Tennessee State coach Rod Reed needs no reminder about the age of his sophomore quarterback.
The 21-year-old Michael German drops hints all the time.
“We still have our challenges with him — just overall maturity,” Reed said. “On the field, he is a mature guy. But he still has some off the field issues. He is a jokester. We just want him to be mature and be a good example for everybody off the field.”
When he breaks the huddle, however, German doesn’t clown around.
The goofy gunslinger with the wry smile has stepped up in clutch situations for the Tigers (8-1, 4-1 Ohio Valley), who travel to Murray State (3-5, 2-3) on Saturday.
Twice in the last four games he has orchestrated last-second, come-from-behind victories. His 1-yard touchdown plunge with eight seconds left against Eastern Kentucky staved off TSU’s first loss. Last weekend, as time expired, he scrambled long enough to find A.C. Leonard for a six-yard touchdown for a one-point win over Tennessee Tech.
“I’m probably one of the most determined people you’ll see because I won’t accept no for an answer,” German said. “I want perfection. It is hard to be perfect but that’s what I want.”
German, the 2011 OVC Freshman of the Year, has had his share of mistakes.
Reed benched him for the first series of a win against Austin Peay on Sept. 15 due to a violation of team rules. The message hit home to German, who responded with a career-high 318 passing yards and three touchdowns.
“They listen to Mike. It is Mike’s team,” Reed said. “He is maturing but we still have to remember he is a sophomore. He is going to make some mistakes. For the most part, he’s our guy. He does what we want him to do with the offense.”
German has completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 2,123 yards and 13 touchdowns. Reed still seeks better decision-making.
Against Jacksonville State two weeks ago, German threw two crucial interceptions. But his biggest mistake came when he failed to get rid of the ball and took a 13-yard sack on third down in overtime. This set up a 42-yard field goal attempt, which the Tigers missed. Jacksonville State capitalized and made a game-winning kick to give TSU its first loss.
“We throw the ball away, who knows ... we’re playing another overtime,” Reed said. “All of it is teachable moments for him at this point in his career. We expect him to continue to grow in that position. I think the sky is the limit for him. I still think he is clutch.”
He made that case again last week.
With 61 seconds left and trailing 21-15, German drove the Tigers 73 yards. He came through when he needed to, converting two third downs and running for eight yards on fourth-and-1. With the clock winding down, German alertly got up and spiked the ball at the 6-yard line to leave TSU with one second left. On the next play, the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder hung in the pocket before sailing a pass that only 6-foot-4 Leonard could grab.
“He is calm always — even in big-time situations,” Leonard said. “He knows how to work the offense and handle it. He wasn’t panicking or nothing. He just got in and got the job done.”
German, a native of Pompano Beach, Fla., made the transition look smooth last year.
After redshirting in 2010, he took over four games in and went 4-4 as a starter. He threw 137 consecutive passes before throwing an interception and finished with nearly 1,900 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was named a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award, which is given annually to the top freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision.
But German insists the instant success didn’t inflate his ego. Reed thinks otherwise, noting that German believes he can make all the throws even when he shouldn’t.
Not to worry, though. German knows his coach will make sure to remind him when he veers off track.
“He treats me like I’m his son,” German said. “So if there is anything, if it’s even not throwing my plate away at lunch he’ll be on my head. He’ll blow it up bigger than what it is. But it all has to do with respect. He is trying to teach me how to become a man and trying to teach me responsibilities.”