Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium will be a chance for fans to get answers to some unknown questions about Herm Edwards and Arizona State.
But on the other sideline, Saturday will also be the homecoming for Michigan State junior quarterback and Phoenix Pinnacle High alum Brian Lewerke, a former three-star prospect who some are now calling perhaps the best QB in the Big Ten.
“I am very excited,” Lewerke said in a phone interview with azcentral sports on Tuesday. “It will be the first time I have played a football game in Arizona since my senior year of high school, so to be able to play a college football game there it is going to be an unreal feeling.”
Lewerke doesn’t know the exact number of people who will be in attendance Saturday night to watch his much-anticipated return home. His dad is taking care of the tickets for Lewerke’s family and friends, but he anticipates it will be in the hundreds.
Meanwhile, his coach predicts that Lewerke will keep his emotions in check.
“His personality is pretty laid back, pretty ‘OK, here is what we have to do’ and it’s pretty calm and collective and so I don’t anticipate this (game) being a problem in that area for him,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said.
Lewerke’s last game in Arizona, as a high school senior, didn’t go his way, as he was just 13-for-45 for 130 yards in a 56-10 state tournament loss to Phoenix Mountain Pointe in 2014.
But Lewerke has thrived in big games so far in his time in East Lansing.
He led the Spartans to a 10-3 record as a sophomore last season, throwing for 2,793 yards, 20 touchdowns and just seven passes intercepted, while completing 59 percent of his throws.
Those wins included a grind-it-out game in the rain at the Big House against Michigan; a 33-for-56, 400-yard, three-touchdown performance against No. 8 Penn State; and a three-touchdown performance against Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.
“I’ve always been able to control my excitement or disappointments,” Lewerke said. “I feel like I’ve always done a good job of keeping a level head with everything so I don’t think that will really change too much going home.”
Pinnacle head coach Dana Zupke noticed Lewerke’s rare athletic ability back when he started working with him in eighth grade. Lewerke had an arm unlike your normal middle schooler, which stood out to everybody. But Zupke was always more impressed with Lewerke’s character.
“He is great family man, very grounded, very level-headed, intelligent young man and very poised and that served him and continues to serve him in his role now,” Zupke said.
In the preseason, Sports Illustratednamed Lewerke a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate. He was also named to the Big Ten’s preseason honors list, one of two quarterbacks on the list along with Penn State’s Trace McSorley.
Despite all the honors, Zupke isn’t all that surprised by his former quarterback’s success.
“Brian is just an incredible athlete and he has done everything to put himself in a situation to be successful,” Zupke said. “He’s worked hard. I know what kind of volumes a playbook that they have and to get that stuff and master that, being a team captain (and) the way he has kind of immersed himself in that program it’s all reflection on (who) Brian is as a person.”
On the other hand, Zupke can’t help but take a step back and take in how cool it is how one of his former players has jumped on the national scene.
“Just knowing how big this country (is) with all the incredible talent out there it blows me away at times like ‘Wow this guy that played for me in high school (and) is on this national stage, an elite quarterback on a national stage competing for a Heisman,’ ” he said.
Zupke now coaches another talented quarterback, Spencer Rattler, considered the top-ranked QB in the nation. Rattler is committed to Oklahoma.
Rattler and Lewerke share a common trait considered crucial for quarterbacks these days.
“Their incredible ability to extend plays, both of them just absolutely do a fantastic job of being able to move around in the pocket, create time for themselves while keeping their eyes downfield,” Zupke said. “It’s one of the biggest challenges the quarterbacks have is keeping vision down field when they’re facing pressure.”
Zupke will not be in the crowd to watch his quarterback play Saturday night. He and the Pinnacle team are traveling to San Juan Capistrano in California to play JSerra Catholic on the same night.
Respect from ASU’s sideline
“The thing about Brian that kind of separates him from a lot of people is his work ethic and his attitude towards everything,” ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins said.
Wilkins and Lewerke both work with quarterbacks coach Dennis Gile in the offseason and have built a good relationship over the years.
“He is going to make some special plays, it’s just going to be what team makes more special plays,” Wilkins said.
Arizona State was the first to offer a scholarship to the Pinnacle product, who was recruited heavily by former ASU offensive coordinator and now Memphis head coach Mike Norvell.
Shortly before Lewerke committed to Michigan State, the Sun Devils received a commitment from current Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins from Chandler.
Back in 2014, Lewerke told azcentral sports that the Perkins’ commitment did not steer him away from ASU.
Rather, Lewerke said he chose Michigan State for a variety of reasons.
“I wanted to play in a big conference like the Big Ten where people live and die for football,” Lewerke said at the time. “Obviously, Michigan State has a great coaching staff, that was one of the main reasons, they have a good pedigree of Division I quarterbacks that have come through here and just when I came on a visit here I just felt something different, just felt like the right place I needed to be at.”
As Saturday approaches, Lewerke will lean on the advice his quarterbacks coach gave him Monday morning.
“It’s a team game, you don’t have to win it by yourself or do anything crazy. I agree 100 percent with that,” Lewerke said.
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