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Andrew Luck is ready for a season in the spotlight

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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THIBODAUX, La. -- Jon Gruden grasps how people hold the perception of him that he's enamored with just about every football player known to mankind. Bold statements have become a given for the former Super Bowl-winning coach turned TV analyst.

So it shouldn't shock anyone that Gruden told me during this weekend's Manning Passing Academy at Nicholls State to feel free to compare the next big thing in Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the already big thing in Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

"It is fair I think [to compare the two]," Gruden said. "I sat with him in a production meeting for the Orange Bowl ... David Shaw, the head coach at Stanford, was my quality control guy in Philadelphia. So I know the volume of offense they have there. It's incredible. Their center wears a wristband because they can't fit all the plays on Luck's wristband. They have hundreds and hundreds of plays in every game plan. So there's a mastery that this Luck kid has of the Stanford offense. I admire that."

Gruden's first claim makes headlines in and of itself.

Andrew Luck seems to be winning over everyone -- coaches, scouts, and even future Hall of Fame QB's. (AP)  
Andrew Luck seems to be winning over everyone -- coaches, scouts, and even future Hall of Fame QB's. (AP)  
What Gruden told me later in the interview displayed how skyscraper high expectations are for the sure-fire Heisman Trophy frontrunner and potential No. 1 overall pick in next April's NFL draft.

"I've said this to a few people I work with," Gruden said. "He's the best prospect I've studied.

"Period.

"I'm not the oldest guy, and again, I'm accused of liking everyone. ... I think this kid has it all. Provided he stays healthy and provided he stays on the line that he's on, this guys has got a rare upside. There's not a lot of things that I don't like. He's got a photographic memory. I love him."

That's simply a snapshot of the spotlight Luck will be under through what will be his final season of college football after electing to remain in college despite nearly every NFL draft pundit claiming he would have been the hands down best prospect in the 2011 draft class. Better than Cam Newton, and it wouldn't have been close.

Luck breaks out the earmuffs when he hears all this praise.

"It's very nice of [Gruden], obviously," Luck said. "It doesn't make me feel bad. I'm not trying to discredit his opinion, but I don't want to read or listen to too many opinions. That's how you get yourself in trouble if I start doing that."

And because Luck decided to stay for his senior season, the comparisons to Manning come with them since Manning decided to do the same.

Luck put in a phone call to Manning after his junior season with the Cardinal. It wasn't to gather advice from the four-time NFL MVP on whether to stay or not, though. Luck said his mind was already made up as it was "somewhat" a simple decision.

He reached out to Manning for advice on how to handle the aftermath and second-guessers of his decision to stay in Palo Alto, Calif. for one more season.

"He’s been my football hero forever," Luck said. "I'd already made up my mind already, but I wanted to get some advice on how to handle different situations after for the upcoming season and working out. I couldn't ask for more. He's very kind with his time and his wisdom. I was on Cloud 9 after talking for him. He said it worked for him, and I was happy with it myself. I don't think I needed affirmation from anybody, but it's always nice to see a man of his caliber go through maybe similar [situations]. It makes you feel a little better I guess."

Luck began his relationship with Manning during last year's mid-summer passing camp down on the Louisiana bayou when Luck served as one of the camp counselors. It's typically a Who's Who of college quarterbacks with this year's crop consisting of Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Boise State's Kellen Moore, Florida State's E.J. Manuel, LSU's Jordan Jefferson and Florida's John Brantley to name a five more.

Manning said he's been pressured in the past, specifically by former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, to convince juniors to go the same route as he and his brother, Eli. It was different with Luck.

"I think people thought he called me for advice," Peyton Manning said. "He called me and said, 'I'm going to stay,' which I was very excited about. Every kid's got to make their own decision but I do tell kids that if you want to stay, but I do tell kids it's OK to stay. I stayed.

"That’s the advice that Tim Duncan, who was at the time at Wake Forest told me, he said, 'It's OK to stay if you want to be a senior.' So I was proud of Andrew for making that decision and a big, strong, good-looking quarterback. He's going to have a great senior year. And I think it's great, it's great for college football. It speaks a lot about his school, about his passion for college football. I hope he has a great year this year, stays healthy. I think when the time comes he'll be an excellent NFL quarterback for a long time."

Does Luck think it's fair people compare him to Peyton Manning?

"He's the best," Luck said. "So I don't know if I'll ever be at that level. It's nice to me if someone would say that."

Holding a legacy in college and in the NFL like Peyton Manning, though, undoubtedly burns inside of Luck even though he consistently underplays his potential greatness.

"That would be nice [to hold the stature of Peyton Manning], but that's such a long way away," Luck said. "I have goals for myself. It would be nice to be at that point some day. Yeah. Sure."

You can be humble, Andrew.

Gruden simply can't hold in his comparisons of you to Peyton. It's impossible.

"When it comes passion for the game, [Luck] blew me away with that," Gruden said. "You just know that the guy is a detail freak. That's how Peyton is. Peyton's a guy who’s going to lead you, he's going to show you how to do it, demand it from everybody and he’s going to put himself in the middle of everything and I think that's what Andrew Luck does and has proven at Stanford. He's got tremendous intangibles, charisma, desire. Those are things that Peyton Manning, at the end of the day, doesn't get enough credit for. But [Luck] is a rare athlete for the position and has a tremendous future."

What Luck does with his senior season and beyond is up to him. As for the expectations that follow him into this season along with the comparisons to the last great quarterback to stay for one more season? Well, that comes with the territory.

A nice problem to have when you're simply that good.

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