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Dick Harmon: San Diego Chargers pick of SUU's Sorensen makes history

Published: Thursday, July 2 2015 7:40 a.m. MDT

BYU quarterbacks, left to right, Josh Hamblin, Max Hall and Brad Sorensen throwing the ball during passing and catching drills at BYU football practice Tuesday, August 25, 2009. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) BYU quarterbacks, left to right, Josh Hamblin, Max Hall and Brad Sorensen throwing the ball during passing and catching drills at BYU football practice Tuesday, August 25, 2009. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

One man’s castaway is another man’s pearl.

SUU offensive coordinator Steve Clark was in the Thunderbird football stadium press box working the spring game last Saturday when he heard the crowd cheer. He learned through his earphones that his quarterback Brad Sorensen was a seventh-round pick of the San Diego Chargers.

Sorensen became the first SUU football player ever drafted into the NFL. In other words, he made history.

“He’s a good kid and he deserves it. He worked very hard this past year to get a chance to be drafted and it happened. I’m happy for him,” Clark said.

As it turns out now, BYU had an NFL draft-worthy quarterback in camp back in 2009, the last year Max Hall played. Sorensen returned from an LDS mission to Spain, attended San Bernardino Valley Junior College and then walked on at BYU. It was a time the Cougars were logjammed at quarterback and he redshirted. BYU was anticipating the January 2010 enrollment of freshman Jake Heaps and the return of Jason Munns off a mission.

Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen (4) throws while being pursued out of the pocket by UNLV defensive end B.J. Bell (92) and defensive lineman Tyler Gaston (99) in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011, in Las Vegas. Southern Utah won 41-16. (Julie Jacobson, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen (4) throws while being pursued out of the pocket by UNLV defensive end B.J. Bell (92) and defensive lineman Tyler Gaston (99) in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011, in Las Vegas. Southern Utah won 41-16. (Julie Jacobson, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

It became evident to Sorensen that if he wanted to play, his best chance was to leave for a place where the QB room wasn’t so crowded. BYU simply couldn’t create enough reps to see what Sorensen was all about. He was big, strong, had an arm, but was raw and BYU seemed settled on a Nelson-Heaps battle with Lark as the third guy.

He hadn’t played in a game since junior college, where at San Bernardino, he threw for 2,280 yards, 17 touchdowns with three interceptions.

So Sorensen left for Cedar City to play, not sit and wait out the drama in Provo.

“We are so glad he did,” Clark said.

The Chargers picked Sorensen in the seventh round, the No. 221st overall pick after he threw for a school record 9,445 yards and 61 touchdowns in his three-year SUU experience.

Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen (4) looks for the pass while getting blocking help from teammates Brandon Beddes (50) and Russell Petersen (72) while playing against Northern Arizona University at the Walkup Skydom in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. (Josh Biggs, AP) Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen (4) looks for the pass while getting blocking help from teammates Brandon Beddes (50) and Russell Petersen (72) while playing against Northern Arizona University at the Walkup Skydom in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. (Josh Biggs, AP)

At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Sorensen fits the mold of what the NFL likes in a quarterback frame. With the Chargers, he will be fighting for a roster spot behind starter Philip Rivers.

“He has a great, accurate arm and size. He is very strong. I would take Brad Sorensen every year I could have him,” said Clark, a former graduate assistant coach at BYU when John Beck played for the Cougars.

Beck and Sorensen compare very favorably, said Clark. Only Sorensen is bigger. “Both of them can make every throw in the book. They both have very strong arms.”

Sorensen, whose younger brother Daniel is BYU’s starting safety and cousin Justin is a Cougar kicker, played quarterback at a high school that ran a Wing-T offense. He never got individual quarterback coaching for specific skills. He was big and he was strong, but he was in need of coaching attention.

Southern Utah's Henna Brown (7) is congratulated by quarterback Brad Sorensen (4) and Myles Crawford-Harris (26) after Brown scored against California during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, in Berkeley, Calif. (Ben Margot, AP) Southern Utah's Henna Brown (7) is congratulated by quarterback Brad Sorensen (4) and Myles Crawford-Harris (26) after Brown scored against California during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, in Berkeley, Calif. (Ben Margot, AP)

He got that in 2011 with SUU quarterback coach Paul Peterson, a former quarterback at Boston College. It was the first time in his life he had one-on-one attention from an expert in that position.

“This past summer he spent every day working hard, extremely hard,” Clark said.

“He has the best release and accuracy I’ve ever seen.”

Sorensen was the eighth quarterback taken in a draft that yielded 11. The position was disrespected in 2013 when potential first-round pick West Virginia’s Geno Smith, the highest rated QB, was taken in the second round at No. 39 after Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, No. 16 overall in the first round.

Smith was so upset and embarrassed, he fired his agent after the draft. Sorensen, however, was ecstatic that the Chargers drafted him. He hit it off with San Diego’s quarterback coach Frank Reich, who spent seven seasons with Indianapolis and worked with Peyton Manning. Sorensen and Reich got together at pro day at the University of Utah and later went to dinner.

Reich was involved in one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history with Buffalo when he started for injured Jim Kelly in an AFC wildcard game against Houston and rallied the Bills from a 35-3 deficit in the third quarter to a 41-38 win.

On draft day, Sorensen told chargers.com it was incredible that he got picked. “It’s an awesome, amazing feeling right now.”

That day was his grandmother’s 80th birthday party and almost everyone on his mother’s side of the family was at his house in California. “I finally got the phone call and they let me know I was picked. Then the selection came across the TV and that made it feel like the real deal.”

Sorensen is the son of Corey Sorensen, a former basketball and football teammate of Gifford Nielsen and Veryl and Vance Law at Provo High. His grandfather, Wilson Sorensen, was an early pioneer in the establishment of Utah Technical College, which later became Utah Valley University.

“I love the game of football. It’s one of the most important things to me, Sorensen said. "My whole life, I’ve just had to compete for everything that’s been placed in front of me. So, you’re going to get a guy who is going to come in and compete and work as hard as he can to make the organization as good as it can be.”

Sorensen joins another LDS Charger draftee, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. He also rejoins a former high school teammate, Charger corner Shareece Wright, who he has stayed in contact with over the years.

Sorensen will be returning to Southern California, where he grew up in Grand Terrance in the Colton area north of San Diego.

At SUU, Sorensen’s QB skills were a work in progress but he flourished under the coaching of head coach Ed Lamb and Clark.

At SUU, Sorensen completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,163 yards and 21 touchdowns his first season. He backed that up with offensive player-of-the-year honors in the All-Great West Conference with 67 percent completion and 3,143 yards. As a senior, Sorensen finished his career in 2012 by completing 273-of-439 passes for 62.2 percent, 23 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.

Of course, competition was not the same, but after Sorensen left BYU for SUU, neither Cougar QBs Nelson nor Heaps ever had a season in which they completed 60 percent of their passes. Nelson was a 55 percent career passer — Heaps, who transferred to Kansas, was 57.

"I remember Sorensen at BYU," said former Cougar outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton. "I didn't talk to him a lot, but my sophomore year that I started, he went up against our defense as the prep team quarterback."

Pendleton remembers Sorensen being a big guy with great size. "I went against him and Cody Hoffman every day and I remember he used to throw bombs to Cody all day long out there. He had a very strong arm. "I always thought he was pretty good, I don't know why he left. I don't know where he went then all of a sudden I heard he was at SUU setting records there. It's a pretty good story."

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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