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Preachers turned Y. passers

"My comp, Elder Garcia, is a cool companion. It is fun to be working with my MTC comp. The only thing is that he can't catch a football to save his life. He is from Bogata, Colombia, so he plays the other futebol, soccer. So, for right now, all I get to do is use the arm chord."

— Elder John Beck, Sept. 12, 2001,

San Miguel Azore Island, Portugal.

Now enter BYU freshman John Beck. He's the latest model of Cougar quarterback in a trend that's now the future at the Quarterback Factory: Giving an untested returned LDS Church missionary the call.

Beck replaces Matt Berry, who when he got his first Cougar start a year ago was nine months removed from Panama. Beck is 10 months removed from Portugal.

Berry's gallant effort to lead the Cougar offense this year temporarily ended Saturday making a gutsy touchdown throw to Phil Niu with a broken hand. Berry is out three to five weeks.

Beck gets the start against Stanford on Saturday. The Cardinal also start a freshman in Trent Edwards, who at one time was considered — along with 2001 Cougar recruit Ben Olson — one of the top prep quarterbacks in the nation.

But, boy, Stanford and BYU — both QB schools — are taking completely different paths with their quarterback corps these days.

Stanford will always have its Jim Plunkett and John Elway legends, while the Cougars have the likes of Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer as part of Cougar chain of success stories. Not a former missionary in the bunch. MWC Most Valuable Player Brandon Doman got to start at the end of his four-year career, breaking the mold.

Today's typical starting BYU quarterback is (a) inexperienced, (b) has real farmer tan lines and (c) just off a mission.

This time last year, Beck was handing out pamphlets and giving discussions in Portuguese; his Saturday counterpart, Edwards, was working out in one of the NCAA's top athletic programs in Palo Alto.

Beck's the latest in a trend with BYU football, which has changed its quarterback base over the past five years. Today, BYU is pinning its offensive fortunes in the hands of athletes who have barely returned from two-year church missions.

"Today we are going to Lisbon because we need to buy new shoes. My shoes are trashed. I left one pair in my last area because they were straight up ruined and the pair I have now the plastic in the bottom is ripping and has a big hole. I can stick my fingers completely through the rubber bottom. So today, I'm going to buy some shoes for when I come home." —Elder John Beck, Sept. 25, 2002, Lisbon, Portugal.

This is a new phenomenon, even at BYU. It follows a previous trend under LaVell Edwards in which the Cougars started three consecutive quarterbacks after Detmer who were products of California summer quarterback camp guru Steve Clarkson. These were John Walsh, Steve Sarkisian and Kevin Feterick. None of them was LDS, and personal plans were a world away from life in missionary service.

It's a risky football gamble, this course BYU's taken. The Cougars never worked in returning missionaries when they saw Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, McMahon, Bosco, Young and Detmer. Most of these guys waited between two and three years before seeing action on the field.

Not so now. BYU quarterbacks are coming off or going on missions. Two future quarterbacks signed — Olson and current Idaho prep star Jacob Bower — are either on a mission or going.

To what end Beck or Berry can kick-start the Cougar offense, while gaining needed experience on the fly, is key to the future for the Gary Crowton era.

Stanford's Edwards, USA Today's No. 1-rated passing quarterback while at Los Gatos High in California, spent last season as a redshirt, learning the ropes of Stanford's offense. This time last fall, Beck was winding down his two-year church service.

"Dad, when I wrote about not talking too much about football and stuff it was not because I don't want to hear about it, believe me I want to hear about all football. It is just I want to make sure I end totally focused on my goals here on the mission, that's all. I wasn't saying not to write any, I just meant not to write too much." — Elder John Beck, Sept. 25, 2002, Portugal.

So, what about this Beck kid?

He's smart. He's tough. His work ethic has become a story around campus. He's got a rocket arm, a quick release. He runs a 4.59, power lifts 285 pounds and he can run the option. But Beck hasn't played but a few downs of college football and the last we saw him he had a vision of the galaxy in his head after a hit at USC.

It's been a rough return for Beck. Before two-a-days, he battled mononucleosis in July. In his brief three-play action in the opener against Georgia Tech he got sacked, fumbled and threw an interception while getting his nose broken. Then came a grade-two concussion against the Trojans that put him out of action for 10 days.

But through the travail, you can't find a teammate who doesn't have faith that Beck will step in and step up for Berry.

Faith. It must come with the territory.

Lots of faith in the elders — it's now the anthem for BYU's offense.

Crowton hopes Beck quickly regains the form he displayed at Arizona's Mesa Mountain View High, where he threw 42 touchdowns with 4 interceptions. His team ended up No. 19 nationally (USA Today) and No. 3 in the West behind De LaSalle and Long Beach Poly with a season-ending record of 13-1.

This is Beck's third college game with meager morsels of playing time. In his third high school start against Westview High he completed 10 of 10 passes for 158 yards and four touchdowns with no picks. Headlines the next day trumpeted he was "nearly perfect." He became Arizona's 5A Player of the Year a month later.

So, it's come to this.

BYU's offense is in the hands of a former full-time preacher once again. Does he have a prayer?


E-MAIL: dharmon@desnews.com