Orange bowl Virginia Tech vs. Stanford: 8:30 p.m. tomorrow (ESPN)

Luck is just one of the guys

Star quarterback Andrew Luck is waiting to see whether Coach Jim Harbaugh, left, is returning before deciding if he'll be back next year.
Star quarterback Andrew Luck is waiting to see whether Coach Jim Harbaugh, left, is returning before deciding if he'll be back next year. (Hans Deryk)
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By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 2, 2011

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. - The headaches that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck gives opposing defenses are well known at this point. He finished second in Heisman Trophy voting this season, winning a school-record 11 games and leading the Cardinal to its first-ever Orange Bowl appearance Monday against Virginia Tech.

But try facing him every day in practice, a mind-numbing proposition linebacker Chase Thomas simply calls "frustrating" since touching their own quarterback is off limits even as he picks apart their defense.

"He's the superstar, he's the quarterback, he's the man, he's the captain," senior defensive end Brian Bulcke said of Luck. "But at the same time, there's that burning desire to lay that lick on him, and none of us have been able to."

When told of this Friday morning, Luck, a redshirt sophomore, smiled from his seat atop a small podium. He understands his teammates' sentiments, but "what they're not telling you is that they pick me more than not, too."

This sort of statement is what makes him so special, according to those around him every day. His talent throwing the football is so prodigious that even his own coach, former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, says "God put the finger" on him. But ultimately, the signal caller many around the country believe is the next great NFL quarterback doesn't consider himself as anything more than one of the guys.

"When he makes plays, we don't really think about [the fact] his body is worth $50 million," wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. "Obviously he's a very phenomenal athlete, phenomenal quarterback, but I think what doesn't get talked about enough is Andrew's personality, his character. That's what I think is the most important thing that people need to get."

Born in the District, Luck spent the first nine years of his life in London and Frankfurt, Germany, as his father, former NFL quarterback and current West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck, ran NFL Europe. The experience gave him "a different appreciation for different cultures," and a love for the game of soccer.

When his father moved the family back stateside to take a job as president of Major League Soccer's Houston Dynamo, Luck took to the gridiron as a defensive lineman and running back. Even though his pedigree would suggest playing behind center immediately, Luck says he made the position switch only because "I guess I had a decent arm."

But by the time he graduated as valedictorian of his class at Stratford High in 2008, Luck was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country and a player Harbaugh realized could be the linchpin in transforming a program that went 1-11 in 2006. It was during this recruiting process, though, that the coach got the first hint he may have found an "anti-superstar."

"I can remember one time on the phone, I was in the habit of calling Andrew every week and Andrew said, 'Coach, I'm coming to Stanford and you don't need to bother with calling me every week,' " Harbaugh recounted earlier this month. "It was just refreshing. . . . He wasn't one of those guys that needed constant attention."

This, it seems, is why the past few weeks have been especially annoying to Luck. He's eligible to declare for the NFL draft following the Orange Bowl, a decision he says hasn't been on his mind except when reporters bring it up.

An architecture major with a 3.5 GPA, Luck is more likely to talk about his desire to one day design stadiums instead of what the plans for his football future may be. Luck's been so focused on ending the season with a victory, he didn't even realize it was New Year's Eve when the topic was brought up during his session with the media Friday.

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