California came to Portis’ attention after an aunt remembered watching the Vulcans play on television last fall. Kevin McCabe, a one-time Virginia quarterback, was a crucial component in a 12-2 season.
Luckhardt said McCabe arrived with a similar knock as Portis - a struggle to pick up a complex playbook. McCabe, despite years of accumulated rust, handled California’s scheme just fine, rolling up 3,214 yards and 32 touchdowns.
“Kevin McCabe graduated for Virginia, and this kid graduated from Maryland,” Luckhardt said. “They’re not dumb, OK? They’re not dumb. Sometimes you just need to start over. He may struggle this year; he may not. I just know if he keeps working as hard as he’s working, we think we’re going to have an exceptional quarterback.”
Luckhardt built California into a playoff team in part by casting a wide net for talent seeking second chances. And as a veteran coach who was the starting center on Purdue’s Rose Bowl team after the 1966 season, he has witnessed all sorts of quarterbacks - but none quite like Portis.
As a result, Portis’ opportunity to express his abilities - which both he and Luckhardt insists remain intact - finally will arrive when the Vulcans host Saginaw Valley State on Aug. 27.
“I don’t know what kind of offense they run up there, but I would think they don’t see many athletes like him,” Friedgen said. “I would think he would have a chance to do real well. To me, I think he’ll be a man among boys. That’s good. Hopefully he’ll do well and enjoy that part of his life.”
Consider it the new Portis Plan. Since Portis graduated and played only two seasons, Luckhardt said he’ll have two years of eligibility in Division II to finally come through on the potential that has mesmerized coaches and fans for years.
“I’m itching,” Portis said.
“For real,” he nodded.
Even if his twisting career landed in a place he could have never fathomed when he was the latest well-regarded high school prospect to come around the bend.
“I did not think I was going to be in California, Pa.,” Portis said. “I did not. But I’m here, so let’s make it happen.”