Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck drops back to pass during NCAA...

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck drops back to pass during NCAA college football practice in Stanford, Calif. Luck turned down a chance to be the NFL draft's top pick to stay at Stanford one more year. (Aug. 8, 2011) Credit: AP

In the past two years, the college football landscape has been stained by scandals at one major school after another. Even the BCS title and Heisman Trophy won last season by Auburn quarterback Cam Newton were tainted by allegations that Newton's father attempted to sell his son's services when he transferred from Florida, sparking an investigation that is ongoing.

So in January, when quarterback Andrew Luck announced his decision to return to Stanford and forgo the opportunity to become the No. 1 draft pick in the NFL, it came as a cleansing breath for college football. He said it was more important to complete his degree in architectural engineering and to finish what he began with his classmates as they seek a Pac-12 title and possibly the BCS championship.

Luck starts this season as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy after finishing second to Newton last season, and he unavoidably emerges as the paragon for all that is good about college athletics.

"He really doesn't want to be the poster boy," said Luck's father, Oliver, who is the athletic director at West Virginia after a career as an NFL quarterback. "I realize how important it is to have positive role models, but the last thing in the world he wanted after he made the decision to stay and get his degree was to be the poster child.

"He said, 'It's what I want to do. I don't want to be this role model for high school kids.' But inevitably, that's the angle you have to take. He's the 'accidental role model,' an Anne Tyler title," Oliver Luck said, referring to Tyler's bestselling novel "The Accidental Tourist.''

Some questioned Luck's sanity in risking injury before collecting millions as a pro, but not his parents. "My wife and I were very proud of the fact he decided to get his degree and finish with the guys he came in with," Oliver Luck said. "He's fortunate to have parents who can afford to pay for what he needs. A lot of kids have economic pressure to go early [to the NFL] and get the paycheck to take care of the family. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that because we all, at the end of the day, are socio-economic creatures."

The biggest beneficiary of Luck's decision might be new head coach David Shaw, who served as quarterbacks coach under Jim Harbaugh, who left for the San Francisco 49ers. He gets an NFL-ready quarterback who passed for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns last season, and Luck's decision galvanized the Cardinal team.

"It's the fact he came back to play with guys he loves playing with," Shaw said. "They feel that camaraderie. We're a tight unit, a close-knit team, and guys will play hard for each other. It's great when your leader exemplifies those characteristics.

"He has every reason in the world not to be humble from the media attention to the coaches' attention we put on him and the way the players look up to him and with NFL scouts staring at him since the year he redshirted. All of that is swirling around him, and it doesn't affect him. He's the same humble, hardworking, competitive kid that he was when he stepped on campus Day 1."

The acorn didn't fall far from the tree in the Luck family. Oliver was a Rhodes Scholar finalist at West Virginia before going to the NFL, where he primarily was a backup for the Houston Oilers. After a five-year career, he became an NFL executive and eventually headed NFL Europe, living in England and Germany during Andrew's youth.

Andrew primarily played soccer until the family moved to Houston and he started organized football at age 11. Oliver Luck credits the quality of coaching in Texas more than his own input into Andrew's development on the football field, but it's his son's development as a person that makes Luck and his wife, Kathy, most proud.

"My wife and I told our kids sports is great, but at the end of the day, academics is what really matters and is going to give you much more satisfaction in the long run," Luck said. "Even if you play professional football, you're going to have 30 or 40 years of a productive life left, and you don't want to be the guy talking about your glory days."

Since deciding to stay in school, Luck has expressed no regrets. As he explained to one interviewer: "I wasn't ready to move on . . . I'd like to leave a better mark on Stanford and finish up school as well."

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