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If Leaf’s Ready, So’s Huard

Tue., Jan. 6, 1998

If Ryan Leaf is ready to turn pro, there is another prototypical NFL quarterback here in the lefthand corner of the country whose time might be now, too.

Brock Huard will turn 22 this April. The education of this future NFL quarterback should certainly continue, only not on a University of Washington team that may need him more than he needs it. He should turn pro.

For the golden-armed quarterback with a poise and maturity beyond his years, the future is clear. The only question is when Huard wants to embark on that future. And judging from who he is and where he is as an athlete and a person, the time might as well be now.

His decision could come as soon as this week.

“He’s going back and forth on it,” Huard’s father, Mike Huard, said Sunday from his home in Puyallup, where he is the head coach at Puyallup High.

The Huards have received NFL reports that say Brock would be the third quarterback taken in the upcoming draft. And while the reports claim Huard would not be a first-round pick, there’s a bit of political football that the NFL must play in handling underclassmen.

“The NFL wants to maintain a relationship with the college coaches, so he’s not as high as we’ve been hearing from other sources,” Mike Huard said.

Brock Huard is busy this week, attending to recruits visiting the Washington campus.

No doubt, though, the junior-to-be will find a moment to look ahead to next fall. He will try to imagine life behind center again for the Huskies.

One problem. Or maybe more than one. All-America center Olin Kreutz won’t be snapping Huard the ball.

And out on the wings, it won’t be Jerome Pathon or Fred Coleman lining up and knowing instinctively where and when Huard will deliver the ball. And tight end Cam Cleeland could be making his mark in the NFL.

Huard’s favorite passing targets will be gone, as will senior tailback Rashaan Shehee, whose terrific final performance in the Aloha Bowl affirmed his importance to the Husky offense.

You can’t help but think losing these key players in skill positions will make 1998 feel like a letdown for Huard.

The 1997 Huskies were once national contenders. The 1998 Huskies are a work in progress. And what sort of enticement is that for Huard as he considers the financial and growth aspects of turning pro?

“I think he can develop more physically,” Mike Huard said. “Mentally, though, he’s very smart. Emotionally, he’s mature beyond his years.”

So far, Brock Huard has not uttered one word about next season.

His teammates, from Shehee to Pathon to safety Tony Parrish, have weighed in, assuring Huard that with his ability and poise, he is ready to move on, to cash in.

Anyone who has heard him break down a game knows he has an impressive mastery of his playbook and that of his opponents, and that his mind is more than ready to start learning the pro game.

One theory has it that it’s better for Huard to come out this year, precisely because Peyton Manning and Leaf are rated ahead of him. Being third would help Huard land on a better team. It would take the pressure off and maybe give him a better chance for a long NFL tutelage and a successful career.

Huard would not have to be a savior. He would not be the next Rick Mirer, pushed to do a job he isn’t ready for - not that Huard would be the same risk that Mirer turned out to be.

The Puyallup native has one brother on the Dolphins’ roster and another, younger one headed to Chapel Hill. The Huards’ connection to the Huskies is dwindling.

The boos and taunts that Damon Huard received his senior season at Washington hurt the Huard family, especially Brock. Damon Huard was setting records, fulfilling his sense of loyalty to the Huskies, but boos were showered onto him and the criticisms were rough. It was hardly a senior season full of sweetness and reward.

Then a redshirt freshman, Brock, like Damon, was stunned to stand on the sideline and hear what was nothing but an ugly display of the callousness of fans, not to mention the cynicism of the media.

Maybe these things have toughened Brock Huard. Maybe the past three seasons at Washington convinced him that the best decision for him is one based on what he and his family want.

“I’m sure in a week or so we’ll have some things to talk about,” Huard said after the Aloha Bowl, when he seemed not at all a college kid with a great arm but a man, ready for the world.

He should follow his heart and his buddies and go.

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