Boston College quarterback is a wise old freshman

Times Staff Writer

Dave Shinskie spent more than six seasons toiling in the minor leagues, dreaming of one day pitching in a major league stadium.

Shinskie will be on the field Saturday at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, but he won’t be on a mound. Instead, the 25-year-old freshman quarterback will lead Boston College against USC in the Emerald Bowl.

“Not a lot of guys get this opportunity,” Shinskie said in a phone interview. “Especially, after not playing football for six years.”

The 6-foot-4, 216-pound Shinskie overcame early rust and led Boston College to an 8-4 record and a second-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division.

Not bad for a player who graduated from high school in 2003, “and went right on a bus in the minor leagues,” said Frank Spaziani, Boston College’s first-year coach.

“I’m not sure that’s what Dr. Phil would describe as maturing,” Spaziani quipped. “But Uncle Dave has done a good job for us.”

Shinskie, playing football for the first time since leading his high school team to a Pennsylvania state title in 2002, has completed 53% of his passes for 1,831 yards and 14 touchdowns, with 13 interceptions.

Now he is preparing to face a USC team that finished 8-4 and failed to qualify for a Bowl Championship Series bowl game for the first time in eight seasons.

Shinskie, though, is familiar with the Trojans’ history under Coach Pete Carroll.

“I watched these guys in the early 2000s kick everyone’s butt up and down the field,” Shinskie said. ""t’s just insane that I’m going to get to go to San Francisco and play against these guys.”

Shinskie played in the minor leagues for parts of seven seasons after the Minnesota Twins selected him in the fourth round of the 2003 amateur draft.

He started 26 games during his first three seasons before moving to the bullpen. Released last May after playing for the Toronto Blue Jays’ double-A affiliate, Shinskie finished his career with a 24-30 record, 4.61 earned-run average and 14 saves in 162 appearances.

“When I was released,” he said, “it was one of the worst days of my life.”

Shinskie, though, quickly considered his options.

He could join the regular workforce or pursue a college education and restart his football career.

“I’d always wondered, ‘What’s it like to be in college, to be around a college campus and college life?’ “Shinskie said.

Meantime, Spaziani, a longtime Eagles assistant, had inherited a roster devoid of experienced quarterbacks. When Shinskie expressed interest in Boston College, Spaziani welcomed him with open arms.

“We were in dire straits -- I mean it was an extreme situation,” Spaziani said. “We had no quarterback that had ever taken a snap.”

Said Shinskie: “It wasn’t like the other players were saying, ‘What’s this guy doing here?’ It was more like ‘Let’s see what he’s got.’ ”

Shinskie worked out some of the kinks during the summer and began to feel more comfortable as the season began. He was starting by the fourth game and passed for three touchdowns in a 27-24 overtime victory over Wake Forest.

“He’s definitely a great kid,” said Eagles receiver Rich Gunnell, 22, who chuckled while quickly correcting himself. “Great man. He’s older than I am.

“He’s a great guy and he’s definitely progressed as the year’s gone on.”

USC linebacker Chris Galippo has studied Shinskie on tape. Despite the quarterback’s age, he does not appear different to the Trojans.

“He’s still in his first year playing, still a rookie I guess,” Galippo said. “He’s done some good things for them, but at the same time he’s vulnerable in some areas.”

Shinskie intends to work on his deficiencies and sharpen his mechanics as his career progresses.

But the experience so far, he said, has been “surreal.”

Spaziani is inclined to agree.

“Dave’s done a great job,” Spaziani said. “We wouldn’t be here without him.”