By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Keith Price’s first love was basketball. He played the sport as a skinny little kid and sometimes wondered if he was big enough to even entertain thoughts of one day playing in the NBA.
And then came football. Price grew to love that, too. He just didn’t know if he could thrive as a quarterback, or if he could play both sports simultaneously.
On an old VHS recording tape, one of his cousins provided the answer.
Watch this guy, Price was told.
And that’s how a kid who was born in 1991 came to idolize a quarterback who won the 1993 Heisman Trophy and never played organized football again. Florida State’s Charlie Ward — not Drew Brees or Peyton Manning or Tom Brady — came to be the quarterback Price would strive to become.
During Price’s career at the University of Washington, people have tried to make comparisons to other quarterbacks — whether they were to Jake Locker, who Price replaced as the starter, or to Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, whom the Huskies will face in the upcoming Alamo Bowl. None of them provided an entirely comfortable fit, and Price seemed to bristle at the insinuations.
But mention the name Charlie Ward, and Price will beam with pride.
“He definitely had a different type of game,” Price said, “and I feel like I have a different type of game.”
Asked for specifics, the UW quarterback added: “Not extremely fast but elusive. He (Ward) wasn’t extremely fast but elusive, and athletic enough to make plays. And he wasn’t big. He was probably the same size as me. So it was very similar.”
Price said several relatives started calling him Charlie Ward when he was in high school, due in part to his small stature but also because of his love of two sports.
“All my big cousins,” Price said when asked who first made the comparisons. “He won the Heisman when they were growing up, so he was there favorite quarterback.”
And as for Price himself?
“I wasn’t around to watch him,” he said with a smile, “but I became a fan.”
The allure goes beyond just Price’s position and two-sport love. Ward, who passed up the NFL and went on to play 12 seasons in the NBA, was an African-American playing quarterback — just like Price. He was the second African-American quarterback to win a Heisman, earning the honor in the award’s 55th year of existence, and was recently joined by back-to-back winners Cam Newton and Griffin.
Price said being an African-American quarterback in today’s athletic society is much different than it was even 20 years ago.
“The game has definitely changed since then,” he said. “But you definitely feel it. You don’t see too many of us. It’s definitely unique when you have role models like that to look up to.”
And yet Price admits that there have been times when he felt stereotyped as a quarterback, most notably during the recruiting process. Some schools and recruiting services put him in the “athlete” category that often is designated for players without a specific position.
“I had to deal with that coming out (of high school). People thought I was an athlete,” the Compton, Calif., native and former star at St. John Bosco High School in nearby Bellflower said. “I was just an athletic quarterback. I think maybe just because of my race, people assumed I was just an athlete.”
While Price fielded questions last week comparing him to Baylor’s Griffin, the UW quarterback has shied away from any such talk.
“I haven’t heard that,” Price said Thursday, when asked about comparisons to the most recent Heisman Trophy winner.
On Saturday, Price said he’s not really into people trying to compare him to any other quarterbacks.
“I don’t pay attention to it,” he said. “I’m my own self.”
And yet there is one quarterback comparison, albeit from a different generation, that Price just can’t shake.
“The only guy I’ve ever compared him to,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said Saturday morning, “is Charlie Ward. I think they’re eerily similar, and the numbers show that.”
One of Price’s former roommates, ex-Husky football player Jordan Wallace, used to called the quarterback Little Charlie. And Price himself was just watching YouTube videos of Ward alongside roommate Chris Polk late last week.
“He was pretty nice,” a grinning Price said of how Ward looked on the replay highlights.
Sarkisian said the comparisons are more about style of play, body structure and the results than they are about specific skill sets.
“There’s a throwing style. There are mannerisms. There’s a style of play that jumps out,” the 37-year-old Sarkisian said, adding that Ward could have been just as successful in today’s spread-dominated world of college football. “It’s not anything that they specifically do. It’s just the look of it, the way Charlie threw the ball. Charlie threw a beautiful ball, very similar to Keith. They play a very similar style.”
All Price knows for certain is that when Ward was playing back in the early 1990s, there weren’t all that many easy comparisons in terms of race. Back then, African-American quarterbacks were rare, and had it not been for trailblazers like Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham and Andre Ware, the position might not be as diverse as it has become in today’s game. Griffin made mention to that fact during his Heisman presentation last weekend, and Price echoed the sentiment Saturday.
“Those guys really set a straight path for us,” Price said. “It’s great when you have guys like that to look up to.”
The quarterback Price first looked up to might be old enough to be his father, but thanks to some old VHS tapes, he knows what kind of player he wants to become.