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Dick Harmon: Never underestimate value of BYU, Utah, USU backup QBs

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 16 2011 12:50 a.m. MDT

Quarterback #13 Riley Nelson points to a teammate during football practice Monday, Aug. 15, 2011.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

It'll be Adam Kennedy, Alex Hart or Chuckie Keeton at Utah State. At Utah, the names are Jon Hays or Tyler Shreve. At BYU, it will be either Riley Nelson or James Lark.

The Backup QBs R Us Club.

Do not discount their value.

Blaine Fowler sat on a stool in KSL studios last Sunday and talked football.

He's smart, articulate, engaging and likable. He was also a career backup QB. And in his day, in high school, he was a player.

This TV perch is something Fowler has been used to for years as a color analyst on regional sports television including the Mtn. network and now BYUtv. He has traveled all over the country doing football and basketball games. He knows coaching staffs and head coaches call him by his first name.

I bring this up because of a unique flashback I had about Fowler three decades ago when I talked to him for the first time by phone when he was just a teen in New York.

The other day while cleaning out some files my wife wanted dumped in the trash, I found a box that contained a manila folder. I opened the file and saw my handwritten and typed notes from interviews with Fowler during his senior year of high school. There were also photographs, newspaper clippings and index cards with home phone numbers and street addresses for Fowler, another QB recruit named Robbie Bosco from Roseville, Calif., and Escondido, Calif., QB Sean Salisbury, a former USC quarterback now with ESPN.

I thought I'd remind folks of just who Fowler was back in the day.

This is relevant because after a column this past week on BYU third-string quarterback James Lark, I received a blistering email from a reader who thought Cougar coaches were dishonest in recruiting current starting QB Jake Heaps when they'd invested and recruited Lark out of Pine View High.

I'm sure there are others in the Nelson camp, also naturally frustrated.

Every team needs a Fowler. Utah proved last year they certainly needed both Jordan Wynn and Terrance Cain.

Remember 1992 when BYU started out with John Walsh at QB, who got hurt? Norm Chow then turned to Texan Steve Clements who also got hurt in his first start. Chow then turned to baseball pitcher Ryan Hancock, who made all-conference but he too suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the Utah game. BYU finished the season in the Aloha Bowl with Tom Young at QB, after BYU tied for the WAC title.

Never underestimate the role of a backup QB.

Fowler, you see, was always a backup quarterback at BYU. His moment in the sun came in the 1984 Holiday Bowl when he came in briefly for an injured Bosco and admirably and respectably kept momentum going against Michigan.

The QB position is the most important in college or the NFL. Period.

So much hinges on that position on every down, every play. Teams are only as good as their backups.

Fowler earned the Ernie Davis Award at his high school, an honor named after the first black Heisman Trophy winner, who came out of Fowler's high school in Elmira, N.Y., and played in the same backfield with legendary Jim Brown before dying young of leukemia.

Fowler took recruiting trips to Syracuse, Rutgers, North Carolina and Wake Forest. He had an invitation to visit Purdue. All the Ivy League schools wanted Fowler to visit, and he had strong pitches from Penn State and Pitt. Syracuse wanted him to replace Bill Hurley; Pitt told him he'd have a chance to replace Dan Marino.

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