No one can rival a QB's to-do list

Updated: July 30, 2007, 12:22 PM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Back in the day, there was a U.S. Army slogan that boasted, "We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day."

It should be rewritten for today's college quarterback. They do more in a single play than most guys do all game. Consider this 30-second to-do list:

    1. Decipher hand signals from bench while ignoring the ringing in your ears from that hit on the previous play.

    2. Communicate play call in huddle to teammates in can-do, commanding voice.

    3. Break the huddle and peek at the play clock.

    4. Check your team's alignment while walking up under center.

    5. Check defensive alignment while calling signals.

    6. Call audible when you notice the middle linebacker creeping toward the line of scrimmage, just the way you saw him do during hours of film study that week.

    7. Peek at the play clock again.

    8. Hurry the hell up.

    9. Remember the snap count, and remember what each of your teammates is assigned to do.

    10. Take snap and drop back, noticing that the middle linebacker has dropped into coverage after all and your hot receiver is not open.

    11. Look for second receiver.

    12. Pray he's open.

    13. Maintain downfield vision. Do not -- repeat, do not -- let your eyes drop to ponder the snarling All-America rush end who just whipped your left tackle and is sprinting toward your face.

    14. Stick your back foot in the ground and stand tall, ignoring the imminent threat of physical harm.

    15. Deliver the football, channeling muscle memory from thousands of practice throws to get every mechanical detail right for maximum accuracy and velocity.

    16. Ignore the crunch of the rush end's helmet into your sternum.

    17. Ignore the thud of your back slamming into the turf with the rush end panting on top of you.

    18. Ignore the fact that he has knocked the wind so far out of you that, for an instant, you fear it might never come back.

    19. Roll over and find out whether your receiver caught the ball and made the first down.

    20. Get up and do it all over again in the next 30 seconds.

It's an action hero's set of job requirements. There is James Bond calm, Spock intelligence, Chuck Norris machismo and Clint Eastwood charisma packed into every play. And that's just the in-game to-do list.

Brian Brohm
Joe Robbins-US PRESSWIRE Louisville's Brian Brohm calls quarterback the most pressure-filled spot on any field.

Pregame, no player puts in more work studying the opposition and absorbing that week's game plan. Postgame, no player is held more accountable for what just happened.

You must explain to the media about the second-quarter interception and the fourth-quarter drive that stalled in the red zone. You must accept maximum responsibility for what didn't get done -- even if your line leaked all day and your split end dropped two key passes and your tailback went the wrong way on a toss sweep. You must share credit for what did get done -- even the stuff that wouldn't have happened if you hadn't made heroic plays. And in the locker room you must be the team leader -- even if your ribs ache and your psyche is bruised and you really just want to spend a secluded minute crying on your mom's shoulder.

But don't just take my 470 words for it. Listen to the guys who play the position and coach the position better than anyone else currently in the college game.

Cal coach Jeff Tedford: "I don't know of anything that's harder. I'm amazed at what these guys do sometimes. How they do what we ask them to do, mentally and physically, is pretty special."

Louisville QB Brian Brohm, a three-sport athlete in high school: "It's definitely the position in any sport with the most pressure, even more than a golfer or tennis player. You have to worry about more than yourself. You have teammates who are going to be on your back if you don't do well."

USC QB John David Booty: "You've got to become a man [to play quarterback in college]. You have to fess up to what happened -- sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. You've got to live with being booed out sometimes. You can't wear it on your sleeve. Everyone's looking at you and how you're going to react. You've got to blow it off and keep playing."

Of course, it's not exactly a thankless task. Especially if you're good.

Quarterbacks get the hot chicks and the big headlines, and 26 of them have gotten the Heisman Trophy, too (six of the past seven have gone to QBs). They go on to get massive money, like Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer. They go on to get television analyst jobs, like Kirk Herbstreit and Dan Fouts and Doug Flutie. Some even go on to get elected to office, like J.C. Watts and Heath Shuler.

But it takes a special breed to be a great quarterback, with a unique mix of attributes. This is Tedford's five-part recruiting checklist when shopping for a QB:

1. Mental and physical toughness. "Obviously, physically, you're going to take a pounding, and you've got to get up and have your team follow you. You have to be mentally tough because if you throw a couple picks, you've got to be tough enough to come back."

2. Intelligence. "You've got to be able to understand and control the offense."

3. Competitiveness. "We look for a guy who wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line."

4. Escape dimension. "Not everything happens the way it's drawn up. We want a guy who can elude the rush and make something happen when a play breaks down."

5. Natural throwing motion. "He's got to be able to get the ball around the field."

Jeff Tedford
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesCal coach Jeff Tedford has put multiple quarterbacks in the NFL.

That pretty well covers the human body, top to bottom: head, heart, guts, arm, feet. Finding that total package isn't always easy, and coaching the package to peak effectiveness is vital to team success. That's why Tedford -- who has molded a number of NFL QBs, including David Carr and Trent Dilfer -- is in the meeting room with his quarterbacks every day.

"Tom Brady hasn't always been Tom Brady," Booty said. "It was playing with coach [Charlie] Weis and other coaches who helped make him what he is."

But by college, it's hard to instill a quarterback with that Brady-esque ability to thrive under all the pressure that comes with his position. Whether it's nature or nurture, that leadership trait usually surfaces earlier.

"There's got to be a mind-set where you're able to perform when everything goes wrong and everyone's looking at you," Brohm said. "Everyone's saying, 'What the heck's going on?' and you've got to be calm."

Part of being calm is lacking a fear of failure. There is no time in the huddle to stew over worst-case scenarios -- and definitely no time in the pocket.

"If you hesitate a second, you're probably going to get picked or take a sack," Brohm said. "You've got to trust your judgment and let it rip."

Then shrug off the consequences if it goes wrong.

"Sometimes you have to live with a bad result, and it sucks," Booty said. "Sometimes they get you and you have to tip your hat to them. But I've always played quarterback, and I was always the pitcher in baseball. I take pride in wanting the ball in my hands. I have the guys' respect because of that."

Much respect is accorded to a great quarterback. But he has to earn it the hard way, 30 action-packed seconds at a time.

Pat Forde is a national columnist for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.