Updated Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Ten years ago, the pocket collapsed on Luke Huard. The youngest brother of Damon and Brock Huard who broke their passing records at Puyallup High School was back home after a college career at North Carolina marked by injury, frustration and self-doubt.
He'd been dumped by the game he loved.
"It was a tough time, and time to to figure out what I wanted to do," Huard said.
But Huard's pocket was filled with the warm embrace of home.
"I'm blessed with the most supportive family you could have," he said. "My family told me to do what I love."
And what he loves is football. Today, Huard is the offensive coordinator at Illinois State, which faces Eastern Washington on Saturday in an FCS quarterfinal game at Roos Field in Cheney. Huard and Eastern coach Beau Baldwin go way back, perhaps further than even Baldwin remembers.
Huard's father, Mike, coached at Puyallup against South Puget Sound League rival Curtis of Tacoma, where Baldwin set records and won a state title in 1989 as the quarterback.
"I was the ballboy," Huard recalled Tuesday from his office at Illinois State.
Five years later, Luke had the ball in his hands under center. His favorite memory is a game against city rival Rogers, which hadn't beaten the Vikings in a dozen years but was undefeated late in the 1995 season.
"We were young, and I was just a sophomore, but I just remember I didn't want to be the quarterback who lost to Rogers," he said.
And they didn't.
As a senior, Huard led the Vikings to a 12-1 record while throwing for 2,650 yards and 39 touchdowns. Fans assumed he'd follow Damon and Brock to Washington, "but I wanted to try something different," he said at the time.
He started seven games as a redshirt freshman at North Carolina in 1999, but suffered a shoulder injury that ended his season. A year later, a new offensive coordinator brought in an option offense unsuited to his style, and just as the Tar Heels went back to a pro offense, Huard developed an irregular heartbeat. Frustration mounting, he transferred to FCS Sam Houston State, but was declared ineligible by the NCAA before he played a down.
And so it ended.
"But I'd been around the game my entire life," Huard said. "I knew I wanted to be a coach since junior high school."
After a year as an assistant at Washington High near Tacoma, he was head coach for four years at Interlake High of Bellevue, "doing what makes me happy."
That included time in Cheney, where Eastern's high school football camp drew hundreds of players. At the time, Baldwin was offensive coordinator under coach Paul Wulff.
"It was a great experience for the coaches and players," Huard said. "Beau was there, and I developed a great amount of respect for coach Baldwin and the staff at Eastern.
"The camps were run very well, and they took great care of us."
In 2007, just as Baldwin moved on to take over at Central Washington, so did Huard, who joined Tyrone Willingham's staff at Washington as a graduate assistant and worked with quarterback Jake Locker.
"I was fortunate enough to coach a lot, and I was given the opportunity to contribute to the passing-game plans," Huard said.
That attracted Illinois State coach Brock Spack, who hired Huard as quarterbacks coach. One year later, Huard was promoted to offensive coordinator. Under his guidance, Redbirds senior Matt Brown has developed into the top quarterback in the Missouri Valley Conference, throwing for 2,998 yards and 25 touchdowns.
On Saturday, the Huard family will be in Cheney, an easy trip compared to dad Mike's journey last week to Boone, N.C., where Illinois State knocked off Appalachian State.
"I gave Mom and Dad a bunch of tickets and let them figure it out from there," Huard said, adding that he can't wait to see the red turf at Roos Field.
"I'm looking forward to it."
Illinois State @ Eastern Washington, 3:05 p.m., ESPN3
Injuries kept Luke Huard from success in college.