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Rix, Dorsey, Grossman bring QB skills, Heisman talk to Florida
For as far back as he can remember, Rex Grossman dreamed of playing quarterback at a big-time college. And for as far back as he can remember, that meant moving to Florida.
California boys Chris Rix (Florida State) and Ken Dorsey (Miami) saw things the same.
They, too, moved east, and now the Sunshine State is more like the Quarterback State. With the season under way, all three Florida transplants are on top-10 teams, and all three are among the early favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.
"Obviously the coaches in this state are doing something right," said Rix, who grew up in Santa Margarita, Calif. "The programs are great. Football is like a religion here, especially compared to California, and I think that should tell people all around the country if you want to play quarterback at a big time level, the first state to look at is Florida."
Grossman agrees. As soon as he saw a big future for himself as a quarterback, he knew he'd have to get out of Indiana.
"Our mindsets have been to play big-time football, and that means playing in Florida," Grossman said. "What quarterback doesn't want to play in Florida?"
At first, Grossman really wanted to play at Florida State. As luck would have it, however, Grossman visited Gainesville first during a trip to Florida in February 1998. He fell in love with the campus, and happened to catch then-coach Steve Spurrier on a day when he wasn't at the golf course.
Shortly after, the Gators were offering a scholarship and Grossman never thought about Florida State again.
Last season, Grossman threw for a school-record 3,896 yards and shattered another Florida record by passing for 300 yards in nine straight games. He finished second behind Eric Crouch in the Heisman voting. A great season, indeed, but now Grossman must prove he's not merely a product of Spurrier's system, as some skeptics claim.
"If people label me a product of his system, I want to break that mold," Grossman said. "But to me, there's no such thing as a quarterback in a bad system. You need both to make it work."
Of the three quarterbacks, Rix might be considered the biggest longshot of the group. He struggled mightily as a freshman last season, committing six turnovers against Miami in a loss, and another three in a loss to North Carolina. But the entire Florida State team was young, and the theory goes that all the Seminoles will improve this season, and Rix will be at the forefront of that improvement.
"Based on my accomplishments and their accomplishments, it's a bit premature" to mention him with Dorsey and Grossman, said Rix, who had a mediocre start to the season last week against Iowa State. "Maybe some people see the potential of this team and they see the offensive line I've got."
Rix made his way east because he wanted to play at a top program, and for a coach with deep religious values. Florida State and Bobby Bowden fit the bill perfectly.
"With Chris, you just hope he can pick up where he left off last year," Bowden said. "You look back, you remember the times where he struggled. And you remember the last few games, where he did a great job and played like an All-American."
Dorsey was, in fact, a second-team All-American last year and finished third behind Crouch and Grossman in the Heisman race. It was more than almost anyone could have expected by looking at Dorsey. He's a lanky, 6-foot-5, 200-pound kid with an apparently average arm and a disarming personality.
His road to the Sunshine State may have been the most unexpected of all.
He wanted to stay close to home and attend California, but when the Bears didn't offer him a scholarship in 1999, he started looking elsewhere.
He found Miami, a school short on quarterbacks and long on tradition -- with players such as Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh, Craig Erickson and Gino Torretta having had successful careers with the Hurricanes.
Tennessee and USC also recruited Dorsey, but both schools signed other quarterbacks, making it an easy decision for the native of Orinda, Calif.
Next thing he knew, he was winning a national championship and being mentioned in the same breath with the best quarterbacks in the country. He threw for 2,652 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
"If our team is successful, he's going to have to have a great year and he'll have as good a chance as anybody" at the Heisman, Miami coach Larry Coker said. "When you win the games he's won at this level, that's pretty special."
Unfortunately, this story can't turn out great for all three of these Sunshine State transplants. Now that Miami is back on Florida's schedule (Sept. 7), the three schools face each other in a round-robin format, of sorts. Heisman hopes and national-title implications will abound at each meeting.
They are games the whole nation will watch, and they are part of the reason quarterbacks are willing to move far from home to play for these programs.
"They all run great offenses, they're in a state that has great weather and every year at least one of us is playing for a national championship," Dorsey said. "You can't beat that."