Texas Tech's Doege moving past adversity to become elite passer
After tossing seven TDs at TCU, Texas Tech's Seth Doege must face Kansas State
Once a star prospect, Doege's football future was jeopardized by two ACL injuries
Doege's extensive rehab wasn't easy, but his experience made him even stronger
Seth Doege has arrived. That much became clear late last Saturday afternoon, when the 6-foot-1, 197-pound senior tossed his seventh touchdown pass in a triple-overtime thriller at TCU. Trailing the Horned Frogs 53-50 on second-and-goal from the eight-yard line, Doege handled the snap, faked a handoff to draw linebacker Kenny Cain out of position and lofted a pass into the middle of the end zone, which wideout Alex Torres corralled for the game-winning score. Doege sprinted around the field in frenzied jubilation, celebrating the Red Raiders' third Big 12 victory -- and his third game with at least six touchdown passes this season, one fewer than the rest of the FBS combined.
Just two weeks earlier, Doege was a relative unknown. He was the undersized starting quarterback for an overlooked team, a player known more for his hard-to-pronounce last name than for his on-field heroics. Then he outdueled Geno Smith in Texas Tech's 49-14 rout of West Virginia. And after handing TCU just its third loss in Fort Worth since 2007, he's emerged as one of the nation's most prolific passers.
Heading into this Saturday's showdown at Kansas State, Doege has become the "it" quarterback. His head-to-head matchup with Collin Klein suddenly has major Heisman implications, and his teammates are only adding to the hype.
"There's not a doubt in our minds here that he's the best quarterback in the nation," said Torres by phone Monday. "That's truly how we feel and that's the kind of confidence that we have in him."
In a matter of weeks, Doege has transformed from an afterthought into an alpha dog. He's taken a team predicted to finish near the bottom of the Big 12 and led it into the thick of the BCS conversation.
But Doege's emergence is anything but an overnight success story. A few years ago, he suffered a pair of career-threatening injuries, setbacks that put his entire football future in jeopardy. And while his play in 2012 has been excellent, his journey to this point was even more remarkable.
Seven years ago, as a sophomore in a sparsely populated small town in West Texas, Doege seemed destined for stardom. The aspiring quarterback had just led Crane High to a 10-1 record and the Class 2A Region I championship game, and he was fast gaining recognition as one of the top recruits in the class of 2008. He was coming off a season in which he threw for 2,439 yards and 27 touchdowns and ran for another 526 yards and three scores. He committed to Texas Tech in Sept. 2006, becoming the heir apparent to then coach Mike Leach's Air Raid attack.
Before his junior year, Doege decided to transfer from Crane, where his father, Randy, was coach, to Frenship High in Wolfforth, Texas, a school playing against higher-caliber Class 4A competition. Doege wanted to better prepare for the next level. He wanted to make the jump from touted underclassmen to college-ready performer.
During an intrasquad scrimmage in the fall before the first game, Doege carried the ball along the sideline and attempted to cut upfield. He got hit and twisted his knee, and he buckled and fell violently to the ground. Doege tore his left ACL, ending his season.
But the worst was yet to come. A little more than a year later, after months of extensive rehab, a reinvigorated Doege prepared for his senior campaign. He was participating in a preseason two-a-day session -- a basic T-shirt and shorts-type workout -- when he planted his foot in the ground. Doege again coiled, cringed and collapsed. This time he tore his right ACL. After two freak knee injuries, a once promising future took an unmistakably grim turn.
"He didn't get up, and he's always gotten up," recalled Frenship coach Brad Davis of the second injury. "And then after the diagnosis he had to go through that whole process again his senior year. But his attitude through all that was just incredible."
For many players, another season-ending setback would've marked the end of the road. Doege couldn't play a snap and had to watch as the Tigers advanced to the state quarterfinals without him. His hopes of achieving high school glory were dashed; his dreams of playing among the Division I ranks seemingly crippled.
But it was during that time Doege showed the tireless spirit that has since won over so many fans and teammates in Lubbock: For the second consecutive season, without fail, Doege attended every Frenship practice, training session and game.
