Kubiak on Luck: Best rookie since Peyton
Andrew Luck doesn’t know how many family members will be in Reliant Stadium on Sunday.
“They tell me nothing,” the 23-year-old quarterback jokingly said in a conference call with Houston media on Wednesday.
But there are sure to be plenty.
Luck, the rookie first-overall pick, will lead his Colts (9-4) into Reliant Stadium to face the Texans (11-2) on Sunday afternoon in a game with major playoff implications.
“It’s a huge game,” Luck said. “Obviously, we’re fighting for a spot and they’re one of the premier teams in the AFC. I don’t think the division’s sewn up yet so … biggest game of the year.”
And it’s a pretty big game for Luck personally too, one he “absolutely” mentally circled on his calendar when the schedule first came out. See, Luck grew up in Houston, played quarterback at Stratford High School. His dad, Oliver, played quarterback for the Oilers in the early 1980s.
“It’s a chance for my grandparents to come to the game,” he said. “A lot of my family still lives out in West Houston. It’s a chance for them to come see me, which is fun. It’s always nice to go back to your hometown and obviously play a great team.”
Luck wasn’t sure exactly who will be at the game but he expects his mom Kathy and her side of the family, his siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins. Then, there are his friends from Houston. Then, some former coaches. And, of course, his dad.
And for dad, it’s been quite an experience, having a professional quarterback for a son. Oliver Luck was a quarterback on the Oilers from 1983-1986. In 20 career games (nine as a starter) he compiled a 6-3 record to go along with 2,544 and 13 touchdowns. Andrew surpassed those career numbers earlier this season as a rookie. Although Oliver is no longer the best QB in the family, the experience has been fun for the elder Luck.
“It’s fun,” Andrew Luck said. “I think he definitely gets taken back to his memories. I remember driving out to Anderson, Ind. for training camp. I gave him a call and he went on a 20-minute story about driving to San Angelo, listening to a U2 album that came out on repeat.”
On Sunday, Luck gets to play in front of some of the most important people in his life in the city where his football career began to take off. It will be his first game in Reliant Stadium since 2006, when he lost in the playoffs as a junior.
Luck seemed to remember – and told reporters – that his final high school game was at Reliant. But that isn’t true. His final high school game was at Galena Park the following season.
“He’s played quite a bit of football since then,” said Luck’s high school coach Eliot Allen, who’s still the head coach at Stratford. “That tells me he’s got his mind right for this game. Tells me that he’s focused.”
Luck still lists his Allen as one of the biggest influences of his football career, especially in the Houston area.
“I’m extremely proud,” Allen said. “Not only of the talent he has but the person he’s always been. He’s never deviated in terms of how he was and how he treats people.”
When asked if he would be in attendance on Sunday, Allen answered without hesitation.
“I will be there,” Allen said. “I’m really excited. I’m a huge Texans fan but I’m an Andrew Luck fun.”
So Allen will be at Reliant Stadium, along with some of the other most important people in Luck’s life. And, it’s a game with major playoff implications against one of the best teams in the NFL.
All of that might be a lot for a rookie, a 23-year-old kid, to take in. It might be a lot to erase from the mind and just play football. But Luck isn’t your run-of-the-mill 23-year-old. And he’s certainly not just any rookie quarterback.
“Honestly, I haven’t said a thing (about Luck’s return),” interim head coach Bruce Arians said. “I don’t think it would need to be … he’s a very grounded young man who knows what’s at stake. If anything, he’ll prepare even more without anybody saying anything to him.”
Luck has wowed audiences and silenced critics 13 games into his NFL career. He has engineered four fourth-quarter comebacks and has orchestrated six game-winning drives. He’s on pace to crush Cam Newton’s rookie record for passing yards in a season and has already topped Peyton Manning for the Colts’ rookie record.
Aside from personal statistics, Luck has the Colts one win away from clinching a playoff berth a season after they were the worst team in the league. If the Colts win out, they won’t just earn a playoff spot, they would win the AFC South. The Texans and Colts will face each other twice over the final three weeks of the season.
“You never know how tough a guy is until you have ’em,” Arians said. “You can judge everything except the heart muscle when you’re out there evaluating guys and he has a great heart and great grit.”
“I think he’s exceptional,” Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. “He’s as good a player I’ve seen come out since Peyton in all my years. He’s been excellent this year. I told the team today, he’s playing like an eight-, nine-year football player.”
When prompted by a question from the Houston media on Wednesday, Luck remembered the day he picked up his pads as a middle-school age kid. He remembered wearing them home, wearing them around the house for hours. He remembered wanting to sleep in them.
Then, he realized the pads were a little bulkier than normal, that they were bigger than he thought they should be. They were linemen pads.
“I’ll never get to play quarterback,” Luck remembers telling his father.
Well, he did.
And on Sunday he’ll get to play where it all started.