- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No matter what your feelings are about Greg Paulus - and if you’re a Maryland basketball nut, those feelings probably range somewhere between loathing and repulsion - it’s hard not to be intrigued by his decision to pick up a football again. Here’s a kid who, before he dribbled for Duke, put a match to all the high school passing records in New York. Notre Dame wanted him (to succeed Brady Quinn). Everybody wanted him.

But so did Mike Krzyzewski, and the feeling was mutual. As gifted as he was as a QB, Paulus loved hoops more - and dreamed of being the Blue Devils’ point guard, dreamed of having the kind of career Bobby Hurley had. More than a few wondered whether he’d made the right choice, given the quickness required to play the position and the competitiveness of the ACC. And as we’ve seen the past four seasons, Greg is no Steve Nash or John Stockton (or Hurley, for that matter), merely a serviceable, 6-foot-1, 185-pound playmaker who can hit the 3 and, in his spare time, antagonize opposing fans with his hustle and feistiness.

“Is there a chance he could go farther in football [than basketball]?” his coach at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, Joe Casamento, told the (Syracuse) Post-Standard when Paulus was a high school senior. “Definitely. But you have to be happy with what you do. Football, if you don’t absolutely love it and you’re playing it in college, it’s a complete grind.”

So Paulus took the fork in the road that led to Durham, N.C., played on a couple of Sweet 16 teams… and when it was all over, found himself thinking: Is that all there is? For a versatile athlete like him, apparently not. Now he gets to hit the rewind button and take one last stab at football, using his final year of NCAA eligibility to suit up for his hometown (OK, he’s from suburban Manlius) Syracuse Orange.

Sounds like the perfect arrangement. Paulus needs a place to knock the rust off - and possibly get an NFL club interested in him - and the Orange, who haven’t had a winning season since 2001, need, well, everything. He’s already familiar with the Carrier Dome, having played in the state championship game there. There’s even a receiver on the Syracuse roster, Lavar Lobdell, who caught passes from him at Christian Brothers Academy. (Unfortunately, another of his favorite targets in high school, Bruce Williams, just completed his career with the Orange.)

There’s still something unreal about it, this sudden switch from a pass-first point guard to a pass-first quarterback. And it’ll likely remain that way until Paulus straps on a helmet and ducks his first blitzing linebacker - if, indeed, he ever does.

Make no mistake: What Greg is trying to do, for all its romance, is about as easy as throwing a ball through a tire at 50 paces. Quarterback is the most difficult position in all of sports, and he’s attempting to make up for four years’ lost time in a single season - without even the benefit of spring practice.

But before you say, “This Dookie is delirious,” allow me to point out a few things. One, Paulus wasn’t just a really good high school quarterback, he was a Certified Phenom, a Living Legend. Consider:

He set a state record with 3,677 passing yards in a season as a senior.

He set a state record with 543 passing yards in a game as a junior.

He set a state record with 45 touchdown passes in a season as a sophomore.

Scary. And he wasn’t doing this against crummy competition, either. When his Christian Brothers Academy team won the Class AA state title in 2004, it beat a New Rochelle club that was led by Ray Rice. (Yeah, that Ray Rice, the one who would rush for 2,000 yards in a season at Rutgers and for 154 in his third start as a rookie with the Baltimore Ravens.)

Remember Jay Schroeder? Well, Paulus’ situation is a little like his. Schroeder played briefly at UCLA, started a grand total of one game before committing fully to a minor league baseball career in the Blue Jays’ chain. Three seasons and 417 strikeouts later, he acknowledged the obvious - someone had drilled a hole in his Louisville Slugger - and sent out feelers to NFL teams before the 1984 draft, offering to work out for them.

The Redskins dispatched Joe Gibbs and his quarterback coach, Jerry Rhome, to check out the goods. They were so impressed that GM Bobby Beathard took Schroeder in the third round - even though Jay hadn’t thrown a pass in a game since 1980 (and even though Beathard had never seen him play in person).

“Terry [Donahue, the UCLA coach] told me the guy had potential, and he was right,” Bobby says. “[Schroeder] had as good a workout as you’ll ever see a quarterback have. He was so athletic. Guys like that always intrigued me. And he had that cannon arm. He didn’t have any college experience to speak of, but what little he did have was good.”

That might be the biggest difference between Schroeder and Paulus - that and the Elwayesque arm, that is. Jay at least had the experience, fleeting though it was, of throwing two touchdown passes, including the game-winner, against Southern Cal in ‘80 (the second of which was tipped and nearly intercepted by a cornerback named Jeff Fisher, now the coach of the Tennessee Titans).

Schroeder, of course, went to the Pro Bowl after the 1986 season and played in two conference championship games, one with the Redskins and the other with the Raiders. Clearly, then, such a transition - from playing another sport to playing QB, with minimal changeover time - is possible. And Beathard, for one, wouldn’t be surprised if Paulus pulled it off.

“I think a guy that’s that good an athlete [has a shot],” he said. “And he went to Duke, so you know he’s a smart guy and can pick things up quickly.”

Should make for an interesting college football season in western New York, assuming Paulus gets to take some snaps. Heck, Beathard will probably be wishing he could draft him.

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