Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Start to Remember For Stanford's Tavita Pritchard

Last summer, David Pritchard had a message for his family about the Stanford quarterback situation. He informed them that redshirt freshman Andrew Luck would supplant Tavita Pritchard as the starter.

"We're going to be positive," the father told Tavita's seven brothers and sisters.

"We're going to be supportive of the program and of Andrew."

After starting 19 games for the Cardinal, Tavita also embraced the message.

He became a dutiful backup by helping Luck make a smooth transition to college football.

Along the way Pritchard, 22, gained respect and admiration from teammates and coaches. But now the fifth-year senior gets what he really wanted: One more chance to start.

Pritchard will line up behind center in his final college game Thursday when Stanford plays Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. He has been called into service because Luck broke the index finger on his throwing hand last month against Notre Dame.

"The fact he gets to end his career with a start is a little blessing," David said just before driving a van filled with 10 family members from Palo Alto to El Paso.

Pritchard might have lost his spot on the field as Stanford reached its first bowl since 2001, but he never lost teammates' confidence in him, because he didn't let personal disappointments spill into the locker room.

"No matter how this season has gone, or how my career here has gone, I wouldn't trade this experience for the world," Pritchard said.
Coach Jim Harbaugh, an NFL quarterback for 15 seasons, understood how the backup felt.

"Every quarterback worth their salt wants to play, but there's only one ball," he said.

Stanford players showed their appreciation for his positive attitude by giving Pritchard a standing ovation at the team's end-of-the-year banquet this month. Now they're solidly behind him.

"He stepped in the first day of bowl practice, and it was like nothing had changed," center Chase Beeler said of the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Pritchard.

"Tavita just filled the quarterback and leadership role so well."

It has been that way since his famous debut as a sophomore two years ago.

Pritchard's first start came against No. 2 USC after T.C. Ostrander suffered a seizure. He led his team to one of the most stunning upsets in college football, a 24-23 victory over the 40-point favorite. Pritchard's 10-yard touchdown pass with 49 seconds left helped end the Trojans' 35-game winning streak at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The performance has been heralded as one of Stanford's greatest football moments. But it was too much to ask the quarterback to perform weekly miracles. Pritchard and Stanford won only two of the final seven games of the '07 season. Last season, he threw 13 interceptions and 10 touchdown passes as the Cardinal went 5-7.

That led to the quarterback change. Luck took over in the spring and won the starting job in fall camp. He hasn't proven his coaches wrong, forcing defenses to focus on the pass as much the run behind Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart.

Luck completed 56.3 percent of his passes and threw 13 touchdown passes and four interceptions. Pritchard, on the other hand, threw three passes in four games this season.

It has been the way Pritchard handled his frustrating circumstances that made his parents most proud. He never complained or showed signs of self pity. Pritchard just kept preparing to play, if needed.

"There's certainly a part of him that was disappointed, discouraged at times, wishing it was different," said his father, who was a center for Washington State.

As a former high school football coach in Lakewood, Wash., David preaches sportsmanship over winning to his eight children, including three boys who all play quarterback. But the Stanford situation this fall tested the family's values.

"We often as parents talk a good talk about the things that are most important in life," the father said. "Really for us, it was time to ask, 'What do we really believe?' Tavita did what he should have done. I'm glad he did the right thing."

Now Pritchard will have a chance to contribute much more.

"We're looking at this game like a playoff game," he said. "We didn't make it this far to go out and lose to Oklahoma."

Pritchard also has the chance to rediscover the magic of his debut two years ago.

"He's already made his name in history once," Gerhart said. "He can do it again.

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