DeCock

Paulus keeps us tuned in

Staff WriterAugust 20, 2009 

Only Greg Paulus knows whether he is in over his head, but whatever happens, watching the former Duke point guard try to play quarterback at the Division I level after one summer of preparation should be nothing short of compelling.

Three months and one day after Paulus graduated from Duke, he was named the starting quarterback at Syracuse on Monday, inaugurating one of the more interesting experiments in college sports in recent memory: Can a player who left football behind to play basketball recast himself at the position he spurned after four years away from the game?

Paulus finished his basketball career at Duke coming off the bench, not exactly what was expected when he arrived on campus as the next great Blue Devils point guard. By his senior year, he was largely a role player, with the notable exception of a stretch in February when he almost single-handedly rallied the Devils from doldrums that threatened to stymie their season.

Now he gets a chance to be the All-American quarterback he was in high school in Syracuse, when he was as heralded as a football player as he was as a basketball player -- the Gatorade national player of the year, even.

"I have two passions when it comes to playing sports, and having the opportunity to do those at the highest level, in the ACC and the Big East, is very unique," Paulus said Wednesday. "I understand that. But when I made that decision, I made it for myself.

"I made a well-informed and educated decision after gathering information, and my heart and my passion was to play football and to get my master's degree. ... To have all of those things and hopefully accomplish some of my goals was something that was very appealing, along with the challenge of it."

Any number of basketball players have become dangerous tight ends after leaving football behind -- most notably Antonio Gates, and Jimmy Graham will give it a try at Miami this season -- but quarterback is another animal entirely. Paulus hadn't picked up a playbook in four years before this summer. Now he'll be expected to make split-second decisions just as if he had never put one down.

It's a tremendous challenge, because the depth of knowledge involved makes it a no-lose situation for everyone involved.

Paulus beat out redshirt freshman Ryan Nassib and true freshman Charley Loeb, and he gives first-year Syracuse coach Doug Marrone a one-season grace period to develop them. If a few hometown kids want to follow Paulus' lead and wear orange, all the better. If it doesn't work out, no one will hold it against Paulus. If it does, scratching that football itch will never have been so satisfying.

"To have an opportunity to help build this program and point it in the right direction is something I wanted to be a part of," Paulus said.

He has made it this far, but no one knows if Paulus can pull it off. He's certainly the kind of kid who relishes giving it a try.

Whether weathering his demotion from Duke's starting lineup as a senior with quiet dignity or walking over to shake Dick Vitale's hand at the ACC Tournament to thank him for four years of coverage, Paulus has always shown a little more perspective than the average college athlete.

At the same time, even though his arm-waving and floor-slapping antics often seemed to rile up the opposition as much as his teammates or the Cameron crowd, there was a sense Paulus was playing a role, and knew it, and loved it.

This audacious attempt to become a Division I quarterback over the course of a summer is entirely within character.

Whatever happens -- and even if he had been practicing for four years, Paulus would be up against it starting for a team that went 3-9 last year -- there's no doubting Paulus' ambition. Even those who weren't fans of Paulus at Duke may find this a story worth following.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8947

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