Zips quarterback makes most of second chance

The ill will is gone, the regrets washed away, but the words still sound strange, considering the source.

"I wasn't sure what I was getting into," Luke Getsy said.

Wasn't sure?

Getsy is always sure of what he's getting into. He studies a football field like Gary Kasparov does a chessboard, familiarizing himself with every piece and every move before taking action.

Some quarterbacks get by with bionic arms and chutzpah. Getsy does it with preparation.

"You've got to be prepared for everything," he said. "If I move this way, I'll be able to make a play here or there. It's kind of an instinct thing, but if you don't know what's going on around you, bad things happen."

Getsy's instincts were telling him to leave Pittsburgh, his hometown school, after losing the starting quarterback job to Tyler Palko in September 2004. But he was hardly prepared for his next move.

He had never been to Akron. He didn't know much about the MAC. And because then-Pitt coach Walt Harris wouldn't release him from his scholarship, Getsy had to pay his own way.

The scholarship situation also prevented him from contacting other schools.

"I pretty much had to go on hearsay," he said.

He knew Akron coach J.D Brookhart, who had been Pitt's offensive coordinator during his first two years there. But as Getsy packed his bags, left his hometown behind and headed for Akron, sight unseen, he knew it was a leap of faith.

Turned out to be the best scramble this quarterback would ever make.

"I wouldn't trade my past for anything," he said. "I wouldn't trade the position I'm in now for anything."

Getsy's position is one that most Division I-A quarterbacks would trade their (non-throwing) arms for. The senior quarterback leads defending MAC champion Akron into the fall after throwing for 3,455 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2005.

In his first season as a starter, Getsy guided the Zips to their first ever league title and their first Division I-A bowl. And he finished with a flourish.

After propelling Akron on a last-minute touchdown drive to beat Northern Illinois in the MAC championship, he had 59 pass attempts and 455 passing yards in the Motor City Bowl, accounting for two of his 17 school records.

"He just needed to be granted his opportunity," Zips WR Jabari Arthur said. "He was born for that position."

Jim Pry first saw Getsy's potential in 2004, when the 6-foot-2 quarterback sat out in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.

Pry, then Akron's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, regularly reviewed film with Zips star quarterback Charlie Frye. Getsy attended every session, sitting next to Frye and absorbing an offense that one day would be his.

"They both studied the game hard," said Pry, now an assistant coach at Illinois. "Luke wanted to be good."

First, he had to be patient, and it wasn't always easy.

"I noticed him a lot of times when he wasn't eligible, Saturday mornings, maybe 45 minutes before the game," Pry said. "You could just see in his eyes that he wasn't real happy."

As he waited his turn, Getsy latched onto Frye. The two quarterbacks became fast friends.

"He's everything you want in a quarterback," Getsy said. "He loves this game and loves preparing for it. That's the way you've got to be. You've got to love to work at it. You've got to love preparing for it. That's why we got along so well."

Soon it was hard to tell them apart.

"They're very humble people, they don't like the attention," Brookhart said. "Heck, they even look alike with that short hair. Just very unsuspecting people."

Frye claimed 54 school records before moving up I-77 to the Cleveland Browns. He turned over the reins of Akron's offense to Getsy, but that wasn't all.

Getsy now occupies the house where Frye used to live with several other players.

"I got Charlie's old room," Getsy said.

"You could say the house holds a lot of tradition," Arthur said, laughing.

Getsy talked with Frye throughout the summer and hopes to attend a Browns game this season. There is a catch, though.

If Getsy shows up Nov. 19, he'll be cheering for another former MAC quarterback -- Ben Roethlisberger.

"I'm a die-hard Steelers fan," Getsy said. "I told [Frye] that I'd root for him 14 out of 16."

Getsy's wait to play finally ended Sept. 10, 2005, when he threw for 283 yards and two scores in Akron's season-opening loss to Purdue. The coming weeks brought good outings (406 yards, 5 TD in overtime win over NIU) and bad ones (1 INT in 20-0 loss to Army).

At times, Getsy tried to force big plays. When that predictably backfired, he returned to being "Mr. Efficient," Brookhart said. His late surge began Oct. 29 against Bowling Green and continued into the MAC championship.

Trailing 30-24 with 1:41 left, Getsy marched Akron downfield and hit Domenik Hixon for a 36-yard score with 10 seconds left.

"That guy moves around," Northern Illinois DE Ken West said. "I didn't know about him before last year, but he let me know who he was."

Added Huskies S Dustin Utschig: "Incredible arm strength, good in the clutch, good leader. He's everything you'd want in a quarterback."

Utschig's description sounds familiar.

"If you put two films on right now and you didn't know who Charlie Frye was and you didn't know who Luke was, you wouldn't be able to pick one from the other," Pry said.

One of Getsy's most gratifying moments came after the MAC championship, when he and Brookhart received a congratulatory letter from Harris, now Stanford's coach.

"We have a lot of respect for each other," Getsy said.

"Luke understands how much Walt gave him," Brookhart said. "We're men and we make our mistakes and don't handle things right. They worked it out and they're again on speaking terms, so that's good."

Getsy enters the fall with high expectations. He wants another MAC title and for Akron to make a statement nationally. The Zips get a chance right away with an opener at Penn State.

If all goes well, could Getsy become the next MAC quarterback playing on Sundays?

"Someone would be crazy not to give this kid a shot in the NFL," Brookhart said. "I've never been around one like this, who knows it the way he knows it and gets it and make decisions and sees things.

"The intangibles, he's off the chart."

Adam Rittenberg covers college football for the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald.