Clovis News: Sports

Ex-prep QBs take different paths on Pac-10 teams

There are two distinct ways to develop a quarterback.

The college careers of two former Clovis West High stars, Jeff Tuel and Beau Sweeney, just might determine which method is best.

Both freshmen at Pac-10 programs, Tuel and Sweeney exchanged handshakes and hugs Saturday in the aftermath of Cal's 49-17 win against Washington State this past Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Then, Tuel and Sweeney went in opposite directions.

It's still to be determined if their careers will, too.

"It was good seeing him," Tuel said outside the locker room after the game. "I hope the best for him, and I know he wishes the best for me."

This much is known: Tuel, a true freshman at Washington State, and Sweeney, a redshirt freshman at Cal, already are on different paths. Both are trying to reach stardom but face their own set of challenges.

Tuel's time is now as the starting quarterback and the centerpiece of the Cougars' rebuilding efforts. As a trade-off, though, losing is a near-certainty. Washington State is 1-6 overall and last in the Pac-10 at 0-5.

Sweeney's time is later, serving as the primary backup but knowing he could be the face of the Bears' next Pac-10 title run. For now, he's mostly a nonfactor having played in three of seven games, all in mop-up duty.

Tuel learns through trial and error. Sweeney learns through film studies and watching from the sideline.

Tuel endures wear and tear, and blood and mud on his jersey. Sweeney's body and uniform stay pristine.

What's the preferred process to develop a quarterback?

Most players favor playing immediately.

Tuel, for one, didn't hesitate when asked which way was better.

"This is one of the best ways to learn, getting thrown into the fire and getting back on the saddle and taking strides," Tuel said. "When bullets fly at you, that's when you make the plays. That's when you learn the most."

Coaches are typically more cautious and try to ease a player's development, when possible.

A bad experience, after all, could stunt a player's confidence, and limit the team's short- and long-term success.

"You don't want to put somebody out there before they're ready," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford, a former player and assistant at Fresno State. "It could be detrimental if he has no success."

Coach Paul Wulff, in his second season at Washington State, offered a similar sentiment.

"It could be detrimental if he's over his head and not capable of understanding what he's doing," Wulff said. "It could scar him."

But Wulff also said he had faith that Tuel could handle the responsibilities and pressure. He also had little choice after the Cougars' first two quarterbacks this season failed.

The 6-foot-3, 207-pound Tuel has started the past three games and had his best outing yet against Cal.

With a healthier line protecting him and a young receiving corps that's trying to mature just as fast as the quarterback, Tuel threw for 354 yards and two touchdowns.

"He's a young guy [who's] going to go through growing pains," Cougars receiver Gino Simone said. "But as you can see, he's a tremendous quarterback, a tremendous leader and a guy who's going to take us back to the top."

Each week, Washington State opens up more of its playbook for Tuel, cautious not to overload the freshman but also confident that he can learn things quickly.

Last week, Tuel worked more out of shotgun formations and ran some pistol offense to take advantage of his mobility.

"We did some things that fit his talents," Wulff said. "As we continue to grow with him and our receiving corps, and our line, there's no reason whatsoever we won't take big steps forward."

Sweeney's development is less obvious, limited to practice evaluations since he's hardly in games.

The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Sweeney did move up from the No. 3 spot on the depth chart to No. 2 behind junior starter Kevin Riley earlier this month.

"He's done really well, a nice job for a redshirt freshman," Tedford said. "He's competitive and throws well. He's done a nice job comprehending what we're doing on offense. He's about where I expected ... and we expected him to be faster than most."

Sweeney, who declined to be interviewed, got to play against Washington State and appeared to relish the opportunity.

Entering with 5:17 remaining and Cal holding a 32-point lead, Sweeney received loud applause from Bears fans.

He drove the Bears 60 yards, including 21 yards on 3-of-3 passing, before kneeling to end the game.

For the season, Sweeney has completed 5 of 9 passes for 45 yards. He's yet to throw a touchdown.

In four games, Tuel is 54 of 88 for 662 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

But it may be two or three seasons from now before they can really be judged.

"Every quarterback is going to handle situations differently," Washington State offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said. "What you want to do is always try to put him in situations to be successful. From there, it's up to him and his teammates."