It has been a long journey for Tom Savage, the former Philadelphia prep football star at Cardinal O'Hara who made the college football world sit up and take notice in 2009 as a freshman quarterback at Rutgers.
A hand injury the next year and the loss of his starting job to the unheralded Chas Dodd led Savage to transfer from Rutgers to Arizona following the 2010 season. After sitting out a season in Tucson due to NCAA regulations, Savage was poised to compete for the starting job until the Wildcats brought in head coach Rich Rodriguez and a new offensive system. Savage, a pro-style quarterback, would never fit into Rodriguez's scheme.
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He was left to transfer again, and his first thought was to head back where his heart was.
“I just think at that time, patience wasn't one of my virtues and I decided to leave Rutgers. Looking back on it, if I could go back and change it I'd stay there, get my job back, compete in the spring and finish what I started there,” Savage told Metro. “A couple things happened there — at Arizona. It was one of those things and I had my opportunity to go back to Rutgers. Fix the mistakes that I made and go back there and finished what I started.”
But the NCAA denied his hardship waiver, which meant he would need to sit out a season, leaving him with just one year of eligibility to play. Given the coaching change at Rutgers — Greg Schiano left for the NFL — Savage ended up at Pittsburgh instead. He sat out 2012, but got his chance in 2013.
He calls Pitt head coach Bill Crist “one of the best things to happen to me.” He completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 2,958 yards last season with the Panthers. He had 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions, numbers that have NFL scouts and general managers believing the former U.S. Army All-American can be a starter at the next level with some polishing.
It seems that despite the five-years and three programs to get here, that this long, strange journey to the NFL has made you a more resilient person.
The whole process definitely did. The process at Rutgers definitely humbled me. I'm happy I went through it at a young age, transferring – you make mistakes when you're younger. But I came through it a better person and a more humble leader.
Heading into this past season at Pitt, your final year of NCAA eligibility, there must have been enormous pressure. You hadn't played since 2010, a season where you faced injuries and spent most of it on your back with a bad offensive line giving up sack after sack. Coming into this year, it was your final shot at not just college football, but making a statement for the NFL.
I didn't really put it in that context. I was happy to be with the team again and finish off my career with a bunch guys. I've been through that process where I didn't have a team. You ask any former player who used to play and doesn't play any more, they will say they miss the guys. I was excited last year to be with the guys again.
How has the three programs in five years fit into your narrative leading up to the draft? NFL teams must be interested in this part of your story and to see how you've overcome those obstacles.
They always ask about the journey. The one thing that the scouts and general managers and everyone is intrigued by the journey and that I've been through it. People want to see it, the adversity. It helps you grow as a person, as an individual. It builds character. They also think that I have a pretty high ceiling, I only really have one year of experience. Freshmen year? Yes, it was a year but I was a freshman and didn't have much experience. There was a big gap between my freshman year and my senior year, so they really count that as one year.
And now, you're rising up the draft board. Some out there are calling you "Tom Brady 2.0." You've surpassed some bigger names in many mock drafts.
I try not to pay attention to that stuff. You really don't know what to expect. As a competitor, you think you belong there but I'm not going to pay attention to mock drafts and mock boards. It is all speculation.
What does a team get when they draft Tom Savage?
Just a tough kid that loves the game. I'm a very loyal teammate. If you can talk to anyone from Arizona or Pittsburgh or Rutgers. Talk to the head coach or the equipment manager, they will say that I care.
What is your relationship now with Schiano since you left Rutgers?
I speak to coach often. He helps me a lot. Obviously this whole draft process is a game of its own. [I am] really trying to focus on what I can control and keep working out. Once I get the shot, that's what you're working for. Once they call your name, we are all on the same level playing field.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.