The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

College

February 25, 2014

Savage reflects on wild collegiate ride

INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Savage’s five-year rollercoaster ride has taken him from East Rutherford, N.J., to Tucson, Ariz., to Pittsburgh.

And the former high school All-American quarterback played for three different schools – Rutgers, Arizona and Pitt.

Looking back, Savage wishes he would have just stayed at Rutgers, where he was named to the All-American freshman team in 2009 by the Football Writers Association of America.

“I left Rutgers my sophomore year,” Savage said at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I got hurt. I lost my job. The kid (Chas Dodd) went in there and played great for the team. Coach (Greg Schiano) went with the hot hand.

“I was an 18-year-old kid, bitter and ticked off. I thought I had all the answers and decided to leave. Obviously, looking back now I could have handled it a different way.

“But I definitely matured from the whole process. I grew from it and I’m happy to be where I am now.”

Savage, 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, left Rutgers after the 2010 season and announced he was transferring to Arizona. But late in the 2011 season, while sitting out as a transfer, he decided to leave the Wildcats’ program.

He eventually ended up at Pitt, where Savage also had to sit out the 2012 season before finally playing as a fifth-year senior this past fall.

“Leaving Arizona, I was originally going back to Rutgers,” Savage said. “My appeal got denied from the NCAA. I had to walk-on wherever I went. I had to pay my way. That was it.”

He said he came “real close” to quitting football and getting a job.

“I walked on to Pittsburgh in camp,” he said. “I was ineligible, doing the scout team for the second year in a row, paying my way to do scout team. I was kind of like, ‘I don’t think I can do this anymore.’

I called my parents. I called everybody. Everybody was like, `Hey, it’s your life. You’ll have to live with that the rest of your life, that you walked away and you quit.’

“To be honest, leaving Rutgers made me feel like I quit once and I wasn’t going to do it again.”

Savage, the only quarterback to attend the combine who had played for three different schools passed for 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns last season for the Panthers, completing 61 percent of his passes. He tossed nine interceptions.

“I’ve been in three different systems, probably four or five different offensive coordinators. I don’t even know anymore I’ve been to so many schools,” he said. “You kind of have to pick it up on the run. You have to learn on your own.

“At Pittsburgh, I had to walk-on and earn my spot. I had to pick up the offense and learn it by myself. Being ineligible you can’t offer too much to the team. You really have to grind in the film room and pick it up on your own, kind of like the NFL will be.

“There will be veterans that know the playbook. They’re not going to slow down for some rookie.”

Prior to the start of the combine, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Tom Savage was a “wild card” in May’s draft.

After the quarterbacks went through individual drills Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Gil Brandt, former player personnel executive of the Dallas Cowboys, tweeted: “Best QB in 2nd group was Tom Savage. Has a gun for arm.”

The well-traveled Savage, projected as a late-round pick or free agent, believes he has something to offer an NFL team despite attending three different colleges.

“I definitely want to bring toughness,” he said. “You have to be that guy who can take a couple of hits and keep your eyes down the field and still make the big-time throws you need to make.

“Everyone here has big arms. You have to be accurate. You have to be a poised quarterback and be able to handle the pressure.”

 

 Ron Musselman is a freelance writer who covers the NFL. Follow him on Twitter at @ronmusselman8.

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