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Gator freshman merits comparison to Wuerffel

A backup for now, Brock Berlin is the future of UF football.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2000


photo
[Special to the Times]
Brock Berlin has Florida fans thinking of championships again.
GAINESVILLE -- It is not just his respectful tone, cheerful outlook or polite manners.

Not just his lilting southern accent, easy smile, boyish good looks or short-cropped blond hair. Not just his winning record or desire to learn. Not just his devout religious beliefs, unflappable confidence or uncompromising humility.

It is all that.

It is Brock Berlin's aura that reminds people so much of Florida legend and Heisman Trophy quarterback Danny Wuerffel, a radiance that makes Gators fans tingle at the notion their all-time hero -- a former school boy seemingly too good to be true -- has an exact double.

"Brock," coach Steve Spurrier said, "is a lot like Danny Wuerffel."

Florida has not won a Southeastern Conference title or played for the national championship since winning it all in 1996, Wuerffel's senior season. And, whether this season or next, fair or not, 19-year-old freshman Berlin already has been anointed as the one to return Florida to glory.

"He is very confident, and that's what I like about him," All-America defensive end Alex Brown said. "He has that confidence about himself that he knows he can win if given the chance."

That said, Berlin will not be No. 9 Florida's starting quarterback in the season opener against Ball State on Sept. 2. That job belongs to senior Jesse Palmer, who endured a physical and psychological competition the past three seasons with Doug Johnson.

"Jesse will begin as our first quarterback," Spurrier said. "If one guy clearly is the best, he will go the distance. If he is not clearly the best, at that point I think you have to give the next guy the chance."

Berlin's credentials are astounding. He won three state titles and was 45-0 as a starter at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, La. He ranks No. 2 nationally in prep history with 964 completions in 1,467 attempts (65.7 percent), 13,902 yards and 45 touchdowns. The last time he lost a game was in eighth grade, and he remembers it.

But numbers do not tell Berlin's story.

"I don't know if we've ever had as fierce a competitor as Brock," Evangel coach Dennis Dunn said. "You won't really see that until the game's on the line in front of 90,000 people. There's just something that rises up in him. It's uncanny the way he will just will a win."

Tabbed the USA Today national prep offensive player of the year, Berlin wasted no time choosing a college. Unable to sign a binding letter of intent until February, he committed to Florida in October 1999, announcing his decision at church.

"That was a big decision between me and God, and I felt I needed to honor him and announce it in his house," Berlin said. "I depend on God every day. He's my mentor and gave me all my potential and talent, and I have to give him the glory for it and ask him for help every day."

A middle-child born on the Fourth of July, Berlin has a typically All-American family. His father, Rick, is a church pastor and assistant high school football coach. His mother, Nancy, is a Mary Kay cosmetics representative, whose status-symbol pink Cadillac Berlin never asked to borrow. His older brother, Corey, is a wide receiver at Louisiana Tech, and 15-year-old sister Natalie a "regular old girl having fun."

After graduating early from high school, Berlin -- 6 feet 1, 204 pounds -- enrolled at UF for spring practice. From the start, he demonstrated a desire to master the complexities of the Fun "n' Gun offense, earn the respect of teammates and impress coaches. This fall, he kicked off preseason practice by finishing first in his skill group -- quarterbacks, linebackers and tight ends -- in the 12-minute conditioning run.

"He tries to learn everything he can," said Spurrier, who praised Berlin's progress after he engineered a touchdown drive in a scrimmage Tuesday. "He watches a lot of tape. He's inquisitive and knows the importance of knowledge."

So did Wuerffel, who made up for his lack of arm-strength with precise throws and pinpoint decisions. Berlin, who is an inch shorter than Wuerffel but has a stronger arm, neither confirms nor denies the many comparisons.

"I feel honored," said Berlin, who wore No. 7 in high school -- Wuerffel's old number -- but has No. 9 at Florida because Palmer wears No. 7. "He's one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play in college."

A player who, like Berlin, Florida fans could not talk, hear or read enough about. So far, the only person tired of hearing about Berlin, it seems, is Berlin. After Tuesday's scrimmage, his most impressive of fall camp, he declined an interview request, sheepishly claiming Spurrier told him not to talk to reporters. Turns out, it was a ploy.

"He's sort of tired of answering questions," Spurrier said. "He said, "Is it all right if I tell them you said I don't need to talk to them?' He suggested it, which is okay. He needs to just be a regular student for a while."

Sorry, that's not possible. When it comes to Berlin, ordinary is the last thing that comes to mind.

"He has a presence," sophomore tailback Earnest Graham said. "The guy's a leader; I could tell that when I first met him. In the spring, I scored a touchdown and, I don't want to say it was cute, but he was jumping around and he had this look on his face that he just loves playing football."

But it's not just a look.

It's his aura.

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