PROVO, Utah — Grant Hedrick says he was born with a dream.
To play college football.
He spent his youth — from the day he could walk — wandering through his dad’s football practices at Central High in Independence, Ore.
He spent his high school years building an impeccable quarterback résumé that landed him a scholarship offer from Boise State — one he accepted 30 minutes later.
He spent his first three-plus college years preparing for a moment that might never come — and that, if it did, likely would arrive without warning.
Last week, he seized that moment — replacing injured starting quarterback Joe Southwick (broken ankle) on the second offensive play and leading the Broncos to a comeback win against Nevada.
And on Friday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium, he’ll make his first college start in one of the Broncos’ marquee games, at BYU.
“I’ll prepare like I have been all year,” Hedrick said after last week’s game (he wasn’t available for interviews this week). “Obviously it’s a little different mindset going in, but the same preparation.”
Hedrick will bring an even-keel demeanor, spectacular speed and a strong arm to one of the glamour positions in college football — Boise State quarterback.
The questions surround his command of the offense — that’s what separated Southwick from Hedrick in the first place — and his ability to show patience in the pocket to deliver critical plays in the pass game against a stout defense.
“When Grant throws and runs, it’s exactly what you want it to look like,” head coach Chris Petersen said. “He has great throwing mechanics, a strong arm and you saw him run on Saturday. It’s been a matter of gaining command of the system. At quarterback, it’s always mental. The guys who have played for us here have been guys who really have a great command of football in general, but certainly of our system.”
Hedrick’s command has improved through 1 1/2 seasons as the backup, and 2 1/2 as the quarterback of a specialty package of running plays. He made his college football debut as a redshirt freshman against Georgia in Atlanta, a more imposing setting than he’ll face Friday.
Along the way, he earned the confidence and respect of his teammates.
“Because he does have that threat of running the ball a little more,” junior wide receiver Matt Miller said, “I think we’re just as dangerous with him as with Joe.”
Hedrick, who turns 22 on Saturday, grew up on football fields. His dad coached at the small-college level before shifting to high school.
“He was always coming to my practices, literally from the time he could walk,” said Shane Hedrick, Grant’s dad and the head coach at Central High since 1999. “I’d have a little area on the sidelines. I’d say, ‘You have to stay in this area.’ ”
Hedrick played soccer first, then began football in third grade. He was a running back — the position Shane played at Western Oregon, and the position Hedrick believed he would play in college.
Undersized and not quite Division I fast, he moved to quarterback in eighth grade. He was set to start as a freshman at Central when he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow. Instead of undergoing Tommy John surgery and using a replacement piece from elsewhere in the body, doctors were able to reattach the UCL with a screw that remains in his elbow.
Hedrick returned to the field in time to start three playoff games. He led Central to two state semifinals and a quarterfinal over the next three seasons and was named The Oregonian’s 4A Offensive Player of the Year as a senior. He contributed more than 4,000 yards of total offense and 51 touchdowns with just one interception that season.
“He has incredible speed,” Shane said. “At that time, it was beyond incredible at the high school level. If we ever truly needed any kind of play at all, we’d just let him run.”
Hedrick visited BSU’s high school camp for one day the summer before his senior year. He held offers from Portland State and Air Force, but Stanford and Oregon told him he was too short at 6 feet.
On the drive home, before they left Boise’s city limits, Hedrick told his dad: “If they offer, I will accept.”
Five days later, the Broncos called with that offer. He took it. Shortly after that, coaches from Washington, Washington State and Oregon State called, Shane said.
“He didn’t even pick up the phone,” Shane said.
That level of commitment has shown up since, too.
Hedrick was set to graduate from Central a semester early, so he could join the Broncos in January 2010 instead of August. He opted to stay in school, in part to finish his basketball career. With Hedrick at point guard, Central won state.
Last month, he was asked if he considered joining the college football trend of backup quarterbacks transferring to find playing time.
“I could never do that to these coaches and my teammates,” he said. “I’m going to stick it out, whether I ever start a game here or not. I’m part of this team, and I’ll do everything I can to help them win.”
He replaced Southwick briefly at Fresno State, when Southwick tweaked his throwing shoulder. But as much as the coaches emphasize the need to prepare like a starter, there was no reason for Hedrick to believe he’d ever be needed for an extended period. It hadn’t happened at Boise State since 2002.
But he did believe. He showed it with the way he worked. Now his role is much different.
He needs to fill some of the leadership void left by Southwick. Hedrick is a quiet, mild-mannered guy who said during fall camp he wanted to emulate the “commander” nature of Southwick.
“Being vocal has been a little tough for me,” Hedrick said in camp.
But the physical tools are there.
He has completed 81 percent of his passes this season. He averages 12.8 yards per carry — with game-day speed players say rivals anyone on the team.
Kellen Moore, the gold standard of Broncos quarterbacks, took note in the spring of 2011.
“He’ll be a big-time quarterback here,” Moore predicted.