About three years ago, Jerry Schmitt knew he had a chance at something special.
A 12-mile drive from where he coached football at Duquesne was Dillon Buechel, a quarterback at Montour who was etching his name in the WPIAL record books.
Finishing his senior season with gaudy numbers -- his 6,899 career passing yards are third in WPIAL history -- he drew interest from large Division I-A programs, but never was able to get an offer. That November, the Dukes became the first school to offer Buechel a scholarship and a few other schools, notably New Hampshire and Maine, soon followed.
In the meantime, Schmitt waited.
"We just kept our fingers crossed and hoped," he said.
Buechel eventually decided to stay close to home and play for the Dukes, a decision that has paid immediate dividends.
In his first season as a starter, Buechel has completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 1,348 yards and seven touchdowns in Duquesne's first five games, performances that landed him on the watch list for the Jerry Rice Award, given annually to the top first-year player in Division I-AA.
"An award with Jerry Rice's name on it, with all the things he's done in college and the NFL, it's definitely an honor," Buechel said. "Just to be with a bunch of other great freshmen in [Division I-AA], it's something special."
A redshirt freshman, Buechel sat out in 2012, providing him with the opportunity to get acclimated to college and learn the team's offense behind three-year starter Sean Patterson.
It was an experience Buechel called "nice and comforting," one that has proven its worth this season. Through five games, three of which Duquesne won, he is among the top 40 Division I-AA quarterbacks in passing yards, passing efficiency (138.8) and yards per completion (12.7). Early this season, he came within 5 yards of becoming the first freshman in school history to throw for 300 yards in consecutive games.
The Dukes are not even halfway through their regular-season schedule, but in just a handful of starts, Buechel has provided a glimpse of what the next few years may provide for the program, an outlook that's a decidedly bright one.
"What's nice is that he knows his recognition in Western Pennsylvania with all the passing yards and records, playing in state championships," Schmitt said. "A lot of people know him and know he's here and want to be part of this program. It will help down the road and he has the talent to do some really good things."
Carnegie Mellon sophomore Abhishek Alla was crowned the UTSA/ITA National Small College Champion Saturday in Fort Myers, Fla.
Alla entered the tournament unseeded, but won the championship against Skylar Butts of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 6-4, 6-1, in his third straight-set victory in as many days. He became the second Tartans player, and first since 2000, to win the competition.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM