It has been a wild, four-year ride at TCU for quarterback Max Duggan.
He needed unexpected heart surgery before his sophomore year and played most of last season with a broken bone in his foot. He then went from losing his starting job going into this season with a new coaching staff to being the Heisman Trophy runner-up whose 42nd career start will come Saturday in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl.
“Every time something’s gone bad … I’ve never seen him panic, I’ve never seen him complain,” All-America guard Steve Avila said. “He plays so hard. I’ve never seen a quarterback take hits like him, and just get up and walk it off.”
Both on and off the field.
When new coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley initially chose redshirt freshman Chandler Morris as their starting quarterback, Duggan was disappointed in himself. But he said he wasn't mad at the new coaches, and never considered leaving TCU.
“You get over it pretty quickly,” Duggan said. “Because there's a season to be played.”
A season that could have turned out much differently for TCU (12-1) without Duggan, the fourth-year senior who has taken nearly every snap since coming on in the second half of the opener after Morris sprained his knee.
Duggan has thrown for 3,321 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions, and run for 404 yards with six more scores. He led three consecutive second-half comeback wins over ranked Big 12 teams in October, and in late November avoided a playoff-busting loss at Baylor with two scoring drives at the end of the game while standout receiver Quentin Johnston and leading rusher Kendre Miller were both on the sideline hurt.
Down 11 points midway through the fourth quarter to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game, the Frogs got even with an 80-yard drive on which Duggan had 95 yards rushing. He collapsed to his knees in the end zone after his 8-yard TD with 1:51 left in regulation, then had to throw the game-tying 2-point conversion.
Duggan wept after the overtime loss to K-State, distraught that he was unable give the Horned Frogs a conference title despite his gutsy fourth-quarter comeback.
“That just kind of motivates everybody to go the extra yard, not only for our teammates, but for him,” Johnston said.
Johnston said every time the Frogs “get in sort of a dark place … he’s always the one to come, especially with the offense, kind of be that spark.”
“I think a big part of our success is ... because of that mentality that he has and everybody watching him every single day, and watching what he does and how much he cares about his teammates and how much he loves those guys, and how he would do anything in the world for them,” Dykes said.
Duggan graduated from TCU’s business school Dec. 17 and has already said he will skip his available extra college season for the NFL draft.
Even though he finished second to USC quarterback Caleb Williams in the Heisman Trophy voting, Duggan won the Davey O’Brien Award. He is the first TCU player to win the QB award named after the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner — in 1938, a national championship season.
The Iowa Gatorade player of the year and a four-star recruit, Duggan started 10 games as a true freshman for TCU in 2019. Before the start of the 2020 season, a previously unknown heart issue was discovered during enhanced preseason testing during the pandemic. Two days after a procedure to fix the heart issue, Duggan needed emergency surgery because of a blood clot.
The son of a coach didn’t miss a game.
“Everybody believes in Max,” linebacker Dee Winters said. “He’s a confident player and he has a lot of maturity to him.”
Ask any of his teammates, and any of the players who go against him, and they all would say the same.
“It means a lot. I think you need to have self-confidence. But a lot of that self-confidence comes from people around you that their opinions really matter to you,” Duggan said. “It makes you play a lot more free, a little bit more loose.”
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