Just a father who saw Stanford in his future.
Everything about the newly selected starting quarterback can be traced back to a single moment.
“He’s like, `Oh, what’s this?’” his father said. “I said, `That’s where you belong. You’re going to go there one day.’”
Never mind that they had no connection to the university.
Something about his son’s smarts steered his father, who has a degree from UCLA, to push aside the Bruins and Trojans hats that day at the Chick’s Sporting Goods near the family’s home in Upland and reach for the Cardinal cap.
Josh “wore the heck of that hat,” he said, even if it often fueled his friends.
He took French classes in high school because he read Stanford’s admissions accepted more students who spoke that than Spanish as a secondary language _ “French came in real handy in Southern California,” he joked.
His first college game was watching Trent Edwards and Stanford lose 21-0 to UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 30, 2004. He graduated high school with a 4.6 grade-point average, turning down offers from football powers Florida, Oklahoma and Tennessee among others for the Silicon Valley school.
“It just goes to show you,” he said, “that I always wanted to be a Stanford man.”
The redshirt junior quarterback will make his first collegiate start and begin the post-Andrew Luck era when No. 21 Stanford hosts San Jose State on Friday night.
Walking on campus last week, Nunes already was recognized by students and at least one elderly woman who promised to bring her camera and ask for a photo next time.
“I’ve had to pinch myself to make sure it’s real,” said his mother, Debbie.
Nunes grew up playing baseball, soccer and just about any sport but football. He struck out all 18 batters in a Little League game when he was 12 years old, his father said, and threw a four-seam fastball clocked in the 90s in high school and an overhand curve.
His dad, a private contractor, avoided Pop Warner Football “like the plague” for fear of injuries and overbearing coaches.
Not until flag football in the eighth grade did Nunes ever throw a pigskin competitively, and he doesn’t even count freshman football at Upland High School because “I spent the whole year learning everything.”
By the end of his sophomore season, then-Hawaii coach June Jones offered him a scholarship. Soon Urban Meyer at Florida and coaches from the Southeastern Conference to the renamed Pac-12 came calling.
“It kind of took us back like, `Oh, this is something I might want to look into,’” Nunes said.
For Nunes, there really only was one choice.
He took recruiting visits to Stanford and Southern California for baseball, too, but committed to Stanford as soon as former football coach Jim Harbaugh offered him a scholarship and the admission’s office approved his transcript.
Nunes is majoring in management science and engineering, which he describes as an “engineering degree with a business focus,” particularly on entrepreneurship and start-ups.
He has taken an economics class taught by former Treasury Under Secretary John Taylor and engineering classes run by former Defense Secretary William Perry and nuclear policy expert Siegfried Hecker, emeritus director of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
During a course last year, Nunes teamed with wide receiver Sam Knapp and pitcher Mark Appel _ the eighth overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates who decided to return for his senior season _ formed their own start-up with a full-working website.
The idea was called “Coachbook,” a website that allowed people to connect with instructors in their area. They even pitched the project to a panel of Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
“He was always one of the geek kids,” his father said.
Northern California has become almost a second home for the Nunes family.
Josh’s younger brother, Justin, is a redshirt freshman quarterback on the UC Davis team. The family tries to attend every game for both, although this year will be the first time either has played meaningful minutes.
Nunes threw two passes and completed one for 7 yards for Stanford in 2010. On the third practice of training camp last year, he dropped back to pass and stepped on running back Andrew Stutz’s foot, tore a ligament underneath his right big toe, was in a boot through the first five games and had a steel plate that was completely rigid in his shoe when he returned to practice. He never played a down.
Stutz and Nunes just so happened to be stretching partners during the team’s first practice at Stanford Stadium on Friday since Nunes won the quarterback competition against strong-armed sophomore Brett Nottingham. Stutz playfully told Nunes: “I got to be careful. You’re the starting quarterback now.”
In the end, second-year Stanford coach David Shaw said he chose the quarterback who allows him to “sleep well at night.”
“Of all the empirical evidence we collected,” Shaw said, “Josh was the most consistent.”
Nunes knows replacing Luck, the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up and No. 1 overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts, will not be easy.
He talks about how he’s “not Andrew Luck” but good enough to make sure Stanford doesn’t slip, how the offense has always been a run-first, balanced approach and confidently saying “I don’t think we’re holding anything back. The coaches expect us to do everything Andrew could do. Not to be Andrew, but to have the mental capacity that he did is definitely expected of us.”
And perhaps why the competition to replace Luck lasted almost eight months.
Shaw informed Nunes, Nottingham and redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan of his decision before last Tuesday morning’s practice.
Shaw sent Nunes a text shortly after 6 a.m. to be in his office later that morning _ Nunes has been up by 5:45 a.m. each day working out or receiving treatment _ and the quarterback nervously “got it like an hour after he sent it to be in his office soon.”
Nunes said when Shaw broke the news “it was just great to hear him say it.” He sent two quick text messages to his parents before practice.
His father had to fight tears. His mother Debbie, a business analyst with 21 years at Southern California Edison utility, was in the middle of what turned out to be a two-hour meeting with her boss.
When she returned to her desk and learned the news on her phone, she became so overwhelmed that co-workers began asking questions during another colleague’s birthday luncheon.
“They thought my boss had done something to upset me,” she said. “I had to tell them that they were happy tears.”
The well wishes filtered in from teammates past and present, friends back home and former Stanford players. Nunes talked to his parents late that night. Luck’s text message to Nunes was “typical Andrew,” he said.
He congratulated Nunes and told him, “Now it’s time to get to work.”
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