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Andrew Luck expected to be NFL Draft's number 1 pick

10:28 AM, Apr 26, 2012   |    comments
Andrew Luck
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STANFORD, Calif. (USA TODAY) - Andrew Luck, appearing like any other slightly disheveled, scruffy college kid in army-green shorts, blue T-shirt and brown leather loafers, scrounges in his pocket and produces a prized possession.

The soon-to-graduate architectural design major and sooner-to-be-a-multimillionaire pulls out ... a retro flip phone.

Stanford's scholarly All-America quarterback, whom the Indianapolis Colts confirmed will be the No. 1 selection in the first round of today's NFL draft, is not embarrassed. Of course, as the fresh face of the franchise in the post-Peyton Manning era, Luck might want to consider an upgrade.

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"I don't know how old my phone is, but it was only $10," Luck says of his decidedly un-smartphone, a slightly battered Samsung. "It is a nice subconscious way of not having the Internet at your fingertips ... e-mail, Twitter or Facebook."

Of course, Luck can easily replace his dated cellphone with newer technology when he reaches the pros. Question is, will he ever take Peyton's place?

"You don't replace a guy like that," he says.

Smart fellow.

Luck is no Luddite. He texts and uses e-mail but does not have accounts with social-media monsters Twitter and Facebook. In an age of tattooed, self-branded athletes, the 22-year-old son of law school graduates is a fascinating deviation, a down-to-earth student who revels in such mundane things as being the "self-proclaimed champion of Bananagram in our apartment-dorm."

A self-described "nerd," Luck would rather pedal his bicycle across the sprawling Pac-12 school campus than roar around in a conspicuous sports car. Occasionally, he shares a 3-year-old Honda Accord with younger sister Mary Ellen, a member of the Cardinal volleyball team.

A 'Legos guy'

Hardly the rock-star quarterback, Luck recently had to borrow a bike because his was broken. "It was so bad - no brakes," he says. "I was glad I was wearing boots, because they had nice soles that I could sorta use to slide-stop."

At Stanford, Andrew Austen Luck was a genuine student-athlete, with nary a whiff of scandal and a 3.48 GPA in a rigorous academic discipline within Stanford's civil environmental engineering department. His parents theorize that his love of edifices might have been fostered by seeing "1,000 years' worth of architecture" when they lived overseas, says his father, Oliver Luck.

John Barton, director of the architectural design program, says when Luck "is in our studio, he doesn't flash anything about being a football player. He is really down to earth.

"Other instructors come up to me and say, 'You know, I've had some football players in class before, but Andrew isn't like any of them. He is really, really smart,' " Barton says.

Luck, a "Legos guy" in his youth, has one regret: "I never got to do a stadium design for a school project."

Jim Viglizzo, owner of Jimmy V's Sports Café inside the athletics building, gushingly describes Luck as the "greatest kid of all time - the real deal."

How authentic? This authentic: A tad goofy. Detests preferential treatment. Sits with freshmen. Playful. Unpretentious. Enjoys a beer with his buddies. Embodies the ideals of a Heisman Trophy winner; he twice finished as runner-up.

Last year, ESPN wanted to follow Luck on campus, including the classroom, for a TV feature. He limited the exposure, preferring to preserve some privacy and avoid disruption to fellow students, many of them exceptional in their own right.

"I like to lay low," he says.

Luck's chief competition for the top spot in the draft was Baylor's Robert Griffin III, another high-character, high-GPA quarterback and the Heisman Trophy winner. While Griffin has started to make the news media rounds, Luck has granted few interviews. He politely declined a request from USA TODAY Sports for an online video presentation or a photo shoot.

The thought of hitting the NFL's instant lottery leaves the limelight-adverse quarterback wrestling with the notion of fame.

"I realize I'm very fortunate to hopefully make a lot of money playing football," he says. "I don't know if I want to abuse that privilege and make myself a larger figure than I am. I don't know how to make sense of this ... (of) not getting too full of myself, realizing that I'm human.

"It is still a game. You're not saving lives or curing cancer. You are providing entertainment. Maybe you can make someone's week."

Too good to be true?

"I guess I ultimately have to take some credit, or blame, for this, but he is kind of a throwback kid," says Oliver Luck, athletics director at West Virginia University. "Every athletic director would love to have 125 football players like Andrew - kids who attend classes, complete their education in four years and who are respectful. It's not as if he's a choirboy; he has fun, too. Many people say, 'Geez, how boring.' Andrew just does his thing."

