Thursday, May 14, 2009

Josh Portis' Long, Strange Trip

Josh Portis is talented. He's never been questioned in that regard.

As a high school senior in 2004-2005, Portis made the all-state team in California, a state known for its bevy of gifted football players.

Considered one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, he threw for 36 touchdown passes in his senior season and ran for 13 more.

He received several D-I scholarship offers from schools like Florida, Maryland, Utah, Washington, and Kansas State. He could have taken any number of routes to play college football.

In choosing to commit to the Gators, Portis made a decision that was relatively safe—the UF football program carried a sense of real tradition and was poised for success year after year, even among the powerhouse schools of the SEC.

He wasn't the first Portis to go to school in the Sunshine State either, his cousin Clinton, now a Washington Redskin, played at the University of Miami.

As the Gators' only quarterback recruit, it seemed a near certainty that Portis would become the next signal caller after Chris Leak finished his career.

But things didn't play out that way.

As Leak's backup during the '05 season, Portis played only sparingly.

His best performance? Three for five for 45 yards against Mississippi State.

Regardless of whether or not he had enough opportunities to impress the coaches, the numbers spoke volumes: Portis was not the future of the Florida offense.

After seeing how much time the Gators were spending trying to lure top prospect Tim Tebow to Gainesville, Portis decided he'd had enough, choosing to transfer before the Gators even played their bowl game.

In Maryland, Portis found a school and coaching staff that had originally recruited him out of high school and a team in need of a consistent quarterback. Agreeing to sit out the 2006 season, Portis transferred to College Park and began practicing in order to learn the offense.

Following the season, Portis seemed ready. He set a school record for the quarterback position in the 40-yard dash, and he was recognized as the best player on the scout offense, throwing for 104 yards and a touchdown in the annual Red-White spring game. Finally, things were going his way.

September brought everything to a halt.

In a highly publicized report by the Baltimore Sun, Portis was found to have been suspended for the year for having cheated on a quiz during the spring of '07.

Everything that Portis had worked so hard to achieve came crashing down with one fatal mistake.

But Portis didn't quit. After sitting out the entire season (again), he continued to show signs of promise in the spring of '08, earning Iron Terp status for his work in the weight room. There was still hope, even as he was listed third on the depth chart for the upcoming season.

Portis managed to make it to the season opener against Cal without issue, and though he was still third on the depth chart, the possibility remained for him to prove himself.

Once again, he didn't get the chance. True, he played in eight games, more than he had at Florida. But in those eight games, how many times did Portis throw the ball?

Three. He completed one pass, gaining four yards. That's it.

Was he somewhat unlucky that Chris Turner played well enough to not be benched? Sure. Was it partially Portis' fault for not working hard enough to improve his position on the depth chart? It's possible.

Any way you slice it, the outcome remains the same; Josh Portis was leaving. Again.

This time, he'll be in California, but nowhere near an ocean. The California (PA) Vulcans, a Division II team, needed a quarterback, and Portis decided he was tired of sitting and waiting.

What will happen to Portis, now that he's practically fallen off the map? He may disappear almost entirely, as Ramonce Taylor did. He may be the next Rhett Bomar, who was recently drafted by the Giants. He may be neither one.

It's a little sad to consider all of Portis' wasted potential. Did he shoot himself in the foot? Yes. But to see someone with so much promise be relegated to anonymity is a bit depressing.

I realize that it's the way of the world, a capitalist mentality at work, but shouldn't we (or at the very least coaches) care about these guys as athletes and as people?

In this age of move-it-or-lose-it, there are many, many young Americans who are lost in the shuffle as coaches, professors, and bosses dismiss them if they don't see immediate output. Portis may not be the best or the brightest, but he's worked too hard for too long to become irrelevant.

For his sake, I hope he rises to some level above mediocrity, on the field or off of it. Anything less would be a real shame.

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