Like Teddy Bridgewater (5), Louisville safety Calvin Pryor was a talented high school quarterback
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Teddy Bridgewater plays quarterback for the University of Louisville football team. That is not a news flash.
This is a news flash: Bridgewater is not the only high school quarterback in the U of L lineup. Charlie Strong is turning U of L into Quarterback U by sprinkling former quarterbacks across his Top 10 team.
At least a half dozen guys that Strong counts on played quarterback in high school – and played the position well enough that they considered playing it in college, too. You can find them in the Louisville two-deep at safety, defensive end, receiver, tight end and running back.
"In high school, they're all quarterbacks," Strong said. "You put your best player at quarterback, then end up moving them once they get to college."
One is Calvin Pryor. He is the guy who knocked Rutgers into French Lick Thursday night, delivering 14 nasty tackles. He was named the best defensive player in the American Conference last week.
Pryor would like you to know that he threw for more than 1,000 yards as a high school senior and directed a dangerous triple option attack at Port St. Joe High School in the Florida panhandle, where football absolutely rules. He could have played Division I basketball or baseball, too.
Has Pryor ever informed Strong that he could handle the quarterback job if asked?
"I always mess with him," Pryor said. "But you know Coach Strong. He doesn't pay attention to that stuff."
What Strong does pay attention to is this: Guys that are athletic and open to trying a different position, even on defense.
Like Pryor. Or Marcus Smith. He played quarterback in Columbus, Ga., another football-obsessed place where Otis Sistrunk (Oakland Raiders) and Brentson Buckner (Clemson, plus 12 NFL seasons) also grew up. Like Pryor, Smith was rated a three-star prospect in high school.
Strong told Smith that he'd give him an opportunity to play the position here, even though Smith was already 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds. Smith picked Louisville over Florida, which also offered him a scholarship.
Several errant throws later, and Smith was moved to linebacker. Now he has settled in as a powerful 260-pound defensive end. Credit Smith with six sacks this season, three against Rutgers.
His name is creeping into discussion for the 2014 NFL Draft – at defensive end, not quarterback. Strong said that Smith can maneuver around offensive tackles with his speed and footwork or overpower them with his strength.
There are others – Dominique Brown, who moved to running back after starting at quarterback here. Kai De La Cruz dabbled at the position as a 2-star recruit at a New Jersey High School before settling in at receiver here.
Zeke Pike was a big catch at quarterback for Auburn in 2012. Now he's trying to catch passes as a reserve tight end for Louisville. Strong believes that Robert Clark, one of Louisville's fastest receivers, worked at quarterback in high school, too.
What is the key element of making a successful transition?
It has to begin with a willingness to trust Strong and his coaching staff when they suggest shifting their athletic ability to another spot. That is what happened with Marcus Smith. Shifting from quarterback to safety is understandable. Moving from quarterback to defensive end requires considerable trust.
"When I got the job here, I told (Smith), ‘You can come and play quarterback here,'" Strong said. "Til he started getting big, and then I moved him. Maybe the first 3-4 days he was at quarterback, then we moved him to linebacker …
"He had a strong arm, but you didn't know where it was going. His arm was strong enough, but you didn't know what it was gonna hit."
Now you know what Marcus Smith is going to hit -- every quarterback in sight. Just like other transformed quarterbacks on the Louisville defense.