Like certain BYU quarterbacks, Kevin McDougal knows about having to be patient.

The senior quarterback spent three years at Notre Dame behind Rick Mirer, playing a total of 49 minutes in 15 games, throwing a total of 21 passes.That, he could live with. "I don't mind sitting behind a quarterback like Rick," McDougal said. "He's in the NFL now making more money than my whole family."

Mirer's departure to the Seattle Seahawks left McDougal, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder from Pompano Beach, Fla., and junior Paul Failla in a battle for the No. 1 quarterback job in spring practice. McDougal won, although coach Lou Holtz kept the pressure on by referring to Failla as his No. 1-A quarterback.

The pressure increased in fall camp, when the phenom showed up. Ron Powlus, from Berwick, Pa., was just 18 years old, but he was 6-3, 210 pounds and nearly everyone's choice as the top high school player in the country last year. Frequently referred to as the second coming of Joe Montana, Powlus was even given Montana's No. 3 to wear.

For a change, the hype seemed warranted. After two scrimmages, Powlus had completed 23 of 37 passes for 475 yards and five TDs, without an interception.

Suddenly, Holtz was saying that if Powlus performed in the final scrimmage like he had in the first two, he would start the season-opener.

Failla responded to the announcement by missing several practices. McDougal handled it better.

McDougal's attitude, according to Holtz, "wasn't I'm being unfair or that he wasn't being appreciated. It was, `I think I'm the best quarterback, and I'll prove it to you."'

Away from Holtz, however, McDougal was hurting. His teammates knew it and tried to help. "We tried to rally behind Kevin and tell him not to get too down, because you never know what's going to happen," said wide receiver Clint Johnson.

In the next scrimmage, something happened. A couple of beefy linemen landed on Powlus, breaking his collarbone. While Holtz claims now that he was always confident about his other quarterbacks' abilities, at the time he called it "one of the sadder days since I've been in coaching."

Holtz told McDougal he'd start the opener at Northwestern, but that he'd share time with Failla While it wasn't a perfect situation yet, it was far better than sitting behind the young gun.

"I'd been patient all this time, and I wasn't going to stop," McDougal said. "My time came again. I told myself I've got to take advantage of it."

McDougal struggled in that first game, but Holtz held him back. He threw just eight passes, completing six.

The next week, Notre Dame was at Michigan, then ranked No. 3 and favored to win. Everyone felt the pressure, except McDougal.

"Really, I just don't get nervous," he said. "Coach Holtz said before the Michigan game that anyone who didn't get nervous coming out of the tunnel must have something wrong with him. So something must be wrong with me, because I wasn't even nervous then."

All the non-nervous McDougal did was run for touchdowns of 43 and 11 yards and pass for 208 yards, without an interception, as the Irish upset the Wolverines, 27-23. In less than two weeks, McDougal had vaulted from four-year backup to longshot Heisman Trophy candidate.

McDougal has had his ups and downs since then, but as the Irish have raced to a 6-0 start, he has completed 52 of 82 passes (63.4 percent) for 825 yards, with three TDs and four interceptions.

Not bad for a guy who was told by recruiters that he couldn't compete at Notre Dame.

"He's a good solid person who has great confidence in himself without being arrogant," Holtz says of McDougal.

"I love being the underdog, and that's one of the reasons why I chose to come here," McDougal said. "A lot of people who recruited me told me not to come here because of the competition. I was told I wouldn't play here. I wanted to prove people wrong."