HOLLYWOOD — Much of the discussion here at Pac-12 Media Days this week has centered on the league’s abundance of elite quarterbacks. On Thursday, UCLA coach Jim Mora did not hesitate to talk up the Bruins’ star signal-caller, Brett Hundley, saying: “I can tell you unequivocally that Brett Hundley is a first-round draft pick. The guy’s a future star in the NFL.”
But Mora also made a point of repeatedly emphasizing that the dual-threat quarterback, who threw for 3,071 yards and rushed for 748 last season, is a “passer first.” And he hopes Hundley avoids falling victim to an NFL stereotype the coach said he experienced first-hand when he led the Atlanta Falcons from 2004-06.
“People have a tendency at times to see an African-American quarterback and say, ‘Oh, he’s a runner.’ I hate that stereotype and I always have,” said Mora. “I coached Michael Vick and my belief (is) that we stereotype those guys started with him. I don’t want that to happen with Brett, and I’m going to make sure that it doesn’t, because it shouldn’t.
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“The guy’s a passer.”
Asked if he’s experienced what Mora described, Hundley said: “Oh yeah. Obviously, it’s come a long way. But when you have the ability to run, a lot of people will tell you, ‘Hey, stay in the pocket.’ There’s a clash of reasoning as a quarterback of what you should be doing. Some quarterbacks that might not be as gifted [running], they have to stay in the pocket. When you’re gifted with the ability to run, you’ll take off running.”
Many expected the 6-foot-3, 227-pound Hundley to enter the draft after his redshirt sophomore season, which he capped with a dominant Sun Bowl performance against Virginia Tech’s respected defense. Hundley in that game went 16 of 27 for 226 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing for 161 yards on 10 attempts, including an 86-yard touchdown run. But plagued in part by an injury-ravaged offensive line and limited backfield, he rated just 37th nationally among passers, completing 66.8 percent of his passes for 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Hundley, like Oregon star Marcus Mariota, shrugged off widespread first-round projections to return for another year, and Mora is hardly downplaying the possibilities.
“Maybe he wins the Heisman, maybe he’s the first pick of the draft, maybe he leads his team to some sort of championship,” said Mora. “I think it was a great decision.”
Another fleet-footed quarterback, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, is widely considered the Pac-12’s most viable candidate for those honors. Stanford coach David Shaw, lavish in his praise of the Ducks star, who he described as having “Andrew Luck’s size and Robert Griffin’s speed,” is equally enamored with Hundley.
“Hundley, in my opinion, is right there with [Mariota],” said Shaw, a former NFL assistant. “He doesn’t have the same top speed but he’s got more than enough athleticism, is extremely accurate, (is a) quick decision-maker, gets the ball out fast.
“Both of those guys are NFL ready right now.”
Mora is obviously biased in favor of his own guy. And it seems he’s on a mission to make sure scouts and GMs make accurate evaluations of Hundley next spring.
“Brett is a thrower,” said Mora. “It would be awful if people started to categorize Brett as a running quarterback.
“. . . When the NFL comes and evaluates him in earnest, they will absolutely fall in love with him. He’s a thrower, and you need guys that can throw the ball down the field, but it’s also really nice to have a guy that can do both.”
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. Before joining FOX Sports, he covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff,” will be released in August. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions toStewart.Mandel@fox.com.