Freshman QB Tom Savage ready for Rutgers opener

Updated: September 4, 2009, 4:29 AM ET
Associated Press

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Tom Savage has spent more than a year carrying a burden into his first game at Rutgers.

The freshman has been the heir apparent at quarterback for the Scarlet Knights since committing to the program in April 2008, before his senior year in high school.

Now it's showtime.

Heading into Monday's season opener against defending Big East Conference champion Cincinnati, there is no guarantee that Savage will start, let alone play, against the Bearcats.

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has refused to name a starter, insisting the position will be handled by fifth-year seniors Dom Natale or Jabu Lovelace -- or Savage.

"I am going out there and working hard and it's up to the coaches right now," Savage said after practice on Thursday. "I am just trying to learn from the older guys. When it's my time, it's my time. Right now, whatever helps the team win."

Savage has come a long way since training camp opened more than a month ago. His arm is strong and he's poised.

During a drill late in practice on Thursday, he threaded a pass between two defenders to a receiver on a crossing pattern.

It didn't surprise Schiano, who is trying to find someone to replace Mike Teel. The coach even took the extraordinary step of taking the protective green jerseys off his quarterbacks and making them feel a live pass rush in training camp.

"I would not have been able to tell you that Tom Savage has a very unique ability to keep his eyes down the field while everything is breaking down around him unless we did it live," Schiano said.

Savage smiled about the drill.

"I think it helped because when you go against our defense you are going against one of the best defenses in the country," Savage said. "It didn't feel good, but it helped. Now I'm used to the college contact. It's not like high school any more."

Savage, of Springfield, Pa., was a three-year starter at Cardinal O'Hara High School. He threw for more than 4,000 yards in his career, with 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns coming in his senior year.

"Of course I feel ready because I am a competitor," Savage said. "But like I said, it's up to the coach. Whenever he feels I'm ready, that's when it is."

Savage laughs about the hype over his future.

"I don't pay any attention to that," he said. "I just wanted to go out there and do what I had to do to help the team. My parents always took that stuff away from me, and I just tried to veer away from that."

Schiano has said repeatedly that Savage is more advanced in reading defenses and picking up blitzes than any freshman quarterback he has coached.

"He's improved," Schiano said. "Really, a fun guy to coach. Don't know if he's ready yet. I think we're going to find that out."

With less than four days to kickoff, Savage feels confident that he knows the playbook. He plans to watch game film and talk to Natale and Lovelace in the days leading up to the game.

"I get butterflies every day I wake up, just going out there," Savage said. "Even when they call my name out in practice, I get a little nervous. Once you get the first throw out of the way and get the hang of it, you just go for it."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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