It’s Starting to Come Together for Huskies’ Brunell


Homer Smith, UCLA’s offensive coordinator, knows a good quarterback when he sees one, so it didn’t take him long to realize that Mark Brunell had potential.

Smith discovered Brunell, then a sophomore at St. Joseph High in Santa Maria, at Bruin Coach Terry Donahue’s football camp in 1985. Smith pulled aside Brunell’s high school coach and told him the youngster had talent.

“From then on, football became Mark’s real love,” said Dave Brunell, Mark’s father and the St. Joseph athletic director and baseball coach.


What did Smith see in Brunell?

“There was just a naturalness about the kid and a work ethic,” Smith said. “And he had a lot of poise.”

This poise has been severely tested since Brunell became Washington’s starting quarterback this season. A 6-foot-2, 205-pound sophomore, Brunell has made his share of mistakes in the Huskies’ first two games.

Brunell was so confused that he lined up behind guard Dean Kirkland instead of center Ed Cunningham and tried to take a snap in last Saturday’s 20-14 victory over Purdue at West Lafayette, Ind. He didn’t realize his mistake until a Boilermaker defensive lineman told him he was standing in the wrong place.

“It was kind of funny because the center started laughing,” Brunell said. “But I’m not the first guy to do that. John Elway did it. All those butts look alike.”

On another play, Brunell tripped and fell after taking a snap.

Asked if the mistakes have affected his self-confidence, Brunell said: “If you lose your confidence, what else do you have? You’ve got to keep that confidence. If you don’t have it, you might as well not step on the field.”

Brunell is confident that he’ll eliminate his mistakes when Washington (2-0) plays USC (2-0) Saturday at Husky Stadium.


“He’s only played two games and he’s made some mistakes that two-game players make,” said Gary Pinkel, the Huskies’ offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. “I think he’s going to be very good.”

Recruited by Stanford, California, UCLA and USC, Brunell almost became a Trojan, but chose Washington after he made a recruiting trip to USC. Todd Marinovich was on the same trip.

Did Brunell go to Washington because he knew Marinovich was headed for USC and he didn’t want to be a backup quarterback?

“I had no idea what his intentions were,” Brunell said. “I wanted to go to a place that I liked the best, and if SC was the place I wanted to go, I would have gone there. But I’m glad that I came to Washington.

“I liked everything about Washington, and there were some things about SC that really didn’t attract me. For a lot of people, SC could be a dream, but one thing that didn’t seem like a dream was living in downtown L.A. I’m not ripping L.A., but I’m not really from the city. I’m from farther north and I really enjoyed the city of Seattle.

“My SC trip was a bit different. I’m not knocking SC, but it just seemed like I was one of the many caught up in the shuffle. And Washington treated me really special.”


Marinovich, Brunell and Bret Johnson were the top three quarterbacks in Southern California in 1987.

Marinovich, after becoming a starter as a redshirt freshman last season, led the Trojans to a 9-2-1 record, including a Rose Bowl victory over Michigan.

Brunell, after playing behind Cary Conklin last season, has become the Huskies’ starter this season. Conklin became a Washington Redskin.

Johnson started at UCLA last season but struggled as the Bruins went 3-7-1. He left school after being demoted last month.

“We recruited all three of them,” USC Coach Larry Smith said. “They were three quality quarterbacks that everybody was scrambling for. Johnson was the first guy who committed (to UCLA). We were sitting there and we thought we could lose them both and come up with zero. We knew we weren’t going to get both (Marinovich and Brunell), so it was a matter of which guy made a complete and total commitment, and Todd happened to be that guy. But we felt any one of them could come in here and be successful in our offense.

“And I think Mark has proven that. He has an extremely strong arm. I think the thing that stands out is his outstanding speed. People don’t run him down. He’s a great scrambler, and they’re running the option more with him.


“I think he’s playing very well, and I know that as the season goes on, he’s going to be a major part of the Washington offense.”

Although Marinovich and Brunell are both left-handed, Brunell said they have different styles. “Todd and I are different kinds of quarterbacks,” Brunell said. “I think Todd would rather sit back there in the pocket and throw, but if there’s an opening, I’ll take off and run.”

Marinovich has become one of the nation’s top passers, having thrown for 3,155 yards with 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his career. Brunell has struggled, completing 35.3% of his passes--18 of 51--for 215 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He completed seven of 27 passes for 66 yards with one interception and one touchdown in a 20-17 season-opening victory over San Jose State.

Although Marinovich has been the better passer, Brunell may be the better runner. Pinkel said Brunell accelerates faster than former Husky quarterbacks Warren Moon (now with the Houston Oilers) and Chris Chandler (now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

Brunell ran for 76 yards against Purdue, including 47 for a touchdown, the most single-game rushing yardage by a Washington quarterback in the 16 seasons that Don James has been the Huskies’ coach. Brunell, who also had a 47-yard run against San Jose State, has rushed for 140 yards and one touchdown in two games.

Larry Smith is impressed with Brunell’s running.

“He’s got most of his rushing yardage just on scrambles,” the USC coach said. “He’s very, very fast. He doesn’t just have good speed, he’s got great speed. You look on the film, and he’s outrunning Purdue’s safety. He explodes down the field, and before you know it, he’s in the end zone.”


James said it’s too early to compare Brunell to Marinovich.

“I think the comparison should be made once Mark has 12 games under his belt,” James said. “There’s no comparison right now. But if you take Marinovich a year ago at this time, there were a lot of questions. But they were able to win, and they brought him along. When it got down to where it really fell on his shoulders, then that’s when he came through. He just got better and better.”

Dave Brunell, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher at Bell High, was named the Los Angeles City baseball player of the year in 1969 after he compiled a 12-3 record and a 1.01 earned-run average. “It must have been a real weak year,” he joked.

It was hardly that. Also on the 1969 All-City team was Dwight Evans of Chatsworth High, who went on to play for the Boston Red Sox.

Although he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals, Dave Brunell decided to attend Cerritos College for two years before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he had arm problems. After the birth of his first son, Mark, in 1970, the elder Brunell decided to concentrate on coaching and teaching.

He moved the family to Santa Maria, where he got a job coaching baseball and teaching at St. Joseph High in 1976.

Like his father, Mark Brunell was also a good baseball player, making All-CIF as a pitcher/first baseman. But football was his first love.


Mark Brunell passed for 5,893 yards and 11 touchdowns in high school and led his team to the CIF final as a junior and to the semifinals as a senior. His younger brother, Matt, 15, has replaced him as St. Joseph’s starting quarterback this season.

Mark Brunell still receives moral support from his father.

Dave Brunell was at Husky Stadium when his son made his debut as the Huskies’ starting quarterback against San Jose State three weeks ago, and he plans to attend Saturday’s game against the Trojans. They speak by telephone three or four times a week.

Asked if his father makes any suggestions, Mark Brunell said: “He just tells me to keep my cool no matter what happens, and keep confident. He’s just real supportive. He’s a dad and that’s what they’re supposed to do. . . . And any time I’m down or up, I’ll talk to him. It’s good to have a dad like that.”