AT 6' 8" AND 235 POUNDS, ARIZONA STATE QUARTERBACK BROCK OSWEILER IS OFTEN mistaken for a Sun Devils basketball player—and last November he almost became one. Feeling underutilized after having played mostly in mop-up duty for almost two seasons, Osweiler, who in 2006 committed to play basketball at Gonzaga, requested permission to meet with Arizona State hoops coach Herb Sendek about playing forward for the Sun Devils. "I have a fire to compete, and I wanted to do more," Osweiler explains. Coach Dennis Erickson obliged, and plans were made for Osweiler to head to the hardwood as soon as football ended.
But on Nov. 13, with the football team at 4--6 and in the late stages of a forgettable season, starting quarterback Steven Threet went down with a concussion against UCLA, the fourth of his career, which ended his playing days. Osweiler dropped his clipboard, grabbed his helmet and entered the game. Down 17--0 in the first quarter Osweiler passed for 380 yards and four touchdowns (and added a 15-yard score with his legs), rallying Arizona State to a 55--34 win. An emotional, 30--29 double-overtime win the next week against rival Arizona, in which Osweiler led the team to 14 fourth-quarter points, cemented his spot as the Sun Devils' starter for 2011 and effectively ended Osweiler's basketball experiment.
Instead of basking in the glow of his 2010 victories, Osweiler, a junior, spent the off-season working toward '11. He built strength in the weight room and practiced yoga. He also worked on shortening his release—a common problem for quarterbacks his height. "He's spent a lot of time changing his throwing motion," Erickson says of Osweiler, who completed 56.8% of his passes last year. "He's getting the ball out of his hand a lot better than he did. He's much more accurate now." In May, Osweiler flew to Denver for a boxing camp to improve his footwork and develop his "punch stance," which offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone describes as a way for quarterbacks to transfer the weight between their feet and add velocity to their throws.
Once ruled out of playing quarterback in his Pop Warner league in Kalispell, Mont., for being too large (he played offensive tackle), Osweiler now realizes that his unique dimensions can be an asset. "My size and athletic ability have brought something to the football field that hasn't been seen in a long time," he says. Osweiler is often compared with 6' 5", 241-pound Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is difficult to drag down even with multiple defenders draped on his back. And much like Roethlisberger, Osweiler has 4.7 speed that makes him even more dangerous when he slips out of the pocket, such as when he bolted up the middle for that 15-yard touchdown against UCLA.
"He's got the ability to make my bad plays good," Mazzone says. "He creates things. He gets himself out of trouble and makes plays with his feet."
Osweiler's confidence to improvise is mirrored by his confidence off the field. He is undaunted, for example, by the team's tough 2011 schedule. "We've played in hostile environments," he says. "We've been to Georgia. We've been to Wisconsin. We've been to the loudest, most intense environments in the country. That's not going to throw us off."
Spoken like a man who knows what he can do with a football, not a basketball, in his hands.