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September 09, 2004 - Image 22

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46 - The Michigan Daily - Kickoff 2004 - Thursday, September 9, 2004

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The Michigan Daily - Kickoff 2004

'Where's the pressure?'
Matt Gutierrez has shown great poise in high-stress situations
By Gennaro Filice " Daily Sports Editor

TMD 's

National

Outlo

HEISMAN WATCH

TITLE CONTENI

n a mid-August dog day of summer, the scene in
Michigan's lockerroom resembles an awkward
cet-and-greet, something similar to fraternity
rush. A majority group of sports writers pins a minor-
ity group of players --who are sporting their home
uniforms for an impending team picture - against
their lockers. Intros and inquiries occur at a torrid
pace. Every media member seems content with his or
her respective discussion until a stalwart man with a
shaved head and No. 12 jersey enters the room.
Although Lloyd Carr has yet to name a starting
quarterback at this point, the media on this day has
come to the conclusion that Gutierrez could start the
season as Michigan's No. I signal caller.
Interviews around the room abruptly end, and a
cornucopia of recorders quickly find a place a few
inches in front of Gutierrez's goatee. The redshirt
sophomore fields a series of token questions with
series of token answers:
"We have a great offensive line, great group of
receivers and a great group of running backs that are
all going to play hard ..."
"There's great chemistry, great relationships
between all of us (quarterbacks)...."
"Everything's earned here, nothing's given away
here at Michigan ..."
Then a reporter asks the 20-year-old if he's ready
to handle all of the pressures that come along with
playing quarterback for the Wolverines.
Gutierrez's answer is truthful and very far from
ordinary:
"Where's the pressure? This is a game. I'm just out
here playing, having a good time."
Where s the pressure?'
Being a role that seemingly defines pressure in
sports, the quarterback position has never drawn so
much comfort. But Gutierrez's coziness didn't come
overnight. It came after he put in years of hard work.
It came after he posted a 38-0 record in high school.
And it came after he dedicated himself to football at
a very young age.
"(Matt's) always been a student of the game,
always watched on TV with me," Matt's father, Paul,
said. "When he was three years old, he could name
all the N FL teams by looking at their helmets."
One NFL helmet stood out above the others.
Gutierrez, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay
area suburb of Concord, closely followed the play of
Joe Montana - one of the finest high-pressure play-
ers ever - and the rest of the 49ers.
But Matt's favorite football team played on Fri-
days, not Sundays. Following the exploits of a fam-
ily friend, the Gutierrez's began attending De La
Salle high school football games when Matt was 6
years old. The star player for the Spartans at the time
was former Wolverine and current New York Giant
Amani Toomer.
Gutierrez became a huge fan of the program and
made it his goal to play there one day.
"I would just use it to motivate him," Paul said. "To
tell him that if he kept his grades up and stayed out of
trouble and continued to do well that, when it came
time, we'd apply and if he got excepted, we would
do it."
Gutierrez began playing organized tackle foot-
ball at the age of 9 and started a trend of competing
against advanced players.
"He always had to play with older kids, actually
like two, three years older than him because he was
bigger than kids his own age," Paul said.
But Gutierrez's athleticism wasn't unique to the
gridiron. He also excelled in skiing, basketball and
baseball. Tennessee star linebacker Kevin Simon,
Gutierrez's teammate at De La Salle, remembers first
meeting his good friend on the diamond.
"He was on a rival team because we were the two
best teams in our pony league," Simon said. "His

