East Xtra: Gateway graduate on target for CMU
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Rob Kalkstein understands his role as the quarterback of Carnegie Mellon's spread wing-T offense that features multiple running plays with an occasional pass thrown in just to keep his receivers from getting bored.
"My job is to get the ball to our playmakers as quickly as possible and let them make plays," said Kalkstein, a junior who grew up in Monroeville and graduated from Gateway High School.
"I guess you could say my strength is decision-making and making sure I get us into the right play."
Every offensive play from scrimmage starts with Kalkstein taking the snap from center and putting the ball into the stomach of the fullback. Kalkstein can either pull the ball out and flip it to a halfback for a reverse or counter play or pull it back and keep it himself for a sweep. Pass plays are called from the sideline because Kalkstein doesn't call the plays.
"I'm supposed to execute the plays that are called," he said. "I can check off or change the direction of the play depending on what I read from the defense. Basically I'm reading one or two guys and reacting to them. It's not hard at all. I have a really good idea of our offensive strategy."
CMU, which returns 16 starters from a 5-5 team with eight on offense and eight on defense, was picked to finish third in the four-team University Athletic Association in a preseason poll of the league's coaches.
"I have high expectations," Kalkstein said. "I hate to use the term rebuilding but the past two years we were 4-6 and 5-5. I'm not saying we were pointing to this season, but we have guys who have been around. I'm pretty smooth with our offense and we have a lot of guys back so we can hit the ground running this season."
Running is what the Tartans do most often, averaging nearly 235 yards rushing per game last season. Kalkstein carried 42 times, gaining 120 yards and losing 136 for a minus-16 total yards.
"I don't have legs that can run a 4.5," he said. "But I spent the summer working hard on improving my speed because every second counts. I think I'm a half-step quicker."
Kalkstein, a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder, completed 85 of 155 passes for 1,093 yards and four touchdowns last season with seven interceptions. He has started all 20 of CMU's games his first two years, is 15th on the school's all-time list with 1,764 yards passing, 13th with 139 completions and 13th with 252 attempts.
"I don't have an arm that can throw 80 yards," he said. "I have to rely on my reads and my accuracy to get the job done. I think I can improve on both this season."
When Kalkstein chose to attend Carnegie Mellon he knew the quarterbacks haven't thrown the ball much the past quarter century in Rich Lackner's offense.
"It wasn't a huge deal to me," he said. "I knew their offense because we ran a spread, multiple-pro offense at Gateway and I threw about 15 times a game. I was more of a drop-back pocket passer with one or two plays designed for me to run."
A business major, Kalkstein said it's not a problem trying to juggle playbooks and classroom books.
"For everybody at Carnegie Mellon, academics comes first. ... Football is a close second," he said. "Football is a huge part of why I came here. We work around academics and time management is pretty important."
Kalkstein has learned how to make the right decisions as a student and a quarterback.
First Published August 30, 2012 12:00 am