Playing soccer across the pond as a boy, Andrew cultivated both a Euro's passion for the sport and certain skills that carried over to American football. Both father and son attribute some of his superb footwork on the gridiron—his nimble five- and seven-step drops, his ability to slide and shuffle to find passing lanes, his speed when the pocket collapses—to all that time dribbling a ball around the pitch. By the time Andrew was 12, the family had relocated to the Houston area. In 2005 Oliver was hired as president of the Dynamo of the MLS. Andrew loved soccer and loved the Dynamo, which won the MLS Cup in its first two seasons. But that other brand of football was calling him.
It was highly unusual for a sophomore at Stratford to win the job as starting quarterback. But when Luck showed up, "it was no contest," Allen says. The idea was to spoon-feed the offense to the kid and not overwhelm him. "But he picked it up so fast," recalls Allen, "that after four or five games, we just put in the whole playbook."
Late in his first varsity game the Spartans needed to sustain a drive to salt away a victory. Allen was stunned to look onto the field and see Luck shouting in the huddle, exhorting his teammates—all upperclassmen—to find a way to secure the victory. "I remember thinking, This kid never talks," says Allen. "It turns out, he does. He just picks his spots." Stratford won that game, and Luck won over the team.
Asked to list Luck's five best plays, Allen demurs. He remains in awe of Luck's performance against Cypress Falls—"a team we had no business being on the field with," he says—in the second round of the 2006 state playoffs. Luck threw for 339 yards and four touchdowns. "Andrew was just...superhuman. He made every throw. We ended up losing by a missed extra point. Just watching him that day was special."
Nate Nakadate, on the other hand, has no problem pinpointing what was, in his mind, Luck's greatest hit: "I had Andrew for AP literature his senior year. In the middle of the year, he turned in a critical essay on Hamlet that just...blew me away." More than three years later Nakadate still raves about the job Luck did "explaining Hamlet's evolution of inner torment and eventual loss of faith and heart," as well as juxtaposing the Danish prince's "rational versus irrational thoughts."
A high school English teacher for 10 years, Nakadate seldom discussed football with Luck, correctly intuiting that the subject of his passing prowess made him uncomfortable. "There wasn't an ounce of hubris in him," the teacher says. "He didn't want to talk about how many touchdowns he'd thrown; he just wanted to do the work at hand."
A succession of big-name coaches made the pilgrimage to Stratford: Alabama's Nick Saban, LSU's Les Miles and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, among many others. Luck basically told them thanks, but no thanks. He was more interested in playing at a school that might offer him more of an academic challenge.
Meanwhile, Stanford coaches were scouring the country for very good football players with killer test scores. Here is first-year coach David Shaw's version of what the Cardinal staff was looking for: "You go into a school, and the head coach says, 'That's my best player and my team leader.' Then you meet the guidance counselor, and the counselor says, 'I wish I had 10 more students like him.' That's our guy. But you need to hear it from both of them. If you hear it from one and not the other, that's not our guy."
Luck was their guy. On the day he arrived at Stanford, Oliver helped his son move items to his room. They walked into an empty dorm with a baby grand piano in the lobby. "Some student was playing it," Oliver recalls. "The guy sounded like Rachmaninoff. He probably plays with the New York Philharmonic in the summer. And I thought, Welcome to Stanford."
Barton, who taught one of Luck's studio classes last quarter, is also his academic adviser and, as it happens, a Cal grad. "So we give each other some s--- about that," says Barton. "But mostly, I try to be his adviser."