first_img Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on September 1, 2010 at 12:00 pmcenter_img Here was vindication. Here was transparency, thrill — gushing, even — from Doug Marrone. Here was confirmation, Round 2. ‘Ryan Nassib,’ Marrone started, ‘I’m impressed by not only his play, but his leadership and command of the offense. We’re excited about where he is going into the season with him as our No. 1 quarterback.’ And with that, the second day into preseason camp this August, Nassib’s journey to the starting position came to a close — again. Just like that. It had been expected, sure. And Marrone had offered hints throughout the spring, all the while verbally dancing around a definitive answer and leaving the door thisfar open. Then again, Marrone’s first proclamation seemed definitive, too. And it was quick. Four spring practices. That’s all Marrone needed to name Nassib his starter last season. Of course, ‘some guy named Paulus, or something, came in,’ jokes Gamp Pellegrini, Nassib’s high school coach at Malvern (Pa.) Prep, and shook up Nassib’s plans. Almost 500 days later, Nassib found himself back where he started. Here he was again. Physically drained from the third day of camp. Mentally drained from a year and a half of ups and downs.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text And when he learned of Marrone’s comments, he perked up. ‘Oh, wow,’ Nassib said. ‘I hadn’t heard he said that. Man, it feels good. You’re told not to think about it, but it’s definitely a little monkey off your back to know you’ve got your coach behind you. It’s a pretty good feeling.’ ‘Oh, that must be him’ The scene, Nassib admits, should have been awkward. ‘I remember him walking into the locker room,’ Nassib said. ‘I didn’t really know what he looked like, but then when I saw him and everyone around him, I was like, ‘Oh, that must be him.” Him — the one most of the Syracuse locker room flocked to last summer, in awe of celebrity — was Greg Paulus.   Nassib’s honeymoon was over. A quarterback competition began. It was a competition that, eventually, Nassib would lose. Marrone, who has been one to make quick decisions with quarterbacks, named Paulus the starter after just one week of preseason camp, relegating Nassib to the bench. Nassib shrugged it off. ‘It happens,’ he thought. And he used it as an opportunity. An opportunity to learn the offense for another year. An opportunity to study the ups and downs of Greg Paulus, from his good accuracy to the mental lapses of a 23-year-old quarterback who was still inexperienced. And an opportunity to gain game experience in various packages of Marrone’s offense last season. ‘It’s tough to have something like that happen when it’s so important and you worked so hard for it and then someone else won it out,’ said Charley Loeb, SU’s current backup quarterback behind Nassib. ‘But that’s how it goes sometimes. I think Ryan did his job phenomenally last year. I think he handled the situation really well, even though it didn’t turn out how he wanted it to.’ To current and former players alike, Nassib’s demotion was a surprise. A quick decision from Marrone that had many members of the team skeptical, said Donte Davis, a former Orange receiver who transferred to Hampton at the end of last season. Working with the first-team offense, Davis had seen almost unlimited potential from Nassib as an unknown redshirt in 2008, when as a member of the scout team he would repeatedly torch the first-team defense. ‘From that point on, all the talk was, ‘OK, next year when he’s able to play, he’s going to be pretty damn good,” Davis said. ‘He had a great arm and a great feel for the game. That whole offseason going toward the spring, I remember Ryan was one of the hardest workers on the team.’ Then Davis saw Nassib that winter, looking like a player hungry for a quarterback spot that was suddenly wide open with a new coach and a new system. He saw a quarterback. The first time Syracuse ran its two-minute drill that spring, Nassib drove the offense down the field in three plays. He saw a leader. One day during winter conditioning, in sub-freezing conditions, Nassib finished strong on the last sprint of the day. ‘Give me some more!’ he yelled. ‘We want to run more!’ To Davis, it was simple. Not only was Nassib in charge, but he was also a quarterback that had excelled in the system in the spring and established a rapport with his receivers. Davis said a large contingent of current veterans felt the same way. ‘Most definitely, we thought he should have been the guy starting against Minnesota since the spring,’ Davis said. ‘Coach Marrone wanted to do something different, I guess. He had different plans. Ryan was the better fit. He was ready to play. Greg — it wasn’t like he wasn’t good enough, but it was him coming on after not playing football for four years. Ryan had a clear advantage over him. Ryan was closer to the receivers and to the team, and he proved himself during the spring. I feel like he should have had the starting job.’ Still, Davis never saw any adverse reaction from Nassib toward Marrone or Paulus. Day after day, Nassib prepared just like he always had. He still made the throws that drew a wide mouth from Davis and still went about taking an active role in the team. The only thing that had changed was his position on the depth chart. And Nassib himself still doesn’t question Marrone’s decision. Though admittedly ‘bummed’ about the situation, Nassib took it in stride. ‘I trusted in Coach’s decision, and whatever he wanted me to do I was going to do,’ Nassib said. ‘Whatever role he wanted me to have, I was going to take on.’ Nassib’s cerebral attitude is a description that’s echoed by everyone — including Paulus. Paulus didn’t know what to expect from Nassib after he was named starter. Sometimes, competition brings out the best in people. Sometimes the worst. But Paulus never felt awkward, even if all the symptoms were there. On the first day, Nassib was working with Paulus and helping him learn the system, no different than before. ‘It would be a natural thing where, on some teams, you wouldn’t help out your teammate,’ Paulus said. ‘Some guys wouldn’t do that. But Ryan reached out to me. ‘Anything I can do for you? Need help learning anything?’ That’s the type of guy he is, and those are the types of guys you want to play with.’ Part of the reason Nassib took the transition so well, in fact, was that he had been there before. ‘Oh, that’s Nassib‘ Flash back to the fall of 2004. The name of a kid — Nassib — a freshman at Malvern Prep, is already making its way up to head varsity coach Gamp Pellegrini. He zings throws into tight spots with ease. He can throw the ball 70 yards. He picks up the system with ease. He forces a fellow freshman quarterback, Nolan Kearney, to transfer to nearby Downingtown High, knowing that he’ll never get a chance to start at Malvern. Ian Mitchell, then a junior quarterback slated to be the starter at Malvern in 2006, first notices the kid when partaking in the tradition of the varsity team watching the freshman team’s games. Mitchell sees the kid tower over his high school-skinny offensive linemen. Mitchell sees a quarterback. There’s the time when Nassib flung a 15- or 20-yard out pattern for a touchdown with ‘unbelievable’ precision. He sees a leader. After that same touchdown, Mitchell remembers the first thing Nassib did. Cerebral as always, he walked to the sideline and thanked his offensive line. Another quarterback might run up and hug his wide receiver in the end zone. But not Nassib. ‘Who is this kid?’ Mitchell asks a teammate. ‘Oh, that’s Nassib.’ And so, a quarterback competition is born the following year. Nassib impresses in camp, to the point where former teammate and running back Chris Layne says he should have started. But Mitchell is no slouch. He’ll go on to set multiple program records at Division-III Dickinson College. Eventually, experience and familiarity with the offense wins out, as Pellegrini chooses Mitchell for the job.   And Nassib doesn’t complain. He studies Mitchell, a scrambler. At the beginning of the year, he is worried about memorizing routes and checks. At the end, he is learning little intricacies like protection schemes. ‘He wanted to start sophomore year,’ said Phil Congialdi, a former linebacker at Malvern who was a co-captain with Nassib and Layne. ‘But he just took all the advice and the experience that the quarterback in front of him — being either Paulus or Mitchell — he took what they said and absorbed everything he saw from what they did right and what they did wrong.’ So Nassib waits and bides his time. There are little lessons he picks up along the way that he takes with him, that make him a better quarterback. There was the first day of camp in 2006, when Mitchell had departed and Nassib was the unquestioned starter. Still, as Pellegrini showed up to camp, Nassib was the first one he remembers seeing. And there was the time Malvern was supposed to kill Episcopal Academy. They were down by at least two touchdowns at halftime, Congialdi recalls, and players from both sides of the field pointed fingers at each other in blame. Not Nassib. No, Nassib, always cerebral, calmed everyone down. Come the second half, he was poised, throwing two long touchdowns and leading Malvern back, keeping his team undefeated. ‘One thing I saw at Malvern his sophomore year was that even though he was willing to take the backup role and willing to learn, he was always itching to play,’ Mitchell said. ‘And I feel like he was probably itching to play a lot last year when Paulus was the starter. It was the same situation. That willingness to just be a great quarterback and put everything on the line is going to turn him into a great Division-I quarterback.’ ‘The first guy I spoke to’ After every possession last season, whether it ended in a touchdown, interception or a three-and-out, Greg Paulus would stroll to the sidelines, looking for the same person. Not a player that was on the field with him. Not then-offensive coordinator Rob Spence. Not even Doug Marrone. He would look for Ryan Nassib. ‘It happened after every possession,’ Paulus said. ‘He was the first guy I usually spoke to. ‘‘Hey, what’d you see?’ He’d say, ‘This cornerback was off. This linebacker was blitzing. This guy was dropping.’ He was always the first guy I’d talk to, just to see what he saw. Then I’d get on the phone and try to figure out different ways to combat what the defense was doing.’ The maturation of Nassib continued through a season as Paulus’ backup. Nassib and Paulus bounced ideas off each other, corrected each other, made suggestions after each series in practice and in games, even roomed together on each of SU’s road trips. Over time, Nassib realized he and Paulus were more similar than meets the eye. Nearly four years separate the two signal callers. But to Nassib, he and Paulus were both freshmen on the field, as Nassib got his first taste of more than the scout team and Paulus got his first taste of football since high school. So while Nassib took notice of Paulus’ strengths — his accuracy and his locker room management — he also noticed the weaknesses, the ‘freshman mistakes’ from a fifth-year player. ‘He was a five-year college guy,’ Nassib said of Paulus, ‘but he was a freshman on the field. He hadn’t played football in a while. … It’s no different than any other freshman. There are freshman mistakes. There are growing pains that really any quarterback thrown in that young and inexperienced has to go through.’ And Nassib got experience. Marrone placed him in certain offensive sets, believing Nassib was a better fit for certain packages. He played against Big Ten foes Minnesota and Northwestern. He got experience versus the upper echelon of the Big East against West Virginia. He was placed in a hostile road environment at Penn State. And when he came off the field, Paulus would seek him out. ‘I think us being together allowed him to see the preparation, allowed him to really understand that you can always push yourself and you can always stretch your limits,’ Paulus said. ‘I’m hoping that I did teach him a lot, whether that was how to handle a little bit of adversity or some time of leadership or something I did that might help him down the road. … I think that we will see a more confident Ryan Nassib coming into this year.’ Just like he had once before, Nassib attempted to carry the lessons learned into the offseason. His summer was spent in Syracuse, learning a somewhat altered playbook with the arrival of new quarterbacks coach and offensive play caller Nathaniel Hackett, to the point where, already, Nassib corrects Hackett on the most specific elements of certain plays. He filled his body out through long days in the gym, to the point where running back Antwon Bailey saw strength and conditioning coach Will Hicks telling Nassib to go home. He organized captain practices with his wide receivers and defensive backs, so routes and timing would be second nature come camp. Last year, Nassib was a first-year full of jitters. This year, no more. With Paulus gone, it was his turn. And he wasn’t taking any chances. ‘I think we’ve got a great chance of being a very, very good team here,’ Hackett said. ‘And it’s going to start, and end, with Ryan. So he’s got to be the guy that has to get it going and play. He understands the pressure that’s there. That’s what that position asks for. It’s a high-pressure position, and he loves it. He’s wrapped his arms around it, and he’s running with it.’                     ••• The game of football, Nassib has noticed, has a tendency to weave elements together to create a whole. Play calls, audibles of ‘Red 80!’ ‘Red 80!’ blocking, route running and throws come together to create a pass play. Plays come together to create the outcome of games. Games come together to create seasons. And experiences come together to create the player — the Ryan Nassib preparing for his first start at Akron. Experiences from his time bided at Malvern to his time bided behind Paulus, all the way to the monkey off his back, the exhale, as Marrone sang his praises. ‘I love how everything intertwines,’ Nassib said. ‘Pay attention to everything. It all just comes together.’ bplogiur@syr.edulast_img

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