TWIN FALLS — Redshirt senior quarterback Joe Southwick’s interview game might just rank among the best in the country.
Eloquent, charming and quick on his feet, Southwick can go from elucidating the new hit enforcement rules to gabbing about Mountain West brand management to the nuances of throwing mechanics.
He also skillfully deflects questions he doesn’t want to answer. Marketing classes are already paying off for the business major nine credits from graduation.
But there’s one topic that Southwick, a savvy public relations speaker and clearly one of the smartest guys in the media room, feels obligated to speak on.
One that seems a losing cause: the weight of public perception and the unfair expectations of the Boise State fan base.
Throughout Southwick’s appearance at Mountain West Conference media days at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, he would explain his plight, sometimes without prompting.
“I have always been comfortable in the spotlight. I have no problem putting myself out there,” Southwick said. “I think it is just dealing with people’s expectations. Fans are going to be fans and I get that. We have some of the best fans that are so crazy about Boise State football, it’s awesome.
“Sometimes they talk like they know what they are talking about. Sometimes they talk like they’re in our meetings — in our team meetings and game planning. The fact is they’re not. But I was just proud of the way I handled (the expectations). Other people may not have handled it as well as I did. Again guys, we went 11-2.”
And then Southwick deadpanned: “I just wasn’t that good apparently. I just wasn’t that good.”
Southwick alluded to being heckled by fans when he’d go out to the grocery store or shared a meal in public with teammates.
While he stopped short of showing disdain for the Broncos faithful, he made it clear that at some level he lacked respect for last season’s naysayers — temporarily and perhaps permanently in hiding after a smoldering finish to the season in which Southwick completed over 70 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns and no picks.
And it’s hard to blame him for resenting the fan base’s expectations. There’s a long list of college and NFL quarterbacks who went on to be great but weren’t immediately well received after replacing a legend.
Southwick was tasked to replace Kellen Moore, one of the most successful and beloved college quarterbacks ever, after off-season changes to the offensive coaching staff.
Statistically, without taking into account a long list of variables like opponent, skill player talent, historical rule changes and offensive system — which can make almost any common statistical metric meaning-less — Southwick’s first-year numbers stand up pretty well to the list of successful quarterbacks that came before him.
His first season as a starter looked better on paper than the early seasons of Bart Hendricks and Jared Zabransky, both of whom went on to put up monster senior years, just as Southwick appears primed to.
There may have been a reason Southwick continued talking about the fans, giving the topic a life it wouldn’t have had if he chose not to address it.
Maybe he was using the media to talk directly to his critics.
His frustration stemmed from the knowledge gap between him and even the most sophisticated Boise State fan. Almost as if he wished he could show his critics how he is evaluated on film every week so they’d understand — he’s not always as bad or as good as the end result.
“I’m not a huge number guy, necessarily. Stats are such a tough subject to talk about,” Southwick said. “Stats are for losers, but at the same time they are so important, if that makes any sense. They are telling in some ways and in some ways they aren’t telling. But no, I wouldn’t say I need to throw for this many yards or this many touchdowns, I just need to throw enough to win.”
Whatever was at the root of Southwick’s dissatisfaction, which could have simply been not living up to expectations right away as opposed to the actual expectations themselves, it was made clear that the issues between his ears were an ongoing internal focus through last season, at least between he and head coach Chris Petersen. One that Southwick had to push himself hard to resolve, or at least ignore.
“Maybe outside perception has an effect, but I play for such a good coach that he doesn’t care about any of that,” Southwick said. “A lot of credit goes to him for helping me deal with the situation — just talking to me, having an open line of communication, being there for me. He let me know it’s not going to be 100 percent possible to block out the outside noise.”
Petersen, who compared Southwick’s retention and playbook intelligence with Moore’s and said it’s as good as any player he has ever coached, said he kept his advice to Southwick simple, though the philosopher/psychologist/head coach could’ve been holding back some.
“(My advice) was not earth-shattering, just the simple things: you have to keep working at this and you’re this close to doing it, and we could all see that,” Petersen said. “It’s like anything. Slow and steady wins the race. He locked into the simple things and blocked out the outside noise as much as possible.
“For him to just keep working through it, that wasn’t easy. These kids know what is going on and what people are saying, and there wasn’t a day that he didn’t come in working his tail off and eventually it caught up,” Petersen added. “The work caught up to him and he started to make the subtle plays that we needed. It wasn’t easy handling it, but he never flinches. It’s really easy to talk about those things, work hard, when it is all going good. It’s a whole different thing when it is going bad.”
Has Southwick come to resolve his issues, or could they crop up again if he has another bad stretch?
On one hand, it would seem he’s made it through the rough patch. Not just because of the high level of play to end the season and the continuity with the staff heading into his second year — an offense that is said to be more “streamlined” heading into fall camp — but a variety of off-season improvements. Whether they are real might be less important than the fact that Southwick seems to perceive them to be, even if he doesn’t know why.
He wasn’t taking placebos; he was shoveling peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before going to sleep.
He put on about 20 pounds from last season and kept his weight at 208 throughout the summer running and lifting program (he was at 185 pounds last season). He wasn’t exactly sure why he wanted to gain weight.
“Maybe it’s an identity thing,” Southwick said, adding that he actually ran a faster 40-yard dash this spring than he did his junior year.
Odd, it couldn’t have been subconscious, the weight helping insulate him from his critics. Maybe it was to make him more durable.
“Ten pounds isn’t going to make a difference on a hit,” he said.
Or maybe it was to make him feel more comfortable standing in against a pass rush.
Southwick said he studied the throwing mechanics of pocket passers Tom Brady and Drew Brees during the offseason.
“There is this new concept floating around football about the wide base,” Southwick said. “Just the idea of playing with a wide base and never bringing your feet too close together. People are finding out you don’t lose a lot of power. Make subtle, quicker movements and get the ball out a little faster. It’s the whole general idea of little subtle movements, not overreacting, staying poised and playing with a wide base.”
And he also feels better about his arm. He was advised by baseball trainers from the Tampa Bay Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates on ways to improve his flexibility and add velocity.
“I already feel more pop when I throw,” Southwick said.
In the early morning interview session on the first day of media days, Southwick said his biggest takeaway from last year was that he “learned about people, just understanding people better, interacting with them and how that all works.”
Lessons he said he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
Southwick’s doing all he can to make sure those lessons don’t come in handy anytime soon.