Former O'Hara star's stock is rising in the NFL draft

ASSOCIATED PRESS Tom Savage has worked out for most of the NFL teams, leading up to the draft.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Tom Savage has worked out for most of the NFL teams, leading up to the draft.
Posted: May 08, 2014

TOM SAVAGE'S college football career didn't parallel those of his quarterback counterparts readying for this week's NFL draft. His route to the brink of pro football encompassed five seasons at three schools on both sides of the country. It included two transfers, three conferences and four head coaches.

As far as collegiate tenures for touted quarterback prospects go, the half-decade that has elapsed since Savage graduated from Cardinal O'Hara High has strayed far from the norm. But nevertheless here he is, kid from Springfield, Delaware County, via the University of Pittsburgh via the University of Arizona via Rutgers, on the doorstep of the NFL.

"Obviously, patience wasn't one of my things back in the day, as an 18-, 19-year-old kid," Savage said ahead of the draft, which commences tomorrow night with the first round. "I thought I was the man at Rutgers, and I thought I was entitled to some stuff that I truly wasn't, and I left.

"Looking back at it now, in a perfect world, I wish I could've stayed and just earned my job and earned my stripes back. But I'm happy I went through the process and went through that whole journey."

When Savage's non-traditional college tenure culminated with Pitt the day after Christmas in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, his was not a name often heard regarding hot prospects for this draft. But throughout this marathon of a predraft process, Savage's stock has risen arguably as much as any player's in this class, so much so that the strong-armed 6-4 pocket passer was invited to Radio City Music Hall for the festivities.

The buzz has picked up to the point at which Savage has been mentioned as someone who could sneak into the back end of the first round. More likely, though, he will hear his name Friday, when the second and third rounds are held. Mike Mayock, the NFL Network analyst and draft guru, said last week he wouldn't be surprised if Savage was drafted late in the third round or if he slid into the fourth.

One thing certain is that there has been no shortage of intrigue from teams. Savage spent much of April flying around the country and memorizing playbooks. Since this process started, he has worked out for, met with or visited a whopping 24 of the league's 32 teams. Chip Kelly was among the coaches at Pitt's Pro Day. Shocking, we know.

"The process has been fun," said Savage, who, at 24, is 2 1/2 years older than Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. "I think it's every kid's dream to go through this whole process and hopefully get drafted one day . . . I know I'm happy that I'm going to get a shot. That's all I can really ask for. Anything else is a bonus."

Mayock puts Savage's arm up with LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas as the best in this year's QB class. The knocks on Savage, Mayock said, pertain to his footwork and ability to get rid of the ball quickly and efficiently. He also took too many sacks at Pitt.

But that rifle of a right arm certainly offers intrigue.

"From an arm-talent perspective," Mayock said, "it doesn't get much better than Tom Savage."

While interviewing with teams and answering questions from the media, Savage has been open about his perceived red flag: two transfers from 2011-12. He goes as far as to call his 2011 transfer from Rutgers a mistake, one he says he's learned from.

On the heels of a stellar high school career that earned him U.S. Army All-American honors, Savage earned the Rutgers starting QB job as a true freshman in 2009. A 52 percent completion rate, 2,211 passing yards and 14 touchdowns to only seven interceptions earned him team offensive MVP honors.

But during an injury-plagued sophomore campaign, Savage was benched in favor of true freshman Chas Dodd. He left for Arizona, where he would sit out per NCAA transfer rules while learning under starter Nick Foles. But after the school fired coach Mike Stoops in 2011 and replaced him with Rich Rodriguez, who runs a spread offense, Savage headed back east, to Pitt. He sat out 2012 before throwing for 2,958 yards with 21 touchdowns to nine interceptions last fall, his lone season of eligibility with the Panthers.

"I think it humbled me," Savage said of his roundabout college experience. "It's good when you're the man for 4 years at a college and you're the starter for 4 years in a row. But it's different when you have to face a little bit of adversity, especially when you're a young kid. I made some mistakes when I was younger, by leaving and transferring [from Rutgers], but it's kind of how you handle those mistakes that you make, and I think it helped me out a lot just to mature as a young man."

Savage keeps in touch with Foles, the Eagles quarterback advising him to "just control what you can control." That's easier said than done, especially with all the recent attention. A recent report from draftinsider.net pegged the Patriots as a potential suitor for Savage, perhaps as their heir apparent to Tom Brady.

Savage would rather not hear all of the speculation. He said he asked his agent and others close to him to keep him in the dark regarding potential landing spots. He tries to steer clear of mock drafts. He doesn't want to know. Not yet, anyway.

"I want to know," he said, "when the commissioner calls my name."

When Roger Goodell does just that, Savage will be watching at home in Springfield with family and friends. He opted not to attend the draft in New York City. Draftees usually leave for OTAs a day or two after the draft, so time with family is limited.

Savage said he doesn't expect to feel much relief if drafted.

"The goal isn't to get drafted," he said. "The goal is to make the 53-man roster and then eventually become the starter and then eventually win a Super Bowl."

One arduous journey just about behind him, Savage is already looking toward the next.


On Twitter: @jakemkaplan

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