Matt Who? Little-known Cassel replaces Brady Print
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Wednesday, 10 September 2008 13:32
NFL Headline News

 FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -The day after Matt Cassel dropped a fly ball in a high school game, his teammates thought they'd tease him.
So they posted a picture of his miscue on his locker.
``I've never seen so many guys scramble out of that locker room in a hurry when he went in there and saw that,'' said Tom Meusborn, the coach of that Los Angeles area team. ``He was going to track the guy down and probably body slam him. He had fun with it.''
Cassel can take a joke. But he hates making mistakes, whether it's on the baseball or football field.
On Sunday, the Patriots' new quarterback will shake off what remains of seven years of cobwebs and deal with any butterflies in his first start since high school - against the archrival New York Jets and Brett Favre.
His task? Just replacing three-time NFL champion, two-time Super Bowl MVP and one-time regular season MVP Tom Brady.
``I'm not trying to be Tom Brady. I'm just trying to be Matt Cassel,'' he said. ``I don't know where that's going to take us.''
ll take him to the field.
He threw just 33 passes at Southern California, where he had the misfortune of backing up Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. But the Patriots saw enough in him to pick Cassel in the seventh and final round of the 2005 draft.
New team, same predicament - backing up an outstanding, durable quarterback. Cassel had thrown just 39 passes in three years for the Patriots. Then he went 13-for-18 for 152 yards last Sunday in a 17-10 win over Kansas City after Brady suffered a season-ending left knee injury.
``How many guys have not been a starter in college and made it to the NFL and stuck with it this long?'' said Meusborn, who put Cassel in right field at Chatsworth High School because of his powerful right arm. ``It's an unusual story, but Matt's a different type of guy that could persevere through that and stay focused and be a team player and accept his role and not necessarily like it.''
Cassel's athletic prowess started long ago, but he wasn't the only talented member of his household.
He played in the 1994 Little League World Series when he was 12 years old, less than a year after an earthquake struck his home town of Northridge, another Los Angeles suburb.
nd Athletics.
``Is Matt the best athlete?'' Meusborn said. ``Yeah, I'd say so. I think he had three hits for us in the 1999 city championship game at Dodger Stadium.''
Chatsworth won. But Cassel skipped baseball as a senior the next year to focus on football. He stayed with it after Oakland drafted him in 2004 and remained at USC because he felt he could become the starter if Leinart struggled.
Now Cassel is a starter and Leinart is a backup with the Arizona Cardinals.
``I don't think anyone is expecting him to play like Tom played because that's pretty hard. But he's been there for a while,'' Leinart said. ``He's a smart guy. He's got a big arm.''
Like Brady before he took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Cassel has answered interview questions politely. Palmer saw another side of his personality when they were college roommates.
``He needs to be the leader that Matt is,'' Palmer said. ``Those guys on the team know that he's wild and crazy, and loud and obnoxious. Just take that to the field because that's who he is and he needs to play like himself.''
Coach Bill Belichick needs Cassel to be under control so he manages the game and avoids mistakes.
Brady's college career didn't foreshadow pro greatness either. He was a sometime starter in 1998 and '99 and was drafted in the sixth round in 2000, 199th overall. Cassel was the 230th pick.
And now?
star,'' said USC coach Pete Carroll.
Backing up the player Carroll called ``maybe the best football player ever in the history of the NFL'' doesn't bring Cassel much playing time. But learning from that player helps.
``Matt has been brought up well,'' Carroll said. ``He's been in that program for a long time. This is not a guy that's going to go thrown to the wolves, that hasn't really had the opportunity to learn the system.''
Rick Hayashida is Chatsworth's football coach now, but when Cassel was there he was coach at El Camino High and went against him.
``He was a marquee athlete: baseball, football,'' Hayashida said. ``He was one of the kids that we had to stop.''
Now the stage is much bigger. So is the challenge - replacing a great quarterback on the most successful team of the decade.
``He's a guy that accepts challenges,'' Meusborn said. ``I don't think he's going to be intimidated at all. He's been around big environments, big games and been in that system now for four years. I think he's ready.''
Cassel studied, practiced and worked out a lot to get to that point from the day Belichick plucked an idle quarterback from a national powerhouse.
``Look, we are talking about a guy in the seventh round. This isn't John Elway here,'' Belichick said at the time.
He's not Tom Brady either. Just Matt Cassel, and that may be good enough.
---
AP sports writers Bob Baum in Phoenix, Joe Kay in Cincinnati and John Nadel in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
 

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