A Prize Quarterback Lands In Rutgers' Huddle Bryan Fortay Figures He Was Shoved Aside While Waiting His Turn At Miami. He Immediately Scrambled Home.

Posted: August 22, 1992

Rutgers University is pinning quite a bit of its hopes this season on a quarterback who has never started a college football game.

Believe us, Bryan Fortay can handle it.

He had a hand towel hanging from the front of his pants during the spring's big scrimmage, "Air Mad Dog" scrawled across the front.

He is convinced, no doubt about it, that he won the quarterback job last year at the University of Miami. The quarterback down there now may be a top Heisman candidate, but Gino Torretta couldn't stay with Fortay in practice. No way.

"All you have to do is go back and watch the films," Fortay said during a recent interview at Rutgers' athletic complex in Piscataway, N.J. "It wasn't like a nip-and-tuck thing. Most people thought I had pretty much wrapped it up. Teammates. The media."

In his senior year at East Brunswick (N.J.) High, Fortay got used to having coaches such as Bo Schembechler sitting in his kitchen and Lou Holtz calling on the phone. Fortay was an all-American. He was called the most recruited quarterback in Miami history.

So Fortay was floored late last August when Hurricanes coach Dennis Erickson called him into his office and told him Torretta was going to start.

Within a week, Fortay was out of there, transferring back home to Rutgers, leaving most of his clothes and furniture behind. He had to get to school before classes started to be eligible to play this season.

Rutgers had never even been in the game when Fortay was at East Brunswick High, throwing for 4,100 yards and 34 touchdowns. He said the Scarlet Knights didn't call him much. It was as if they'd been resigned to not getting him.

By the time he transferred, however, the Rutgers coaching staff had changed. Doug Graber had left his job as the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to become the Rutgers head coach. His offensive coordinator is Stan Parrish, a former head coach at Kansas State.

"I thought the program was about to explode," said Fortay, who, until he reached his teens, lived in South River, N.J., childhood home to future NFLers Joe Theismann, Drew Pearson and Kenny Jackson, of the Eagles. "I felt that I was a piece of the puzzle that they needed."

It was hard for Fortay last season, quarterbacking the scout team while the Scarlet Knights finished their season with a 6-5 record. One week he was Dave Brown of Duke, another week he was Alex Van Pelt of Pitt. Fortay had to tread lightly because he had shown up to meet his teammates just two days before the season opener. But he stayed close, driving to away games on his own.

He is listed as the No. 1 quarterback, but hasn't yet been announced as the starter for Rutgers' opener Sept. 5 at Boston College. Graber said that Fortay, who has two years of eligibility remaining, has "a chance to be a pretty darn good quarterback." But the coach is treading lightly here

himself. He brought two seniors to the recent Big East media day at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., leaving the big attraction behind.

It was too bad, too. The Rutgers table was set up just a few feet from the table where Torretta was talking to the media. This could have been fun.

One of Fortay's most noticeable features is a strong chin, and he is not afraid to stick it out. He takes his time choosing his words, but he chooses some interesting ones.

"I learned more from Coach Parrish the first two months that I was here than I learned the two years I was in Miami," Fortay said.

Former Miami quarterback Craig Erickson (no relation to Dennis) "taught me a lot of stuff when I was at Miami," Fortay continued. "Here, I get a lot more individual attention that you need to play quarterback."

At the media day at Giants Stadium, Torretta was willing to give a little shot of his own. He said a lot of folks in Miami probably expected Fortay to be the starter "because he's always in the press."

The real problem at Miami, Fortay said, was that he agreed to be redshirted his sophomore season on the condition that the coach promise it wouldn't hurt him in his duel with Torretta. He said Dennis Erickson told him it would not. Torretta played in seven games that season, picking up experience.

Then, Fortay said, Erickson "tells me it was game experience that won Gino the job. I had a hard time dealing with that."

Erickson, who could have left Miami this past off-season for head-coaching jobs in the NFL, praises Fortay. He said at the conference media day that Fortay is "a talent." He also said he made the right decision in choosing his quarterback. The Hurricanes, of course, shared a national championship with Washington last season.

Fortay now feels free to be himself with his new teammates, no longer a cheerleader with press clippings. He can shout, "Hey, hey, let's get serious out here," on the field. He can walk toward a receiver, shaking his head, when something has broken down.

"He's very vocal," said senior receiver James Guarantano, who made a school-record 62 catches last season. "If his mouth isn't open, you've done things right."

Asked for a self-appraisal, Fortay will mention his leadership, his ability to avoid pressure and read defenses on the go, his sense for picking out open receivers.

"I've got a decent arm," said Fortay. "I don't have a Marino arm, but I don't have a noodle arm, either. I think I've got pretty good feet."

Fortay, a soccer player until he reached high school, said he wants to improve the strength of his arm, but believes he has done that to some degree by doing wrist curls and throwing from his knees. He wants to be quicker dropping back. He wants to begin to think like a coach.

"Right now, I'm on the grade-school level," he said.

He said he doesn't spend too much time thinking about the Hurricanes these days. But he still has a girlfriend at Miami and plenty of friends on the team.

Fortay also suggested that it was too bad Rutgers doesn't have Miami on its Big East schedule until 1993.

"If you want to be the best, you've got to play against the best," he said.

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