Bercovici finally gets his shot with 15th-ranked Sun Devils
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Mike Bercovici could have transferred from Arizona State without anyone really blaming him. Many of his family and friends urged him to go. Even his coach figured the big-armed quarterback would leave for another program where he could get more playing time.
But giving up is not in Bercovici's nature. He made a commitment to play at Arizona State and was going to stick it out, regardless if it meant holding a clipboard for his entire college career.
"It shows the type of man he is and that he's someone you want to root for," Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. "He could have gone through this season and not played one down, but it wouldn't have changed his mindset."
Bercovici's decision to ride it out in the desert has worked out well for him and the 15th-ranked Sun Devils.
Instead of starting from scratch after Taylor Kelly graduated, Arizona State heads into the most anticipated of Todd Graham's four seasons as coach with a proven quarterback who knows the Sun Devils' system inside and out.
After four seasons of hoping to get an opportunity, Bercovici will trot onto to the field for Saturday's opener against Texas A&M in Houston as the starter and Arizona State's unquestioned leader.
"He's like having a coach on the field," Graham said. "All the things that Taylor did, he's at that level and expanded on that level. I think Taylor's the best I've ever coached and I think that Mike's got a chance to be better."
Bercovici certainly will have earned everything he gets.
He was one of the nation's top quarterbacks coming out of Southern California's Taft High School in 2011 and never really considered other schools after receiving a scholarship offer from Arizona State.
Yet instead of becoming a star in the desert, he found himself serving as a backup. Bercovici played two games of mop-up duty as a freshman in 2011, redshirted the next season, then lost a close battle with Kelly to become the starter in 2013.
With the prospect of being stuck behind Kelly for the next two seasons, Bercovici considered transferring from Arizona State. Despite friends and family telling him he should and Graham thinking he probably would leave, Bercovici opted to stick it out and finish what he started.
"Obviously, as a football player in today's society, you want to play. You want to be inside the white lines, do what you came to college to do," Bercovici said. "There was a thought of it, but when I really boiled it down after my redshirt season and coach Graham's first year, I understood the type of program he wanted to build here, the type of young men he was shaping. There's not another school in the country I'd rather play for.
Bercovici made the most of his time as a backup, immersing himself in the playbook, treating every practice and game as if he were the starter. He even stood on the sideline during games with his helmet on, most of the chinstrap locked down in case he got the call at any second.
The preparation paid off last season when Kelly went down with a foot injury against Colorado.
Bercovici set school records for completions and attempts in his first career start against UCLA, throwing for 488 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions on 42-of-68 passing. He followed that up by throwing for 510 yards and five touchdowns against Southern California, giving him 998 yards in his first two starts, an NCAA record.
Bercovici had one more start, against Stanford, before Kelly returned and threw for a pair of touchdowns against rival Arizona after replacing Kelly in the second half.
The playing time was crucial to Bercovici's development for this season, allowing him to get all the can-I-handle-this jitters out while allowing him to see the nuances of managing a game in real time.
"There's always going to be butterflies, there's always going to be questions when you get out there for that first start," Norvell said. "To know that he's got that one under his belt, it definitely is a comfort for me and for everyone because we know not only is he prepared for it, he has shown what he can do when his number is called."