Commentary

Opportunity knocking; Paulus answers

Updated: April 17, 2009, 5:05 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

So let me get this straight: Big Blue itself, Michigan, will make room for one-and-done Greg Paulus on its football roster, but Little Blue, Duke -- I repeat, Duke -- says the Blue Devils' own Paulus would be wasting his time trying to win the starting quarterback job?

What a weird, wonderful surprise this Paulus story has become. Who thought we'd see the day when Duke felt more secure about its quarterback situation than Michigan did? Who thought Paulus -- once described by a national recruiting voice as the high school version of Joe Montana -- would play four years of Duke basketball and then possibly transfer from claustrophobic Cameron Indoor to the 100,000-plus-seat Big House for a single year of football?

"There has been an opportunity given there," Paulus said in a Thursday conference call with reporters.

The teleconference was semi-hilarious in its own right. Paulus sounded like he was giving grand jury testimony. His answers were filled with "uh"s as he paused to find just the right words to tiptoe around questions.

But a few times during the 17-plus-minute interview, Paulus made it clear that if he chooses to resume his football career, Michigan would be a soft maize and blue landing spot.

"When looking at schools, a chance to compete for a starting job is important," he said. "With me only having an opportunity to play for one year, I think that the chance and the opportunity to compete and to compete at a high level is important. There is an opportunity to do that at Michigan."

This has been a good few weeks for college players. Thanks partly to addendums in their letters of intent, several of those prized Memphis recruits were able to squeeze out of their commitments after John Calipari squeezed out of his contract to take the Kentucky hoops job. And that's the way it should be. Why should coaches be allowed to bolt, but recruits aren't given the same freedom if the guy they signed with goes elsewhere?

And now comes Paulus, who might take advantage of an interesting NCAA loophole that allows him to become a graduate student/QB at Michigan. Good for him.

Not everyone qualifies. Paulus first had to avoid being redshirted at Duke (he did -- he started at point guard for Mike Krzyzewski for three consecutive seasons and came off the bench for much of his senior season). He had to earn a degree (he will, in May -- Oprah will give the commencement address). And he had to eHarmony a Football Bowl Subdivision program for the perfect match. So far, Paulus has named Michigan and Syracuse as "friends with potential."

Anyone who thinks Paulus can't pull this off needs to be treated for football memory loss. Coming out of Christian Brothers Academy (Syracuse, N.Y.) in 2005, he was the No. 1-ranked quarterback prospect in the country. This was the same QB class that included Ryan Perrilloux, who later signed with LSU, and Mark Sanchez, the USC star who could be selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft on April 25.

During his senior year at CBA, Paulus led his team to a 13-0 record and the state championship. He played in a spread offense (somewhat different, though, from the one Rich Rodriguez uses at Michigan), completed 66 percent of his passes and threw for a state-record 3,677 yards and 43 touchdowns. He received about 70 football scholarship offers, including one from, ta-da, Michigan, whose two quarterbacks combined for 11 TDs and a 48.8 percent completion rate this past season.

So you can't blame Rodriguez for taking a flier on Paulus. It's not like the Wolverines can do much worse than the 3-9 record of 2008.

Paulus last played football in January 2005 at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio. By then, he had committed to play basketball at Duke, but that didn't stop talent evaluators such as Tom Lemming from second-guessing the decision.

"He is really missing the boat as far as football is concerned," Lemming told the San Antonio Express-News that week. "It's the first time I've seen a [football player] that great not give it a shot. I'm hoping he only takes a year off and then goes back to football."

Instead, Paulus took four years off. He loved football, he always said, but basketball was his passion.

It wasn't like he stunk it up at Duke. He started 100 of 139 games and averaged 8.6 points and 3.4 assists. The Blue Devils won 112 games while he was there.

But Paulus never was more than a complementary player and eventually lost his starting job (and did so without public complaint) during his senior season. Was Lemming, the one who compared Paulus to Montana, right about Paulus' choosing the wrong sport? Who knows, and who cares?

All that really matters is Paulus has options. He recently worked out for the Green Bay Packers. He could work out for more teams. He could sign with Michigan. He could pursue a basketball coaching career. He could play overseas.

But if nothing else, Paulus has been consistent. Nearly six years ago, in an interview with the Syracuse Post-Standard, Paulus said football would have to sit in the rear seat, behind basketball.

"But, if the right opportunity presents itself, you never know," he said.

We will soon enough.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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