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All Eyes on Terrelle
February 18, 2008
As college coaches and fans across the nation waited, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the most coveted recruit in the land, decided not to make a decision
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February 18, 2008

All Eyes On Terrelle

As college coaches and fans across the nation waited, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the most coveted recruit in the land, decided not to make a decision

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"Probably 85 percent of the time some kind of change has to be made at the line of scrimmage by a college quarterback," says Colorado coach Dan Hawkins, "and that rarely happens in high school. Sometimes it's something simple like keeping the same play but running it to the other side. But that reading ability is something that's hard to gauge about a high school quarterback, even one who's been as successful as Terrelle."

Charlie Batch, the Pittsburgh Steelers and former Eastern Michigan quarterback who is Pryor's recruiting adviser and close family friend (four years ago Pryor went to a camp Batch ran), has told the young man, "Mobility and speed will only get you so far." But Batch also says the message got through a long time ago. "Terrelle is very smart about the quarterback position."

Though Pryor's size and stats suggest a second coming of dual-threat Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow of Florida—his career yards at Jeannette were almost equally divided between rushing (4,250) and passing (4,249)—he has been compared most often to the Tennessee Titans' Vince Young because of his sheer athleticism. But Pryor takes umbrage at the supposition that he has simply outrun and outleaped everyone to reach greatness. At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, a high school all-star game played in San Antonio on Jan. 5 in which he was named MVP after leading the East to a 33--23 victory over the West, he says he encountered several players with speed superior to his. "It's about angles and thinking on your feet and knowing how to play," he says. "Look, I don't want to be like Vince Young. I don't like it at all when I hear that. Nothing against Vince, who's been real nice. We've talked on the phone. But it's just that I don't see myself as him at all. I like Tom Brady. I admire how he handles the team, the way he freezes the defense with pump fakes. I want to be that kind of quarterback."

There are, of course, other comparisons that could be made. Ten years before Pryor came along, a young man named Ronald Curry blazed a trail to two-sport immortality at Hampton High in the Peninsula District of southeastern Virginia, earning national player of the year honors as both a football quarterback and a basketball point guard. He was recruited madly and chose North Carolina—where he had a desultory two-year career as the latter and a mediocre four-year career as the former. He never did make it as an NFL quarterback, although he led the Oakland Raiders in receiving last season with 55 catches for 717 yards. Not exactly the kind of precedent Pryor wants to hear about.

PRECEDENTS MEAN precious little to the wunderkind who on a recent January morning sat in a conference room in Jeannette High's main offices. That room had become his second home, Fawning Central for college coaches and the media. As he talked, he displayed his generation's artful multitasking, juggling two cellphones, compulsively checking and sending messages. An Associated Press reporter texted Pryor while he was attending a Michigan basketball game during a recruiting trip on Jan. 19 and breathlessly reported the young man's response to a question about his visit—"It's cool."

Pryor agrees, that, yes, life has been strange ever since he was identified as the nation's No. 1 recruit before his senior football season began. One day he logged onto the Internet and found a website called "I didn't have anything to do with it," he says. "I would've put different pictures up there." He has received letters from fans of dozens of colleges. "They tell me, 'We'll take care of you if you come here.' I don't pay any attention to them."

He at least has turned down the heat from basketball recruiters by announcing that he will concentrate on football in college. At week's end Pryor, a small forward, was averaging 21.9 points per game for the 16--4 Jayhawks. "If Terrelle would've never touched a football," says former Jeannette High hoops coach Rick Klimchock, "he would be talked about, right now, as a LeBron James type of talent." As much as Pryor's gifts are displayed on the football field (at various times at Jeannette he played defensive end, outside linebacker and free safety as well as quarterback), they are even more manifest on the court, where he is divested of pads. He reaches full speed almost immediately. When he takes off on the wing, he's often downcourt before the ball can find him. If he's near the basket, he'll dunk. At the same time, he depends way too much on his athleticism. He tries outlandish passes and can't believe it when they don't work.

Pryor's there's-nothing-I-can't-do mentality is apparent in football, too. "His biggest weakness—and it's correctable—is that he has to learn how to get rid of the ball a little quicker," says Reitz. "He's always looking for the big play, and sometimes he has to just get positive yardage."

But that's often how it is with gifted athletes. And one intangible asset Pryor will bring to college is that he is "Jeannette tough," as he puts it. When he was in eighth grade he and his mother, Thomasina, who is separated from Craig, moved to nearby West Mifflin. But the son was unhappy being away from the kids with whom he started in midget ball as a six-year-old. He returned to Jeannette and moved in with his godfather, Willie Burns. His mother lived 45 miles away in Jonestown (until she returned to Jeannette last week, and was joined by her son), and his father still lives in nearby West Newton (where he was visited by Penn State's Bradley). "Everybody always says athleticism is natural," says Pryor, "but you can pick it up, too. A lot of mine came from the kids I played with all the way through. I made them better, and they made me better."

He perks up at a question about his future: Will he come back to Jeannette one day even if he is an NFL star? "I already know I will," he says. He gazes out the window, past, presumably, the entryway to Jeannette High, past the tree line, past the closed-up glass factories that once were the town's hallmark, into a future that must seem both golden and uncertain. "I'm thinking about maybe having a drive or a street named after me, something like that," he says.

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