- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

BLACKSBURG, Va. — From the nasty e-mails he received after a loss to Georgia Tech, to being carried off Worsham Field after last week’s win over Clemson, Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon won’t forget anything.

But he wouldn’t want it any other way.

Hesitating to call it a photographic memory, but uncertain of how else to describe the way his brain works, the third-year sophomore offers his ability to see something once, then recall it perfectly weeks or even months later, as an explanation for how he’s gotten where he is — the leader of Virginia Tech’s football team.

“That’s probably the best reason why I’m smart,” he said. “I can look at something — like when it comes to stats, I can picture the exact words I wrote in my notes. Or the exact number. If you told me your phone number I could probably tell it to you in, like, six months from now. I just remember like that.”

The 21-year old Glennon looks like the All-American boy — fair-haired and pink cheeked with clear blue eyes. Sitting down for post-game interviews, he could pass for an intense high school kid until he stands up — a 6-foot-4, 220-pound pocket passer grown tall to see over big linemen. Even then, without his bulky body armor on, he looks thin and breakable except for the thick triceps and sturdy joints.

He’s an earnest interview with an ironic, apologetic turn to his smile, listening to every question with a tiny crease between his dark, arched eyebrows — so intent on answering precisely that he never has managed to finish the tiny bag of Cheetos he enjoys after every game. He’s the last player to leave Lane Stadium, and even then he lingers to sign autographs for the waiting fans.

“There’s going to be a day when no one really cares what I think anymore,” he said. “There’s going to be a day where, although a lot of people think — or a lot of guys complain — ‘Oh, I had to sign autographs for a half-hour straight’ … there’s going to be a day where no one wants my autograph anymore. So I’m not going to take it for granted.”

Actually, the questions and the hungry autograph seekers have turned out to be the easy part.

Glennon started getting angry e-mails from disappointed fans and classmates after the Georgia Tech meltdown, in which he fumbled the ball away twice in the second quarter and threw two interceptions (though he’s quick to add he also got some supportive notes).

“Coach [Kevin] Rogers used to tell us is that the favorite player on every college football team is the backup quarterback,” Glennon said, referring to the former quarterbacks coach. “Because when things are going bad, the quarterback is the guy they look to and the backup quarterback is the one they think is going to save the day.”

By the day after the Boston College debacle, in which he again fumbled and threw two interceptions, the baby-faced quarterback was getting ugly messages from fellow students and alumni on his Facebook profile. He started reading letters and posts on message boards where fans called for him to be replaced under center by true freshman Ike Whitaker.

Fans blamed the Hokies’ offensive struggles on Glennon’s lack of mobility — and his tendency to hold onto a pass a critical second too long.

“Especially at a big-time program like Virginia Tech, you’ve got to have thick skin,” he said, again with the smile that looks like an apology. “Because not everybody’s going to love you.”

Said position coach Mike O’Cain: “The quarterback gets a tremendous amount of praise that is undue, and he gets a tremendous amount of criticism that is undue. And you have to live with both. You have to be able to let that praise hit you and bounce off and you’ve got to be able to let that criticism hit you and bounce off. Because if you can’t, at this level, it’ll kill you.”

But, no one expects more out of the Virginia Tech starting quarterback than Glennon himself.

No one sees his limitations more clearly. No one remembers the failures more vividly.

“I could probably tell you stats from my games in high school,” he admitted.

The expectations ride heavy on those narrow shoulders. After the home loss to Georgia Tech, Glennon took responsibility for the blind side sack that lead to a fumble, a touchdown and an 18-point deficit.

“I wish I could have that one back,” he said afterward. “Because I was going to hit it. A guy was open, I was about to hit him. And if we get that guy picked up and I hit that ball and they don’t get that touchdown, it’s probably a whole different ball game.”

This spring, fans clamored for a solid citizen — a clean-living, reliable sort to exorcise the unpleasant specter of mercurial Marcus Vick. While Glennon, like a cool choir boy grown too tall, appeared the anti-Vick, Whitaker was already sitting, suspended for unspecified team violations — a dangerous start for a program struggling with its image.

In contrast, the current Virginia Tech starter is such a good student that Bruce Garnes, administrative assistant to the football team, says no one has needed to check on his attendance in years.

“I guess there wasn’t the excitement of Sean being our quarterback,” O’Cain said. “And that, that’s tough. When you work your rear end off to be that guy, but nobody’s excited about it?”

Despite his steadiness off the field, despite the remarkable poise that his mother, Nancy, calls an “innate gift,” and despite the more than 58 percent pass completion rate, Glennon was replaced with Whitaker for a series in the win over Southern Mississippi.

“I never felt too [much] in jeopardy,” he said afterward. “But definitely I wanted to come out — I didn’t want to create any kind of controversy. I wanted to say, ‘Hey I’m still making plays out here, I’m still the guy we can depend on.’ ”

On the next series, Glennon looked particularly dependable, returning to the game for a one-play touchdown strike, a 38-yard pass to Josh Morgan. And in spite of that, even in a 36-6 win that stopped the Hokies’ two-game slide, coaches continued discussing creating more opportunities for Whitaker.

Wideout Eddie Royal watched with admiration how his longtime friend handled the media and fan attention.

“I think he responded great,” says wideout Eddie Royal, Glennon’s roommate and teammate from Westfield High School in Chantilly. “It’s tough to see another guy in your position. But through it all he was there for Ike. Whenever Ike had a question he was the first person to help him out — and that’s what you want to see in a teammate.”

He responded so well that the Hokies rocketed back with a 24-7 victory over then No. 10 Clemson, a win that put them back in the national rankings — and left Whitaker on the side lines.

Glennon was carried off the field, smiling for real this time, to interviews, to autographs, to a work week preparing for a trip to Miami — memories he’ll have forever.

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