what he's doing. I think that we got that from De La
Salle. It's just the mentality that they instilled in us.
When it came to choosing a college, Gutierrez -
who has interest in a business career -really looked
at academics.
"Some of his goals were of course to go to a good
school first, where he could get a degree that really
meant something," Paul said.
Of course obviously football also had a big influ-
ence on his decision.
"He wanted to play in a big program on a big stage,
especially in a Big Ten atmosphere," Paul said. "He
really liked the crowds and the support that they give
in the Big Ten schools, even more so than Pac-10
schools."
Feeling very confident that Michigan was the right
spot for him, Gutierrez looked to some Wolverine
alums for reassurance. He contacted Toomer, who
also attended De La Salle, and Tom Brady, whose
uncle is an administrator at De La Salle.
Gutierrez redshirted his freshman year and served
last year as John Navarre's backup, going 13-19 with
153 yards and one touchdown. Gutierrez says that he
learned "everything" from Navarre:
"John's a great player, great person. He showed a
lot of poise last year in times when we were behind,
and I just really appreciate the opportunity I had to
learn from him"
With Navarre's graduation, Gutierrez worked
through the summer knowing that he would have
to compete with redshirt freshman Clayton Richard
and incoming freshman Chad Henne.
"It's summertime - people are relaxing," Braylon
Edwards said. "I wasn't waking up until two. He's
waking up at 6:30 every morning, getting it done. So
you have to respect that. That lets you know right off
the bat that this guy is serious."
When he wasn't working out, practicing or watch-
ing film, Gutierrez was busy getting to know his
teammates better off the field - something his pre-
decessor never really did.
"Navarre was one of those guys who was a great
leader, but it was him and that's it," Edwards said.
"He related to himself and a couple people that he
stayed with. Gutierrez branches off, he's a smart
quarterback. One night, he'll be with myself and
Marlin - eating at a restaurant or chillin' at the
house. The next night he'll be at Dave Baas's house,
shooting some golf.
"In order to gain the leadership role that he has to
fulfill, he has to network with everybody."
On the Monday before Michigan's first game
against Miami (Ohio), Lloyd Carr announced that
Gutierrez would be Michigan's starter. But, a few
days later, a sore shoulder caused Carr to go with
Henne. Although upset that he couldn't compete last
Saturday, Gutierrez fully supported the players on
the field, especially Henne.
. "That's one thing about Matt that you will begin to
realize - that he's a beautiful person," Edwards said.
"When he was not the starter today, I talked to him
and I wanted to see where his head was and make
sure that he was ok because sometimes that can have
a negative effect on the team and himself. But he was
happy for Chad to start. Matt is one of those guys that
is a true Michigan man. All he wants is for the team
to win."
Henne is the team's official starter right now, but
Gutierrez and Richard continue to battle from close
behind. It looks as though the quarterback position
will be hotly contested for years to come.
A stiff position battle can make or break a young
quarterback. But it's hard to imagine that Gutierrez
will crumble under strain.
After all
Where's the pressure?

Matt Leinart, QB,
Southern Cal.
WHY HE'LL WIN: Leinart was spectac-
ular in his first year as a starter last fall
with 38 touchdowns and just nine inter-
ceptions. The Trojans' running game is
loaded, so defenses can't lock in on the
pass. Southern Cal's defense is one of
the nation's best, meaning Leinart will
have the ball in his hands plenty.
WHY HE WON'T: The NCAA denied
Mike Williams' attempt at rein-
statement, and none of the
other Southern Cal receivers
appear to have stepped up
as of yet. Case in point is
the fact that running back
Reggie Bush had almost
twice as many receiving
yards than any wide receivers
in the Trojans' opener.
OUR CALL: As much as
Michigan fans might hate to
hear it, Leinart is probably the
favorite to win this thing.
USC has a seemingly easy
schedule, mean-
ing Leinart

son has moved on. That means every-
one will be locked on to Sproles and
defenses will stack up to stop him.
OUR CALL: Sproles will put up some
big numbers, but Roberson's departure
puts more heat on the running back
- probably too much heat for him to
win the Heisman.

David
Green,

QB,
Georgia

WHYi HiE'LL WIN:
The Bulldogs have a
chance to be good-
real good. And, typically,
the best player on the best
team gets into the Heis-
man chase. Greene will
get a chance to throw
the ball, and the Bulldogs
will put up points. He's
on the verge of several
career passing records
at Georgia.

Oklahoma Sooners
WHY THEY'LL WIN: The Soon-
ers usually feature a dominating
defense, but this year their offense,
which averaged 42.9 points last year
and returns eight starters, will carry
them. They have Heisman winner
Jason White, one of the nation's top
receivers in Mark Clayton and two
dominant backs in Kejuan Jones and
Adrian Peterson.
WHY THEY WON'T: They say that
last year's devastating finish fueled
them during the summer. Before
ending the season with two losses,
they were being compared with the
greatest teams of all time. Then sud-
denly, they looked totally lost.
OUR CALL: To win the national
title, the Sooners must beat Texas,
Kansas State and Nebraska, and then
win the Big XII title game. They're
so overwhelming, they can do it.
Southern Cal Trojans
WHY THEY'LL WIN: It's possible
that the Trojans have already cleared
their biggest obstacle in Virginia
Tech. The only remaining battles are
Cal at home and, perhaps, Oregon
State on the road. Their defense is
fast, and on offense they have Heis-
man-candidate Matt L'einart and
three top running backs.
WHY THEY WON'T: For the sec-
ond consecutive year, the Trojans
lost a ton of talent. It made little
difference last year, but this time
around they may not be so fortu-
nate. Southern Cal. has lost both
of last year's starting receivers
and four-fifths of its offensive
line.
OUR CALL: Southern Cal. had
better run the table or face the
risk of being left out for the sec-
ond consecutive year. Despite the
loss of receiver Mike Williams,
the Trojans will be fine. They'll
cruise to the title game, but their
inexperience will haunt them.

