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Thursday, August 29, 2002
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No longer a back up, Stilley ready to lead offense
After spending most of his career on the bench, Sean Stilley finally has his chance to start.
By Brandon Ortiz
Editor in Chief

Sean Stilley is the Rodney Dangerfield of college quarterbacks.

He gets no respect. At least not from the so-called experts at preseason magazines, who are branding the fifth-year senior with a big question mark.

Even the folks at EA Sports, creators of NCAA Football 2003, apparently don’t think much of the 6-foot-4-inch, 224 pound quarterback. No. 6 — Stilley’s number — is so slow on the video game he makes the defensive lineman look fast.

“I guess it is just because I am a big guy,” said Stilley, who was upset his electronic replica’s weight was 12 pounds too heavy. ``They have me in there as a lefty, too, so I guess that says something to you.”

The reason prognosticators are underestimating Stilley is his experience — or lack of it.

Stilley has only started two games in his college career, and spent three years buried on the bench behind Casey Printers. But after Printers bolted to Division I-AA Florida A&M for its pass-happy offense in January, Stilley became the de facto starter.

Stilley doesn’t have Printers’ legs or arm, but he has the confidence of his coach.

“He doesn’t have to make the spectacular play, he just needs to get the ball in the hands of the people who can,” head coach Gary Patterson said. “I think you’ll be quite surprised. He is a lot more talented than what most people saw last season.

TCU is predicted to finish fourth in Conference USA by the league’s coaches, largely because of Stilley’s inexperience. Most preseason publications, such as Athlon Sports, have the same forecast.

“There is no reason I shouldn’t be a question mark,” Stilley said. “They haven’t seen me. That is an inspiration to me — to erase that question mark.”

That inspiration led Stilley to lose 12 pounds this summer by ditching late-night fast food and eating lighter meals.
He has also been more vocal on the practice field, and teammates have noticed.

“I think it is a big change,” receiver Adrian Madise said. “Any time you go from second string to starter, there is a big change. He is letting his voice be heard.”

Just a year ago, it seemed Stilley was destined to be a career back up.

Printers entered last season with a career 18-4 record, and in 2000 was the fourth most efficient passer in the nation. Stilley, meanwhile, had only thrown 10 passes in three years.

But Printers struggled at times in Year One of the Post-LaDainian Tomlinson Era, and Stilley made his way into the line-up after Printers injured his shoulder against Tulane in week six.

Stilley played the game of his life the next week against Army. He shredded the Black Knight’s secondary by completing 21 of 29 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns — at the time the best game by a TCU quarterback in six years. There was talk the career back up may soon share playing time with the former freshman phenom.

But in Stilley’s next start, he was lost for the season with a high left ankle sprain.

Stilley put up decent numbers in limited playing time — a 63.2 completion percentage and 545 passing yards in five games — but thinks he can do better with an off-season to prepare for the starter’s job.

“It’s not like I am being thrown in there,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like I am the backup. It is my offense to lead now.”

Stilley is the leader, but much like Printers a year ago, he has another hungry backup desperate to play.

Tye Gunn “is one of those guys that football is very important to him,” Patterson said. “I think he does go out on dates, but it is not a priority to him.”

In just a year, the redshirt freshman has jumped from fifth to second on the depth chart. The headliner of the 2001 recruiting class, he may be the most athletic quarterback on the roster.

And he isn’t shy about his aspirations.

“I am going to try to compete for the starting job,” Gunn said. “I am going to try to play as much as I can.”

Stilley sees the friendly rivalry as a blessing. After all, Printers went on to throw for 1,159 yards in four games after Stilley nearly challenged him for playing time.

Whether he can put up those kind of numbers remains to be seen. Regardless of what publications say, don’t
count his teammates among those who doubt it can happen.

“All the people that write those things don’t know what is going on,” Madise said. “They haven’t come out here and seen him play.”

Sports editor Danny Gillham contributed to this report.

Sean Stilley

Photographer/Simon Lopez
Quarterback Sean Stilley asorbs a hit in a recent practice. Stilley is the new man under center, after the transfer of three-year starter Casey Printers.

TCU Daily Skiff © 2003

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