Joey Halzle article from NewsOk.comPosted: July 20, 2007
NORMAN — Joey Halzle has learned all about bad breaks — literal and figurative — during his football career.
Rather than let his bad breaks hobble his pursuit of becoming a major college quarterback, he pushed past his misfortunes, not letting them alter his attitude, his demeanor or his passion.
Should Halzle endure another bad break and again be relegated to backup quarterback at Oklahoma this fall, it’s not likely to bother him for long. He is one of three quarterbacks competing for Sooners starting job, along with Sam Bradford and Keith Nichol.
But don’t expect an outpouring of emotion from the 21-year-old California boy, either.
“He internalizes his problems and moves on,” said Joey’s father, Jay Halzle. “Things happen, so make the best of the situation.”
Halzle’s football career defines the phrase “making the best of the situation.”
Halzle was a talented young shortstop on the baseball field, but a reserve defensive back as a freshman on the Oaks Christian High School football team. Still, he fell in love with the sport.
He and his father discussed the possibilities after that freshman season and determined a position change would be necessary if he wanted to play any football beyond high school.
“He could play defensive back or wide receiver and be excellent at the high school level,” Jay Halzle said. “He sure wouldn’t be a receiver at Oklahoma. But he’s always had good hand-eye coordination and a strong arm. So we decided quarterback was the position that made sense.”
Jay Halzle set up his son with a friend of a friend, former St. Louis Rams quarterback Rick Johnson — who made a brief stop in Oklahoma himself with the USFL Outlaws in 1984.
Before Halzle’s sophomore year, he and Johnson went to work on all the intricacies of being a successful quarterback.
With Oaks Christian’s top three quarterbacks from the year before returning, Halzle’s chances of getting any playing time appeared to be slim. Until his newfound talents won over coaches and won him the starting job.
A solid sophomore season was followed by an all-conference junior campaign, with more to come as a senior.
Then came bad break No. 1.
During his senior year, Halzle was forced to surrender about one-fourth of the snaps to a talented freshman named Jimmy Clausen — younger brother of former Tennessee QBs Rick and Casey Clausen and the potential starter at Notre Dame this fall.
Halzle kept any frustrations to himself. He didn’t harbor any animosity toward Clausen — “They were pretty good friends,” Jay Halzle said — and he continued to perform well on the field.
“He would lead the team on a touchdown drive, then sit out a series, and when he went back in, it was like he never came out,” Jay Halzle said. “Obviously, it bothered him. And it hurt because he wasn’t able to put up the same kind of numbers he would have. A big part of recruiting is numbers.”
Still, NCAA Division I offers came. California, Wyoming and Oregon were among those interested. Halzle had settled on Oregon when he decided another year of actual on-field experience might help him more than sitting the bench for the Ducks.
He chose Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif., about an hour away from his Oak Park home.
Then came bad break No. 2 — the literal one.
During a summer workout before his freshman year, Halzle broke his ankle and missed the entire season.
But rather than redshirt, Halzle opted to use a grayshirt year, enrolling at Golden West as a part-time student, thus not burning a season of eligibility.
“That year he sat out, he gained 25 pounds,” said former Golden West coach Ray Shackelford, who recruited Halzle to the school.
“He was always a great kid to be around, because anything you asked him to do, he would do it and more.”
The next season, as a true freshman, Halzle threw for almost 2,100 yards and 13 touchdowns in 10 games. His performance again drew the attention of Division I schools, including Michigan and Oklahoma.
After visiting Norman, he canceled his trip to Michigan and enrolled at OU in January 2006. An up-and-down spring had him entrenched as the No. 2 QB behind incumbent Rhett Bomar.
But in the days before fall camp began, Bomar was kicked off the team.
Bad break No. 3?
Halzle could have seen it as another unfortunate turn of events when quarterback-turned-receiver Paul Thompson turned back to quarterback. But he didn’t look at it that way.
“It wasn’t anything like the situation his senior year of high school,” Jay Halzle said.
“Did he want to be out there? Of course. But he understood that it was a decision that the coaches made in the best interest of the team. And he has a lot of respect for a coach’s decision when it’s made in the best interest of the team.”
Now, Halzle is in position to win the Sooners’ starting job. Everyone who has seen him play says he has the skills to do it.
“He’s very intelligent, very coachable,” Shackelford said. “He’s fast. You wouldn’t run the option with him, but he’s not a bump on a log in the pocket.
“His only problem is that he hasn’t had a lot of playing time since high school.”
Thompson also sees Halzle’s strength being inside his helmet.
“Yeah, he’s real smart,” said Thompson, now trying to catch on with the Green Bay Packers. “He picked up the offense real quick. There were times in practice last year that he’d bring things to my attention, things I wasn’t seeing.”
Will August bring good fortune in the form of a starting job at OU or just another tough break? No one knows.
“Joey learned a lot about how things work in the real world at a fairly young age,” Jay Halzle said. “Why hem and haw over things you can’t control?
“If there’s something he can do to change it, he’ll do it.”