Vols' freshmen QBs too good to sit

Updated: September 6, 2004, 11:46 AM ET
By Chris Low | Special to ESPN.com

Peyton Manning didn't do it. Neither did Danny Wuerffel, Eric Zeier, Tim Couch or even Chris Leak.

This Sunday night, Brent Schaeffer will carve out a little slice of Southeastern Conference history.

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  • When he starts for Tennessee against UNLV, he'll become the first SEC true freshman quarterback to start the opening game since freshman eligibility was restored in 1973.

    "It's all happened pretty fast, but I wanted this," Schaeffer said. "It's here, and I've worked hard all through high school for just these kind of moments. Now I've got to go play."

    Schaeffer will get the starting nod but there is a plan in place to also play fellow frosh Erik Ainge, and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said earlier this week that both could play as early as the third series.

    "Somebody has to go out there and take the first snap, but it's going to sort itself out over time," Sanders said. "Just because somebody takes the first snap in this game doesn't mean he will against Florida and doesn't mean he will in the fifth game.

    "They both are ahead of where I thought they would be in terms of their presence and poise, and they both deserve to play."

    Schaeffer, who passed for 3,150 yards and ran for 575 yards as a senior in high school at Deerfield Beach, Fla., is more the improviser. He's already left a trail of would-be Tennessee tacklers in his wake this preseason.

    "The best way I can describe him is a Mike Vick in an orange jersey," said Tennessee junior cornerback Jason Allen.

    Schaeffer appreciates the lofty comparison, but he's also yet to play in his first college game. What's more, Schaeffer fancies himself as a passer first and a runner second. He's especially adept at throwing on the move.

    Brent Schaeffer
    Brent Schaeffer is expected to get the nod at QB for Tennessee.
    "You have to be mentally strong to learn all the offense in such a short period of time," said Schaeffer, who's only been on campus since the first of June. "Sometimes I find myself maybe thinking a little too fast, and I have to just calm down and play."

    The 6-foot-6 Ainge, the nephew of former Boston Celtics star Danny Ainge, doesn't have Schaeffer's quick feet and elusive moves in the open field. But Ainge is plenty athletic.

    The Hillsboro, Ore., product also played baseball in high school, and his fastball was clocked at 91 mph. His first love was basketball, and he played point guard on a traveling AAU team in Portland. In fact, it wasn't until the summer before his senior year of high school that Ainge decided he wanted to play football in college.

    Even then, had he not developed painful stress fractures on the tops of both feet while playing basketball, he might have opted for hoops.

    "When I play football, the last thing I do is second guess myself," said Ainge, who like Schaeffer, hasn't seemed overwhelmed by being thrown into the fire so quickly.

    "If I see something, I throw the ball. If I think they're going to do something, I make a check. At quarterback, if you're second guessing yourself, you're always going to be a step behind and never going to be very good. It comes down to how prepared you are and how ready you are."

    Fulmer, who didn't start Manning until the fifth game of the 1994 season, knows there will be the typical freshman mistakes along the way.

    But in the end, Fulmer said it was a "no-brainer" to go with the two freshmen.

    "We won't go into the game with a huge package for them to manage and expect them to manage it," Fulmer said. "That would be unfair. We didn't do that with Peyton or Casey (Clausen). The rest of the team has to do its share. We'll try to call plays to their strengths and keep it within the framework of what they can manage."

    Chris Low covers the SEC for The Nashville Tennessean.

    Chris Low | email

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