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O'Hara grad gets an early start at Rutgers

Tom Savage has been part of the Rutgers football program for what seems like a long time. But now comes the next step - taking part in an official practice and competing for the seemingly up-for-grabs quarterback spot.

Tom Savage has been part of the Rutgers football program for what seems like a long time. But now comes the next step - taking part in an official practice and competing for the seemingly up-for-grabs quarterback spot.

A recent graduate of Cardinal O'Hara High School, Savage is among five players looking to replace record-setting Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel, a sixth-round draft choice of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

Even though expectations are high for Savage, he is keeping a low profile, making no bold predictions and wanting to absorb all the intricacies of running a college offense.

Savage will finally step on the field Aug. 11, the first day of Rutgers practice, and it can't come soon enough for him.

Remember, he made an oral commitment to attend Rutgers as a junior in April of 2008.

"I am really anxious and doing all the work," Savage said earlier this week in a phone interview from Rutgers, where he is taking a summer course and participating in workouts with his teammates. "It's been such a long time since I committed that I'm really looking forward to getting to practice."

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Savage earned a strong national reputation, having been ranked the No. 10 quarterback nationally by ESPN.com.

"Who the heck knows when trying to rank kids all over the U.S., but he is as qualified a high school quarterback I've been around since we had Kerry Collins at Penn State," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, a former assistant coach for the Nittany Lions.

That doesn't mean that Schiano is ready to hand the keys to the offense over to Savage after Teel set career school records for passing yards (9,838) and touchdown passes (59).

"It is open," Schiano said about the quarterback competition on a team that has appeared in four consecutive bowl games.

Fifth-year senior Domenic Natale, who threw just eight passes last season, is considered the front-runner after completing 11 of 19 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown during Rutgers' spring game. Fellow fifth-year senior Jabu Lovelace was Teel's backup in 2007 but played just two early-season games last year before suffering a broken ankle. The other competitors are redshirt freshmen D.C. Jefferson and Steve Shimko.

Savage refuses to get caught up looking at the depth chart.

"I am just doing whatever I can to keep improving," Savage said. "I'm keeping my mouth shut and learning from the older guys."

Savage has been on campus since May 26, when he began taking a summer course. He is now taking his second summer course, and getting to school so early has allowed him to participate in the summer workouts, which he admitted were eye-opening.

"The summer workouts have been really intense, and I had a tough time in the beginning just like about everybody else," Savage said. "Plus I was homesick for a little but have kept at it, and I have started to enjoy it."

Savage is much further along than many of his incoming freshman classmates. During spring practice, he drove up to Rutgers on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and spent all day Saturdays watching workouts and then doing film study.

"It helped him a ton, being up here in the spring," Schiano said. "And even being up here this summer, he is getting real experience even though [the coaches] are not there."

Savage's original intention was to graduate early from O'Hara and enroll in January at Rutgers, but he said the archdiocese denied the request.

Jason Budd, the director of secondary student services for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said there was a simple reason for denying Savage's request.

"At the time, we didn't have any options in place, and we didn't want to set a precedent that could hurt us in the future," Budd said. "It's a trend that is not going away, and we need to come up with solutions."

So Savage has done the next best thing to early enrollment and is comfortable with his surroundings, his new teammates and the playbook.

"Everything is getting easier," he said, "but I realize that you have to put the work in."

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