Friday, November 8, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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High School Sports

Luke Huard coaching after heartbreaking career

Seattle Times staff reporter

PUYALLUP — Luke Huard still loves the game that broke his heart.

He still dreams of throwing touchdown passes in the NFL, as his two older brothers have done. Still believes he can recapture that Huard magic that put Puyallup on the national map of quarterbacks.

But Luke Huard has seen his dreams shattered before. Of all the Huards, he knows best that what should be or could be is never certain.

Five years ago, some considered the last of the Huards as potentially the best. But between then and now, the youngest endured some of the worst fortunes.

While Damon and Brock still play backup roles in the NFL, waiting for opportunities to start again, Luke is all but starting over again back home in Puyallup. He is an assistant coach at Washington High School in suburban Tacoma, a team that takes a 2-6 record into tonight's final game with rival Franklin Pierce.

Luke, 23, loves coaching and long ago envisioned following in the footsteps of his father, Mike, who mentored all three sons at what became known as Quarterback High in Puyallup before he retired at the end of Luke's senior season in 1997. But, for Luke, that career was supposed to come later in life, after living out his dreams as a player.

"Sometimes, things just don't work out," Mike Huard said.

Sometimes, what seems to be the best decision at the time doesn't turn out that way.

While Damon and Brock enjoyed outstanding college careers at Washington, Luke, who broke all their records at Puyallup, chose a different path, one that basically took him to oblivion. His four-year adventure at North Carolina was wrought with coaching changes, injuries, health scares and disagreements about his conditioning, all of which added up to huge disappointments.

Mack Brown, the coach who recruited him, left North Carolina before Huard even got there, taking the job at Texas, but Huard honored his commitment. Then Ronald Curry, the No.1 recruit in the nation, made a surprising decision to go to UNC, too.

Huard update

Five years after the last of the Huard brothers played quarterback at Puyallup High School, here’s an update on the father and sons:
Damon 29 UW No. 2 career passer, Dolphins starter, Patriots backup
Brock 26 UW No. 1 career passer, Seahawks draft pick, Colts backup
Luke 23 Left N. C., Sam Houston, now assistant at Washington High
Mike 52 Retired coach teaches P.E., drivers ed at Puyallup High
Luke wound up playing in only seven games at North Carolina, all his redshirt freshman year in 1999, when he started four games after Curry was injured. He finished with very unHuard-like statistics — 29 of 75, 256 yards, two interceptions, one touchdown — thanks largely to a shoulder injury that ultimately ended his season.

A change in offensive coordinators the next season brought an option offense — hardly Huard's forte — and rumors he intended to transfer strained relations, but Huard persevered and stuck out the season.

"I still felt that at some point, everything was going to work out, that things were going to go my way," he said.

Another coaching change brought John Bunting and a pro-style offense. Huard trained hard and started the spring game, but developed an irregular heartbeat that frightened him, hampered his workouts and caused him to butt heads with the team's new strength coach.

When Bunting said he couldn't come to training camp last fall because he needed to lose weight, Huard had had enough. He left the team, fell into a depression and, for a while, thought his playing days were over.

"I loved the game of football so much, it was hurting me," Huard said. "It was affecting all areas of my life. It was humiliating, and I didn't know if I could go through it again to try to get back in the game."

Watching the game on TV made helped change his mind.

"I knew I could compete with those guys who were playing and I knew I had to get an opportunity to show my skills," he said.

But life blind-sided Huard one more time. Two weeks into what was to be his revival campaign at Sam Houston, he was declared ineligible by the NCAA.

"I felt robbed," he said. "I was helpless and hopeless."

Huard was one class shy of earning his undergraduate degree at North Carolina, and while he tried to complete the complicated logic course over the summer at Sam Houston, he said he couldn't get the help he needed. The next option was to transfer his UNC credits to Sam Houston, but Sam Houston didn't offer many of the courses, which means he lost those credits. Huard needed to have 75 percent of the credits needed to graduate in order to be eligible after transferring. Huard had 73 percent.

Huard and former North Carolina teammate Bosley Allen, a talented receiver who had transferred with him, sat out the first two games of the season certain the NCAA would grant their eligibility. They were wrong.

Huard was furious and more frustrated than ever before.

"It was time to finally come home to be with my family and figure out what I want to do," he said.

The high-school season already had begun, but Huard wanted to be part of football in some way. A former teammate told him Gary Jeffers still had an opening on his staff at Washington. He went to watch the Patriots play against Highline, then met with Jeffers and signed on as an assistant. Huard, who also landed a job as an educational assistant at Washington, designs and calls the passing plays and enjoys working with kids.

"It's been very rewarding," he said.

When Paul Abel threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Jake Cassidy to upset Fife this season, Huard said it was as exciting as any TD toss he had ever made, and reacted accordingly.

"He came up and gave me a big ol' hug and said, 'Jake, you're my hero,' " Cassidy said. "That was pretty flattering to me."

On the sideline during games, Huard said he has had referees come by and tell him he needs to give football one more shot. He wrestles with the idea daily and said he will make a final decision this winter after working out and seeing how he feels.

His head tells him one thing, his heart another.

To have a legitimate shot at an NFL tryout, Huard believes he needs to play another season of college football and could petition the NCAA again, although he's not sure he could deal with another disappointing outcome. He is considering arena-league football or possibly playing in Europe. He will earn his degree in political science by taking a correspondence course at North Carolina this winter and knows that coaching will be his ultimate destination, whether it's in high school or college. Those who know him believe he'll make an outstanding coach.

Luke said his brothers continue to offer encouragement and insisted he has no jealousy toward them.

"I'm so proud of my brothers," he said. "I want them to do well. ... It's never entered my mind that I have to be better than my brothers. I've just always wanted to play to my ability and try to beat myself."

He's often asked if he second guesses his decision not to go to Washington.

"It's hard to think about how things would be right now if I'd gone to Washington," Luke said. "They've had some good quarterbacks, but given the opportunity, I could compete with anybody."

He says he tries not to look back and, in many ways, relishes his time at North Carolina and the friends he met there. Luke said his Christian faith has helped him through the tough times and he tries to remember what Brock has always told him: "Don't ask God why. Ask God what — what do you want me to do with my life?"

Luke Huard wants to keep football in his life, one way or another.

"This game has broken my heart," Luke said, "but (it has) definitely been more of a plus than a negative. To some people, it's just a game. But some of us grew up on it and it's our passion. It's what we do, what we live on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. We take it to heart."

Sandy Ringer:

Information in this article, originally published November 8, has been corrected. A previous version of this story had two errors. Ronald Curry was the quarterback who was recruited at North Carolina in the same class as former Puyallup High School star Luke Huard. An article on Huard mistakenly called him Rodney Currey. In the same article, the last name of Washington High School head football coach Gary Jeffers was misspelled Jefferson in one reference.


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