Leaving the 'Stanford Bubble'

Matt Millen, ESPN college football analyst and a former NFL general manager, has met Luck a couple of times and walked away impressed.

"He has a great awareness of people," Millen says. "He is comfortable with whom he is - he is not trying to impress. He was part Stanford egghead, part (jock). Mostly, he was a student."

In pro football, of course, he will not have the benefit of the "Stanford Bubble," a rather insular world. Luck realizes he will not be as protected in professional football.

"Maybe we don't get as many real-life problems here," he says, "but I'm not complaining."

In the NFL, Luck is considered the proverbial sure thing, but he has large horseshoes to fill with the Colts, where Manning produced at a prodigious pace during 14 seasons, including a Super Bowl triumph and a barnful of goodwill.

Ironically, their fathers - fellow quarterbacks Oliver and Archie - were teammates on the Houston Oilers in the early 1980s. They remain friends.

"Every time Peyton was on TV, my dad would tell us, 'Archie used to make me drive Peyton (and older brother) Cooper to McDonald's my rookie year,' " Luck says. "As a kid, you're thinking, 'That's amazing. My dad drove Peyton Manning around!' "

Finally, as an eighth-grader, Andrew was introduced to his boyhood idol at the Mannings' passing academy in Louisiana.

"I was excited, as any kid would be, but the skies didn't part, the angels weren't blowing trumpets," laughs Luck, who had met his share of superstars because of his father's occupation.

A major reason the Colts released Peyton Manning was Luck's availability. Still, it seems a bit awkward to the young quarterback that he helped usher Manning's exit even after the former Colt had helped counsel him in the past.

"Weird, like, 'How did this happen?' " he says.

A year ago, Luck could have locked in a $20 million-plus guaranteed contract as the likely No. 1 pick after his sophomore season. Instead, he opted to return to Stanford. He cited a desire to graduate with his class and complete the college experience, which includes a relationship with girlfriend Nicole Pechanec, a Stanford gymnast.

Of course, his team was loaded last season, too.

Under his leadership, the Cardinal were 11-2 and advanced to their second consecutive Bowl Championship Series bowl game, losing 41-38 in overtime to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. On the plane ride home, Luck sat with Jordan Williamson and consoled the kicker who had missed three field goal attempts.

In Luck's final two seasons at Stanford, his teams posted a combined record of 23-3 and he threw 69 touchdown passes with 18 interceptions.

While he made the decision to play one more season, there is no doubt that Luck's parents have heavily influenced the person he has become.

"My wife tells me, 'I want to spend time with his mother to know how in the world she created this kid,' " Stanford coach David Shaw says.

Elliott Allen, Luck's coach at Stratford High in Houston, remembers that he was "mature when he walked into the building as a freshman."

"He always said and did the right thing," Allen says. "He was very aware of people around him, how they felt. He knew how to make them better. He saw the picture at a very early age."

His brainy father quarterbacked West Virginia from 1978 to 1981 and was a Rhodes Scholar finalist before the Oilers drafted him 30 years ago. He played sparingly for four seasons, then earned a law degree with honors from the University of Texas, where he met his future wife, Kathy.

"Oliver is one of the most intelligent guys I've ever been around - he could run a Fortune 500 company," Allen says. "Kathy is really the backbone behind the whole deal. She is kind of quiet but very intelligent and very calculated with everything she does. I think Andrew gets a lot from her."

She declined to be interviewed for this story.

"She doesn't like the attention, like me," Luck says. "My dad has a great ability - how do I put this? - of not being bothered by it. That was something I had to learn. It didn't come naturally."

A 'less is more' world

Perhaps one reason Luck was more mature than many boys his age was that he spent his formative years living in Europe, mostly in Germany, where his father worked in various roles in the NFL's experiment with having a football league abroad.

By the time he was 11, the close-knit family had resided in 13 homes.

"Naturally, you are going to rely on your parents and siblings more, even as friends," he says.

While his father coached him in youth sports, Oliver Luck "completely backed off" once his son reached high school. Archie Manning says he realized that "in my time around Ollie and Andrew, we had similar philosophies about parenting, especially being former players."

"Mine was one of support but not interference," Manning says. "I sense that is how the Lucks do it, too. Looks like to me that they are always there for him, but they don't stick their nose too deep."

In the sometimes-tricky father-son sports relationship, Oliver Luck believes "less is more."

"I didn't want to be a helicopter parent on the sideline," he says. "We were the antithesis of a son and father who dissected a football game. I never watched a moment of film with him. You can have a lot of coaches, but you only have one dad."

Jon Saraceno, USA TODAY

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