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Sports

September 19, 2013

NFL: Luck, Harbaugh share equal admiration, respect

Player, coach bound together by shared Stanford experience.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Andrew Luck played quite a role in landing the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh his first NFL coaching job. Harbaugh helped pave the path to the quarterback becoming the No. 1 overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in last year’s draft out of Stanford.

They will be reunited as respected opponents and friends Sunday, finding themselves in the strange position of game-planning against each other in Week 3 while each trying to bounce back from tough losses.

“I can’t speak for Coach Harbaugh, but I definitely feel like he helped me get to where I am,” Luck said Wednesday. “He obviously turned Stanford around, his efforts probably more than anybody. That was a big part of having some success for me was getting to play at a great program, well-run program, well-coached football team. I would definitely attribute a lot of where I am now to the positive impact that he’s had on me.”

These two spent the 2008-2010 seasons together on The Farm, with Luck starting the final two years and leading the Cardinal to an Orange Bowl victory after his junior season. Harbaugh departed in January 2011 to move just down the 101 freeway and join the 49ers, while Luck opted to stay in school for his senior season.

On Wednesday, Luck even downplayed his talents when asked about how he would fare running the read option, and he sounded a lot like Harbaugh in the process.

“I know I can’t do that,” Luck said. “I’m definitely not athletic enough.”

Yeah right, Harbaugh says.

He knows Luck can accomplish most anything on a football field, even if he has been sacked seven times already through two games.

“I don’t buy that he doesn’t have the athleticism. He is, for lack of a better term, a freakishly good athlete,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a lot faster than you think he is and he’s really fast. Stronger than he looks, but then you see the evidence on the tape where guys are hitting him pretty solid, pretty hard and he’s able to just flinch it off, kind of (Ben) Roethlisberger-like. He throws with a lot of velocity, even though it’s a throwing motion it’s pretty smooth. The ball comes out a lot faster than you think it does and with a lot more velocity than you think. Just very, very blessed athletically is Andrew.”

Harbaugh appreciates Luck’s kind words, while reiterating the influence the quarterback had on everyone at Stanford — in football and away from it.

“That’s very generous of him to say. There’s no question that the association with Andrew, I feel like we all drew the long straw, with his contributions to Stanford University not only the football team but everybody he came in contact with,” Harbaugh said.

Always quick to shy away from making comparisons, Harbaugh did just that when discussing Luck and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“Their enthusiasm, how they interact with their teammates and coaches, everyone they come in contact with ... real gentlemen,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh’s players are gearing up for a third top quarterback in as many weeks. Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay to open the season, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks last Sunday night.

“Excited to face one of Coach Harbaugh’s proteges,” linebacker NaVorro Bowman said.

“It’s really just No. 12, man, I feel like they feed off of him.”

Luck wishes he had paid more attention during his conversations with Vic Fangio when the 49ers defensive coordinator was at Stanford. Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton — another ex-Stanford coach — plan to keep the NFC champions guessing.

“We’re not going to blatantly call out plays he would know,” Luck said. “It will be sort of fun to see those guys. I feel very fortunate to have played under them in college. They taught me so much about football and growing up.”

Current Stanford coach David Shaw, who succeeded Harbaugh and coached Luck in his last year, is eager for this one and understands the intrigue with so many connections on both sides.

“There will just be a lot of excitement, but once the game starts Andrew’s going to be thinking about those linebackers and the defensive ends and those monster safeties that they have, and on the flip side the Niners are about executing,” Shaw said. “The familiarity, NFL-wise, from being in that world, it’s all pregame and postgame. You take the pregame pics with your former teammates and coaches and you share a quick laugh, and when the game starts you don’t care who’s on the other side. And when the game’s over you give a hug and say, ‘See you down the road, see you in the offseason.’ The game is still paramount.”

With the Colts’ travel schedule, Luck won’t make it to the Cardinal’s home game Saturday against Arizona State. Yet Harbaugh expects plenty of Stanford folks in the stands come Sunday at Candlestick Park.

“It’s going to be quite a bit of reunion this week with some of the guys that played at Stanford and we know well,” Harbaugh said. “Not necessarily a good thing.”

And why not?

“’Cuz they’re good.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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