By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun
7:41 PM EDT, October 28, 2011
Grant Enders always wanted to play for Towson. Coming out of Old Mill in Anne Arundel County, Enders was recruited by Gordy Combs and believes he would have started his college career with the Tigers had Combs not been fired after the 2008 season.
The road Enders took eventually led him back to Towson, but not before Enders spent an "unhappy" year redshirting at Holy Cross and then resurrecting himself at Lackawanna Junior College in Scranton, Pa., last year.
"I wouldn't change anything if I could," Enders said Thursday afternoon, sitting in one of the football offices at Johnny Unitas Stadium. "I think junior college is a great way for guys to get a second chance. Cam Newton did it when he went to Blinn" College after starting his college career at Florida.
Enders is not comparing himself to Newton, who after a spending a year at the junior college in Texas ended up winning the national championship and a Heisman Trophy at Auburn last season before becoming the top overall pick in the NFL draft with the Carolina Panthers.
But Enders has played a key role in leading college football's biggest turnaround this season.
Enders has helped a team that won one game last year and two the season before to a 6-1 record and a No. 13 national ranking among Football Championship Subdivision teams going into Saturday night's home game against No. 21 Delaware (4-4, 2-3). The Tigers are 4-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association and tied with Maine for first place.
Enders credits Lackawanna coach Mark Duda, who played at Maryland in the early 1980s, with helping him get back his confidence.
"The whole atmosphere, it's just a great coaching staff," Enders said. "There's just a lot of experience. Their main job was getting us to where we wanted to be. It was a great experience."
It was while watching tape of a couple of other Lackawanna players that Towson coach Rob Ambrose fell in love with Enders' potential. Jared Ambrose, Towson's offensive coordinator, was familiar with Enders and talked him up to his big brother.
"I'm watching it and I say to Jared, 'Who the hell is the quarterback?' " Ambrose recalled. "My brother is the one who convinced me to take him. We all saw the same thing on tape, but there's a lot more that goes into it. Jared really knew that the kid had character, he's smart and he was a good kid."
Ambrose said Enders' personality — including a bit of tattoo-armed swag — is important for a college quarterback.
"When you're a good Division I quarterback, you're not a guy, you're the guy," said Ambrose, a backup quarterback during his career at Towson. "It's confidence, it's upbeat, it's excited about everything."
One thing surprised Ambrose that he didn't see on tape.
"How fast he is," Ambrose said. "When we played Morgan [in the season opener], he ran away from a corner[back]. We didn't know Grant could run."
Ambrose should have asked Duda, who remembers Enders doing the same things in games last year "against guys who are now going to Auburn and Alabama." Duda said that had Enders not been required to spend the entire year at Lackawanna rather than transfer to a Division I school, he might have ended up "at K-State or someplace like that."
There would have been irony had Enders landed at Kansas State, since he might have taken the place of former high school rival Billy Cosh, who starred at Arundel and is now a backup at James Madison after he didn't play his first two years for the Big 12 school.
But Duda said of Enders' decision to go to Towson, "he went to the right program at the right time."
Duda compares Enders in size (6 feet 3, 212 pounds), athleticism and accuracy to one of his former Maryland teammates: Boomer Esiason.
"Boomer was a guy who could move around a little bit," said Duda, who spent five years as a defensive lineman with the St. Louis Cardinals. "Boomer was a physical guy, and he had a good arm, he put the ball where he wanted to put it. I think they're very comparable. Grant is a leader like Boomer and the other Maryland quarterbacks were. He's a [Division] I-A quarterback."
For Enders, ignorance might truly have been bliss in that he was not a part of Towson's lack of success the past couple of years.
"I came in not really knowing what to expect," said Enders, who had played on winning teams since high school. "I was up here in the summer working out with the team and just the whole attitude, it felt like a bunch of guys who really wanted to win. It never really crossed my mind that this team was 1-10 the year before."
He also wasn't quite sure whether the success he had at the junior college level would continue at Towson.
"Being my first year here, it was kind of tough for me to compare it to anything. Junior college football is not the same as Division I football," Enders said. "We looked good all through camp, so I was excited to see how the first game turned out."
From the opening game rout of Morgan State, in which Enders completed 15 of 19 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns and rushed six times for 47 yards and another touchdown, Enders has made an immediate impact at Towson.
While most of his performances can be described as efficient — he is currently ranked second in pass efficiency on the FCS level with 99 completions in 137 attempts with nine touchdowns and four interceptons — he is capable of the spectacular.
Evidence of that came when he was 24-for-37 for 314 yards and two touchdowns at Old Dominion, as the Tigers stormed back from an 11-point deficit in the final 3:13 to win, 39-35. Towson followed it up with a 38-27 win at William & Mary last week.
"Going down to Old Dominion, that was a pretty hostile environment, being able to come back in the fourth says a lot about our team and our offense," Enders said.
About the only disappointment for Enders this season was not being able to play against Maryland on Oct. 1 because of a concussion suffered at the end of the Colgate win the previous week. A 28-3 defeat that was close for most of the first three quarters remains Towson's lone defeat.
"It was real tough," Enders said. "Playing a team like them, that's a game everyone gets excited for. We really wanted to prove ourselves against them."
Instead, the Tigers have proved themselves against a string of CAA teams, with reigning national runner-up Delaware up next.
Though the Blue Hens are having a tough year playing for the first time in a decade without a quarterback who transferred from a BCS school, Enders said of the game "it's huge. Every game is a championship game for the rest of the season."
Sounds a little like what a junior college transfer and a different bunch of Tigers went through last season.
Delaware (4-4, 2-3 CAA) @ Towson (6-1, 4-0 CAA)
Site: Johnny Unitas Stadium
TV: The Comcast Network
Radio: 1570 AM
Series: Delaware leads 8-4
What's at stake: The Tigers are looking to stay unbeaten and in first place in the Colonial Athletic Association, as well as reverse last year's 48-0 defeat to the Blue Hens. Towson has already matched its total for most CAA wins in a season but now has its sights set on making its first playoff appearance since leaving Division II in 1987. There's also pressure on fans to finally sell out the 11,000-seat stadium for the first time.
Key matchup: The quarterbacks will play a big part in the outcome. Tim Donnelly will have a difficult time replicating former Delaware star Pat Devlin's performance from last year, and Towson's defensive line will likely try to take advantage of Donnelly's tendency to rush his throws (nine interceptions compared with 11 TDs). Conversely, Enders has managed to be incredibly accurate and should be able to keep the Blue Hens off balance by mixing things up offensively.
Players to watch: Though freshman Terrance West (Northwestern) is one of four different Tigers to lead the team in rushing this season, he has exploded the past three games — going for 128 yards and four touchdowns against Richmond, 148 yards and two touchdowns against Old Dominion and 141 yards and three touchdowns against William & Mary. Sophomore running back Andrew Pierce, the CAA's Preseason Player of the Year, has 829 yards on 171 carries and has scored 10 touchdowns for the Blue Hens.
— Don Markus
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