Aug. 29, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Successful quarterbacks have taken on any number of forms.
There are the cool hand Lukes and the fiery swashbucklers. Some are brilliant field generals while others have been reportedly as dumb as a stump in a Louisiana swamp. Can't-misses have missed magnificently and unknowns have become heralded.
At this precise moment in time, the book on Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell is full of mostly blank pages.
There are scads of data, mountains of measurables and more than enough educated guesses pertaining to Maxwell's intangibles which the Spartan coaching staff has used to predict how they believe the fourth-year junior will perform.
But until he starts writing his own story, as starting quarterbacks from George "the Wolverine Killer" Gauthier to Kirk Cousins did before him throughout program history, no one really knows what the Maxwell era will look like.
Michigan State quarterbacks coach Dave Warner has probably spent more one-on-one time with Maxwell than anyone else outside of his immediate family and closest friends, and even he's looking forward to a revelation or two when the Spartans host Boise State on Friday night.
The knowledge, preparation, rocket-launcher arm and leadership qualities are all there. What been missing are the bright lights, heat of battle, TV cameras and 75,005 fans.
"But that's a big thing for any guy starting his first football game and most especially for a quarterback," Warner said Wednesday. "You don't want him to try to come out and do everything all at once just because of the long wait he's gone through for this opportunity.
"Going into this game, the big thing for Andrew is to just relax, play his game and not try to force anything."
It's almost a given that Maxwell will be steady, focused and unflappable. Then again, no one in their right mind ever expected Cousins to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for spiking the ball out of frustration after a false start violation derailed a play against Minnesota last season.
No one's calling Maxwell a stoic or an automaton, but would he do a leaping chest-bump with tackle Fou Fonoti after Le'Veon Bell breaks loose for a critical long-gainer?
"That would surprise me," Warner said. "I guess that's the unknown with him right now - how he reacts to big plays - because he's not been in the fire.
"I think I know how he's going to react if he makes a mistake; I think he's going to handle it well and bounce back. Kirk would get very excited and I think that's great. If Andrew does that I think it'd be awesome."
Contrary to a seemingly endless stream of analysis coming from the college football literati, MSU's has no plans to coddle Maxwell by hiding him behind what should be a potent rushing attack. In fact, Warner, offensive coordinator Dan Roushar and head coach Mark Dantonio are on record saying they expect Maxwell to continue the offensive evolution Cousins took to an advanced state as a three-year starter.
Finding a comfort zone is quite different from dummying down the offense. From his three years of study and practice, Maxwell now knows what he didn't know as a highly decorated, Elite 11 Quarterback Camp prospect coming out of Midland High School.
Maxwell had no delusions of grandeur many with his credentials might have had, and would have debated those who harbored them on his behalf. His apprenticeship began with the acknowledgment that he was by no means ready to line up against Montana State - MSU's first opponent in his true freshman season - except in a dire emergency situation.
"When I committed to play here, I knew there was a good possibility that I would have to wait these three years," Maxwell said. "That's what I was prepared for and ready for partly because I realized just how hard it is to come in and play as a true freshman. Anybody who does that in Division I college football, I have a tremendous amount of respect for.
"You get here, Coach Dantonio says it best, it's kind of the stages of learning. You don't know what you don't know. There are so many things that as a high school player coming out you don't even recognize are part of the game that you need to know, let alone do you know them?"
Maxwell made the transition from trainee to full-skill status last season when the Spartans felt he could ably take over for Cousins. Since that eventuality never occurred, MSU is hopeful the time he spends as a journeyman before earning masters status is short - say, a down or two.
"Especially for the first year, but through the three years, I've learned so much just from sitting behind Kirk, from viewing him go through all these experiences," Maxwell said. "But I've also grown a lot as a person. I'm a completely different person standing here now at 21 than when I came here at 18.
"This waiting, this maturing through the last three years have given me that." If pressure comes from being unprepared, then it's no wonder that Maxwell is filled more with excitement than nervousness on the eve of his debut.
The Spartans have done everything they can to temper his resolve, tax his spirit and test his command of the offense, including running him through a gauntlet operated at full speed by their highly touted No. 1 defense - "good-on-good," according to Roushar - on a daily basis.
Maxwell's readiness "is a culmination of all those things," Roushar said. "I see it in his poise, his confidence. You watch it in his practice. He's throwing the ball very well, his decision-making's been good, he's made very few mistakes. Those things lead you to believe we're going to play at a high level at that position."
Maxwell may not ooze the charisma of a Cousins, play with the spittle-drenched passion of a Jeff Smoker, ward off defensive backs with the steely-eyed glare of a Bill Burke or bedazzle fans with the flair of a Tony Banks.
But, that's OK.
"The message to him I think is, `Be yourself, be who you are,' " Dantonio said. "He's a very calm, collected guy. He lets things run off his shoulders, gets ready for the next challenge. He has great athletic ability, a great mind for the game, is very intelligent player and he's got experience. So just be himself.
"This is his football team in that respect. We have great faith in him."
Even Warner is looking forward to how Maxwell responds to success.
"I know there's a fire that burns inside him," Warner said. "I know he's very competitive and I know he's going to be very excited. How he displays that excitement remains to be seen."