March 27, 2006

Quinn ready to deal with big expectations

SOUTH BEND, Ind. A golden glow showed that Brady Quinn enjoyed basking in the Cayman Islands sun during a spring break trip.

But how he copes with the glare of an inevitable media crunch may determine whether he is indeed Notre Dame's next golden boy.

Spring break had given way to spring football for just one day, and yet Quinn, the most prolific passer in Notre Dame history, was already facing an inquisitive media wondering if he can function and flourish in a Heisman Trophy race.

Talk about a new definition of March madness.

Although other candidates are sure to emerge, Quinn and Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson will begin next season as the favorites to win college football's most prestigious individual award. Each week the pressure will increase and the media attention will become more intense, much like at last year's Fiesta Bowl when the story that Quinn's sister was dating Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk became national news.

"That's not a big deal," said Quinn, who owns 30 Notre Dame passing records and stands to set several more during his senior campaign next fall. "Look back at the Fiesta Bowl. That situation was blown out of proportion. That's what the media does. You have to take these things like a game be calm, stay on an even keel and roll with it."

No one may be better equipped to follow that plan than the 6-foot-4-inch, 232-pound Quinn, who's as poised as he is talented. Senior receiver Jeff Samardzija, who caught 77 of Quinn's passes last season, doesn't believe the extra attention and scrutiny will have any effect.

"That's not going to be too much different from being a player at Notre Dame," Samardzija said. "You have a lot of expectations, period. You get prepared for any situation here.

"Only a certain number of guys can walk into that situation. He's carried the world on his shoulders from Day One. I'm not worried about Brady."

Samardzija's point is valid.

Notre Dame is already the most scrutinized college football program in the country, and when you quarterback the Irish you're part of a lineage that includes four Heisman Trophy winners as well as Terry Hanratty, Tom Clements, Joe Theismann and Joe Montana.

No pressure there.

Yet, Quinn's junior season was statistically better than any of his predecessors'.

He set single-season school records with 450 pass attempts, 292 completions, 3,919 yards, 32 touchdowns and a brilliant 64.9 completion percentage.

That was all done in just his first season under head coach Charlie Weis, who said Quinn could be even more productive in his second season running Weis' offense.

"The more he understands the more I can do," Weis said. "It's the mental things that hold you back more than anything. Where he is at mentally allows me to do some things I couldn't do last year because I didn't think we could handle it."

Quinn agrees.

"The sky's the limit as far as how much more we can do," he said. "But we can only do as much as everyone else can do. We have to make sure everyone else is on the same page."

Weis and Quinn are on the same page. They have sat together and discussed all the inevitable attention and Heisman hype. They agreed the best way to deal with it and perhaps win the trophy is merely to approach the season the same as they did last year.

"Obviously, we have talked about what our goals are," Quinn said. "We know if we win every game and we're playing for the national championship good things will come with that."

Good things, indeed.

Perhaps that's why Weis didn't bristle at the subject being brought up even before spring football had officially begun.

"If he wins the Heisman Trophy it probably means we won the national championship," Weis said. "So sign me up."

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