to be vocal," Yates said. "It's definitely very similar being a point guard and being a quarterback in the ACC. I definitely think he'll jump in there and do a good job."

The experiment will incite curiosity, if not skepticism.

"I'm used to see him shooting the three. Now he's throwing the rock," Lewis said. "I wish him the best of luck, but he hasn't thrown the rock in forever. So we'll see."

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