Torretta has silenced the skeptics at Miami

KID BROTHERS NOT JUST TAGGING ALONG

October 09, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Geoff Torretta's biggest contribution to the University of Miami football program didn't come during his two years there as Vinny Testaverde's backup in 1985 and 1986.

It came in telling the coaching staff about his younger brother, and in not dissuading his little brother from becoming a Hurricane despite his own frustrating experience.

"If my brother didn't come here, I don't know if I would be here either," Gino Torretta told a group of reporters during a class break Monday. "That really gave me the chance to be recruited by Miami."

Things have worked out quite a lot better for Gino here than they did for his big brother. Going into Saturday's nationally televised game at Penn State (5-0), Torretta is 18-1 as Miami's starting quarterback.

Coming off last week's 19-16 victory over then third-ranked Florida State at the Orange Bowl, the second-ranked Hurricanes (4-0) are looking to stretch the nation's longest Division I-A winning streak to 23 games when they play the seventh-ranked Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium.

"Five years ago, I didn't think about what it was going to be like, I was just trying to work hard and get better," said Torretta, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound fifth-year senior. "To say that I would have set some records, there had to be some questions."

Lots of questions. Torretta wasn't recruited heavily out of high school in Pinole, Calif., nor did he envision himself following in the line of quarterbacks that had sent Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Steve Walsh and Testaverde to the National Football League.

Torretta thought first about playing at Washington, but lost interest when the Huskies signed Mark Brunell. Jimmy Johnson, then coach of the Hurricanes, offered Torretta a scholarship based mostly on his brother's recommendation.

"I thought it might take a couple of years of sitting on the bench, and I was ready for that," said Torretta. He redshirted as a freshman, started four games his second year when Craig Erickson got hurt and backed up Erickson two years ago. "At least there was a light at the end of the tunnel."

That light dimmed a bit before last season. Torretta found himself in a heated battle with highly touted Bryan Fortay. It was deadlocked coming out of spring practice.

Torretta laughs now about how he "pitched a tent" in the weight room to improve his strength and durability. Still, when coach Dennis Erickson announced before last season that Torretta had won the job -- a decision that prompted Fortay to transfer to Rutgers -- some questioned the move. "I think a lot of people doubted me," said Torretta. "But I never doubted myself."

It took until late last season for the skeptics to be silenced. First came a one-point victory at Florida State. When Miami went on to win the national championship, beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, Torretta was firmly entrenched as the starter.

"Gino is smart, he makes few mistakes and he probably operates the offense better than anyone I've ever had," Erickson said before the 1992 season began.

"My confidence level was always high," said Torretta, a laid-back sort who seems to have lost the chip he carried for most of last year. "Other people's confidence in me went up after that Florida State game."

That confidence showed down the stretch against the Seminoles last week. Coming off a lackluster performance in Miami's 8-7 win over Arizona -- a game in which he suffered a mild shoulder sprain -- Torretta's problems continued against Florida State.

But in what is becoming customary at Miami, Torretta made several big plays in the drive that put the Hurricanes ahead for good. The first was a 14-yard run on third-and-12, the second an 8-yard pass to tight end Coleman Bell on a third-and-five, the third a 33-yard touchdown pass to Lamar Thomas.

By the time Torretta is finished, he will have his own place in the Miami record book. He's already the program's all-time single-game passing yardage leader (485 against San Diego State last year). Now, the only number that means anything to Torretta is 2, for the number of national championships before he leaves Miami in the spring. None of his famous predecessors have been the starter on more than one.

"That," he said, "would be awesome."

Gino Torretta's career stats

Year... Games... ... Com-Att... Pct... Yds... TD... Int

4... ... ... 89-167... 58%... 1,144 ..7... 3

1991... 11... ... .. 205-371... 55%... 3,095 .20... 8

1990.... 9... ... ... 21-41... .51%... ..210 . 0... 1

1989... 10... ... .. 101-171... 57%... 1,325 . 8... 8

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