"I think mostly what stands out in my mind was Friday nights at the games he was right there on the sideline," said Davis. "He would come to me letting me know what he thought about the secondary's alignments. He would come to me with suggestions of what he thought we could do offensively against what they were doing defensively. He was like having an assistant coach out there."
Doege wasn't ready to accept his fate. Though the odds were stacked strikingly against him, he never gave up on his abilities.
Texas Tech wasn't ready to give up on him, either. Despite the injuries, Leach decided to honor Doege's scholarship, providing the quarterback with a source of inspiration not only to recover, but to come back even stronger.
"After the second knee surgery, I felt that they possibly could go a different direction," said Doege. "In two years, I hadn't played a down of football. ... But I think coach Leach and his staff sticking with me, giving me the opportunity to play college football and live out my dream, really motivated me to get better and continue to improve on my skills."
Upon arriving to campus in 2008, Doege initially struggled to adjust. He redshirted to ease back into the football routine, regaining his feel for the position while ensuring he was fully healthy. He established rapports with wideouts Torres, Eric Ward and Darrin Moore (who was Cam Newton's teammate at Blinn College before transferring to Tech) while attempting a combined 65 passes in 2009 and '10. He was finally named the Red Raiders' starter during fall camp in 2011 and went on to throw 28 touchdowns. He's already equaled that total through seven games in 2012.
"It's been an amazing journey being able to work with him and see all the things that he's done, how much he's progressed," said Torres. "There's so much he does in the locker room with his leadership and his character that inspires not only some of these younger guys, but even us older guys who've been with him for five years."
Added Davis: "To overcome two knee injuries and to succeed like he has these last two years, and especially his senior year, it's a real winner's story in my view. That's what life's all about, overcoming adversity and succeeding at a high level. That's what he's done."
When Texas Tech and Kansas State kick off at about 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, all eyes will zero in on Doege. Football fans will tune in to find out if he lives up to his freshly acquired billing, if he can replicate the stats that stand up to anyone's in the country. Doege is currently averaging 316 passing yards per game with 28 touchdowns and a 169.6 quarterback rating. Those totals rank eighth, first and fifth in the FBS, respectively.
The Red Raiders, resurgent under third-year coach Tommy Tuberville, will look to take charge of their Big 12 destiny. A win would place them in a tie for first place with K-State and Oklahoma (which beat Texas Tech Oct. 6) with only games against unranked Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor remaining. At that point, a run at a once-unthinkable BCS bowl berth won't seem out of the question.
And if that happens, the accolades -- which have just started to trickle in -- will come pouring en masse to Lubbock. But before labeling Doege's rise as meteoric, know that his comeback is long overdue.
"Ever since high school, I think I've been doubted, whether it be my size or my arm or whatever," said Doege. "I kind of feel like every time I step on the field I've gotta prove myself. I want to prove everybody wrong that I'm an elite player."
Kansas State's defensive playmakers: Though Klein has received the lion's share of attention, the Wildcats' defense has played an equally pivotal role in the team's 7-0 start. Safety Ty Zimmerman is tied for sixth in the nation in interceptions, defensive end Meshak Williams is tied for the Big 12 lead in sacks and linebacker Arthur Brown is a dominant force in the middle. "They're such a disciplined team," said Doege, "that they take advantage of your mistakes."
Texas Tech's second-half momentum: In 2011, Tech entered its eighth game of the season at 5-2 coming off a BCS-altering upset at Oklahoma. It proceeded to lose its final five games. In order to stave off that type of collapse this time around, Doege and Co. have made a team-wide effort to keep their emotions in check. "I think we learned a lot from last year, staying too high on the highs, too low on the lows," said Doege. "We don't want to stay too high on TCU, too high on West Virginia. It's one game at a time. I think that'll help us not have a letdown again."
The turnover battle: For all of the strides Texas Tech's defense has made this season -- the Red Raiders rank seventh in the nation in total defense after finishing a lowly 114th last year -- new coordinator Art Kaufman's unit has been very average at generating turnovers. It has just 10 turnovers gained, tied for 79th in the FBS. To slow an ultra-efficient Kansas State attack, Tech will need to force Klein to make mistakes, something that won't come easy: He hasn't thrown an interception since Sept. 15 against North Texas, a streak of 91 straight attempts.