LSU Tigers
WHY THEY'LL WILN: As long as Nic
Saban is their coach, the Tigers wi
have an excellent defense. Last seaso
they faced talented quarterbacks lik
Georgia's David Greene,
Ole Miss's Eli Manning
and Oklahoma's Jason
White week after
week and shut
them all down.
WHY THEY
WON'T: Their
lucky win at
home against
Oregon State sure
wasn't a good sign.
They were fortunate
to come out of the ultra-
deep SEC with one loss
last year, and it would be a
miracle if they can repeat
that feat this year. LSU
has a month stretch when
it will travel to Auburn,
Georgia and Florida.
OUR CALL: The
Tigers are still good,
but they don't know
who their quarter- -
back will
be. The
entire
SEC is

should clean up.

Jason
Oklahoma

White, QB,

claim to fame is that he threw me out stealing.
"That's when our relationship started and then,
when I found out he was coming to De La Salle, we
just became better friends."
At De La Salle, Gutierrez narrowed his athletic
agenda down to football and basketball. .
He got his first taste of varsity sports in the winter
of his freshman year, playing the second half of the
basketball season on the big squad.
One year later, Gutierrez became the first sopho-
more quarterback ever to start at De La Salle and
the first sophomore team captain ever. Although his
15-year-old son was taking the reigns of a team that
hadn't lost since 1991 (something which was true
until last Saturday when the Spartans' streak ended
at 151 straight wins with a 39-20 loss to Washington's
Bellevue High School), Paul said Matt was never
nervous.
"I know it was real exciting for him, but he was
never in awe of it or overwhelmed by it," Paul Gutier-
rez said. "He kind of took it naturally."
Legendary Spartans coach Bob Ladouceur said
Matt was mature beyond his years.
"He was always like working with a college kid,"
Ladouceur said. "I was amazed.
"He played his best in the toughest games."
Gutierrez's big game ability became evident right
off the bat.
In Gutierrez's third career start, De La Salle
stomped Southern California powerhouse Mater Dei
- a team that featured current Southern Cal. start-
ing quarterback Matt Leinart and starting linebacker

TONY DING/Daily
Matt Grootegoed -42-0. Gutierrez connected on 15
of 22 passes for 300 yards and six touchdowns.
"That was kind of his breakout to the national
scene," Paul said.
Gutierrez never lost a game in high school, leading
De La Salle to three straight North Coast Sectional
titles (California does not have a state championship)
and two USA Today Super 25 national titles. Guti-
errez's most impressive win may have come against
in his senior season against Long Beach Poly, USA
Today's No. 1 team at the time. Even though Poly
eventually sent 24 players from this team to Divi-
sion I schools, Gutierrez and the Spartans - who
were No. 2 in the USA Today poll - prevailed 29-
15. Although Poly was the favorite, Gutierrez never
doubted his team.
"He told me that they were going to beat them even
though everybody else thought that they would lose,"
Paul Gutierrez said. "I'm a realist and I'm looking
at the talent on their roster, I'm just saying, 'I don't
know Matt. But hey, if you're confident, then I'm all
behind you.'"
While compiling his undefeated mark in high
school, Gutierrez never had any trouble getting any-
one behind him.
"He's got a winner's mentality," Ladouceur said.
"He's just a great leader - he'll rally your team. You
have confidence in him."
Simon believes that Ladouceur's teachings are
responsible for Gutierrez's intense demeanor.
"When it comes to football, he don't mess around,"
Simon said. "It's all business-he's real serious about

WHY HE'LL wIN: Well, if experience
is the key, White has no competition
- it seems like he's been at Oklahoma
since the forward pass was invented.
And he won the award last year. The
Sooners -return most of their starters
from last year, meaning White's look-
ing at another year of ridiculous offen-
sive numbers.
WHY HE WON'T: White is about as
brittle as a Saltine - he's had recon-
structive surgery on both knees and
is always a threat to go down with a
season-ending injury. Plus, it's almost
unheard of to win the award twice.
OUR CALL: The odds that White will
get hurt are probably better than the
odds that he'll repeat as Heisman win-
ner ... but it'll be next-to-impossible to
slow the Sooners' offense. If he stays
healthy (IF!), he'll be a finalist.

IW
WHY HE WON'T: It's
unclear how good Greene actually is. He
had 22 touchdowns and eight intercep-
tions in his sophomore year, but came
back with a miserable 13 touchdowns
and 11 picks last year. Plus he banged
up his knee last season, leading to the
paltry numbers, and it's always possible
that injury could flair up.
OUR CALL: Greene's not going to
win. He might be a contender if he stays
healthy and Georgia keeps winning, but
White and Leinart will put up way bet-
ter numbers, so Greene is on the outside
looking in.

HIUORLIVI[FYI[ -----" N
n I .,

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Darren Sproles,
Kansas State

RB,

WHY HE'LL WIN: He legitimately
could have won it last year - he had
1,986 rushing yards are' 18 total touch-
downs - so the voters will probably
have that effort in mind. Plus, he's the
only true threat on the Wildcats' offense
now that do-everything quarterback Ell
Roberson has moved on.
WHY HE WON'T: He's the only true
threat on the Wildcats' offense now that
do-everything quarterback Ell Rober-

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