When Pat Hegarty signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Texas El Paso last year, he figured he would have to make some adjustments.
He was leaving Saddleback College, one of the most successful community-college programs in the country, and going to one of the least successful major-college programs.
Despite attending schools that were traveling in opposite directions, there was a common departure point for Hegarty. He replaced a local hero at quarterback at both places.
At UTEP, Hegarty replaced Sammy Garza, who graduated. Garza, who was a three-year starter, holds the school's career passing records for completions (483) and percentage of completions (59.6) and is second in yardage (6,133), touchdown passes (35) and attempts (812).
"He (Garza) was a legend here," Hegarty said in a telephone interview from El Paso. "He was all anyone talked about when I first got here."
But Hegarty, who graduated from Tustin High School, had replaced a legend before.
At Saddleback last season, he took over for Jason Schmid, who had led the Gauchos to an 11-0 record and a co-national championship with Snow, Utah, in 1985.
Schmid set a school single-season record for touchdown passes (23) and was voted the state community college player of the year in 1985. He received a scholarship to USC, but he later left the school and is redshirting at San Jose State this season.
"He (Hegarty) is such a hard worker that he was able to replace Jason well," said Bill Cunerty, Saddleback quarterback coach. "That's the way he is, though. He will work hard and is really hard on himself."
Last season, Hegarty passed for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns and was voted honorable mention all-state. However, Saddleback finished 5-5, having to forfeit three games for using an ineligible player.
"Having to replace Jason helped me a lot to be able to handle replacing Sammy (Garza)," Hegarty said. "But I can't worry too much about what someone else did. I got used to being compared after last season, so now I just try to do my best, and so far, that has worked out here."
Hegarty began classes at UTEP in January and won the vacant starting job. He has continued to play impressively this fall.
"He learned our system in 16 practices," UTEP Coach Bob Stull said. "In our passing game, it isn't so much how strong your arm (is), but knowing what the defense is doing, getting the right read and getting the ball off on time. Hegarty does all this extremely well."
UTEP is 3-1, including victories over New Mexico State, Colorado State and Hawaii. The Miners' only loss, 35-16, was to 13th-ranked Arizona State last Saturday. UTEP is tied with Wyoming (2-0) for first place in the Western Athletic Conference.
Hegarty, who is 74 for 134 for 935 yards with 6 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, will start Saturday at 7 p.m. when UTEP plays San Diego State, the defending WAC champion, at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
The last time the Miners had a winning season was 1970, when they were 6-4, and they have a record of 33-152 since.
But last season, Stull's first as coach, UTEP was 4-8, marking the first time the school had won four games since 1971. UTEP also had a season-ending 55-45 victory over Utah, which turned out to be the key to signing Hegarty, who was also being recruited by Nevada Las Vegas, Fresno State and Oregon State.
"My recruiting trip was during the Utah game," Hegarty said. "They (UTEP) scored 55 points and threw that ball like crazy, and as a quarterback, that made me feel like I would have a chance here. . . . I really hadn't heard that much about the school or their record until they started to recruit me in the middle of last season at Saddleback.
"When I signed, I really didn't have any reservations. I believed it was the best place for me and that the coach was going to be able to turn the program around. Some of my friends weren't too sure about me going here, though."