STANFORD — Andrew Luck has never been one to worry about what could go wrong.
In the days after the Orange Bowl victory, Stanford’s star quarterback had all but made up his mind to turn down being the likely No. 1 pick in this year’s NFL Draft and return to the Cardinal. Before making the decision official, he was pushed by coaches to call someone who had been through a similar situation: Peyton Manning.
“Peyton said two things that really struck me. One was, ‘Don’t look back. Don’t regret and don’t worry about injuries. You’ll get yourself in a world of trouble if you worry about injuries or wonder what could have been, or don’t not go hard because you could get injured,’ ” Luck recalled Friday. “The second was don’t expect teams to lay down because you came back.”
These days, Luck is feeling lucky.
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He knows there will be a ton of pressure and pageantry that will follow him next fall as the presumptive Heisman Trophy favorite, a year after being the runner-up to Cam Newton for college football’s most prestigious award. Even with a coaching shake-up and new receivers, Luck has no regrets about putting off the NFL’s riches for a future that offers no guarantees.
No matter what happens.
The soon-to-be redshirt junior is so unconcerned about a career-threatening injury — or any other setback, really — that he said he has yet to even sign the NCAA insurance policy that could protect him for up to $5 million, even though spring practice already has begun and his parents keep pestering him for the paperwork.
“I’m still working on it. I haven’t finished the form that my mom sent me. I probably should be more diligent,” he said, chuckling.
Luck’s father, former NFL quarterback and current West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, said his son will also likely take out a separate insurance policy that would protect Luck for far more. How much more depends on the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement.
“We are looking at some supplemental plans at the moment. We don’t have to wait on the new labor agreement. The amount will just change depending on what NFL salaries will look like for high draft picks,” Oliver Luck told The Associated Press by phone. “I think the great thing is the NCAA policy allows players to defer the money until they are drafted. It’s one of the best things they’ve done.”
The younger Luck has plenty to protect.
Luck is one of the biggest reasons why Stanford has gone from a one-win team in 2006 before former coach Jim Harbaugh arrived to one of the top teams in the country. He has led Stanford to a 20-5 record in his 25 career starts, only missing the Sun Bowl loss to Oklahoma two seasons ago with a broken right index finger.
Luck set school records for TD passes (32), completion percentage (70.7 percent) and passing efficiency (170.2) last season to help Stanford finish fourth in the final AP poll, the school’s best ranking since the unbeaten 1940 team finished second. He is already being mentioned alongside John Elway, Jim Plunkett, John Brodie and Frankie Albert as one of Stanford’s great quarterbacks.
“With Andrew coming back, it’s led to some nights where it felt pretty good going to bed,” said new Cardinal coach David Shaw, who moved up from offensive coordinator after Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers.
There are still areas Luck wants to make improvements.
He believes he can make strides with his footwork and decision-making, perhaps even have a role in the game plan and play-calling. Luck might even be in on some coaches’ meetings during game weeks to help script plays, a move Harbaugh first indicated he wanted to do with Luck if both returned.
“I definitely will try to have more of a voice in the game plan,” Luck said. “In my fourth year of college football, I definitely feel like I know more in terms of the game plan. So I definitely will try to speak up and talk a little more to coach Shaw maybe during game weeks, what I like, what I don’t like.”
With all the changes on The Farm, Luck remains the one constant.
In a week when all the departed college prospects are in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine, Luck is toiling around Silicon Valley without so much as an autograph seeker. Sure, there are occasions when he’s approached — “Only nice things,” he says — by a student or Cardinal fan, but it takes more than a rocket arm to impress those at the historically academics-first university.
“You can live in relative anonymity on campus,” Luck said. “Stanford’s a special place. People are doing great things in so many great fields that no one really cares about the football-player jock. So it’s nice.”
Luck insists the main reason he returned was to finish his degree in architectural design, which he’s scheduled to complete next spring. He also feels unsettled with a loss at Oregon last season that cost the Cardinal the conference title — and eventually a spot in the BCS national championship game — and believes Stanford could win the inaugural Pac-12 title next season.
Of course, things don’t always work out as planned.
Tim Tebow couldn’t help Florida repeat as national champs when he returned for the 2009 season. Sam Bradford had season-ending shoulder surgery at Oklahoma that same year when he came back, and Manning lost to the Gators again in his final season at Tennessee, derailing his hopes of winning a national title.
None of which seems to concern Luck.
“I don’t think it honestly has affected me at all in any mental capacity,” Luck said. “I try not to think about it, mentally, or getting injured or anything. I try to enjoy college and enjoy college football.”