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June 14, 2010It was a little bit painful, but Noel Mazzone got a result that he probably would say was worth it.
The Arizona State offensive coordinator played a little catch with Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft High School quarterback Michael Bercovici last Wednesday at the school's day camp and ended up with an injured forefinger.
"I might have hurt his finger but I don't know if I broke it," Bercovici said.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound signal caller certainly left his mark, physically and otherwise. Arizona State offered the strong-armed Bercovici a scholarship by day's end -- his first -- and quickly emerged as an overwhelming leader for his future services.
After subsequent visits to camps at Oregon State and Washington, Bercovici knew he didn't need to see anything else.
"The coaches told me as soon as they saw me (at camp), 'We knew that you were our guy,'" Bercovici said. "'We're really excited because we feel we got the best quarterback in the Pac-10, and it was a steal.' Coach Mazzone said he can't wait to get in the office with me because he said he's going to kick my butt for the next four years and make sure he gets me in shape and ready to go for the NFL.
"It was a surreal experience. For the first time in my football career, I really got a taste of Division I football and I'm really going to playing Division I football in the Pac-10 and it feels absolutely great."
Bercovici said he was immediately impressed with ASU's staff, campus and facilities, and it put him at ease with the idea of playing at the school.
"I've always thought about where I wanted to go to school, and ASU is a great school," Bercovici said. "Rudy Carpenter, whom I've known for the last couple years, went there and had a good career. Getting a chance to talk to coach Mazzone, I absolutely love his philosophy and where he's taking the program. They have an offense that is going to be very fast and get a lot of plays off and it's a quarterback's dream.
"Everything they are talking about fits in well with what I'm looking for. Everything just seems perfect about that program right now. I think they're definitely going to pick it up on the offensive end this year, and the defense pretty much speaks for itself. They are really good on defense, and that will continue."
Bercovici's goal was to play in the Pac-10, and a number of the conference's members were beginning to fill up at the position or waiting on high priority targets.
"The one thing I got out of them is I really felt like I was the No. 1 guy for them right now at this point in time and they really want me to commit and I'm at the top of their list," Bercovici said. "Other schools were looking at nationally ranked quarterbacks and waiting to see what happens, or they are going to take two quarterbacks. That's what I love about ASU. I'm really their guy, the guy they want in this recruiting class, the guy they build their recruiting class around, rather than being second fiddle to a different quarterback."
There were a number of additional factors which fell in place for Bercovici, who transferred to Taft last season and wasn't a full-time starter, and led him to choose to commit early to the Sun Devils.
"My sister goes to ASU and just finished up her freshman year," Bercovici said. "I love how close it is to home, I love the family environment there. They have three sets of father-son relationships around the program. The facilities are top notch. They have the best facilities of the schools I've visited and they have the best mindset of the coaches. I absolutely love the coaching staff there. Coach Trent Bray, who has been recruiting me, as well as coach Mazzone and coach (Dennis) Erickson are all really great guys.
"I've visited a lot of schools over the summer, just back from Oregon State and Washington. I went to the UCLA camp, and those were the big schools I was looking at. After being at ASU a couple times, I took an unofficial there in the beginning of May and visited for their camp June 9th just for one day. It definitely feels like the school for me."
The courtship of Bercovici was quick but aggressive. He visited unofficially in early May, returned to work out at the camp last Wednesday, immediately received a scholarship and committed less than a week later.
"Once I took my unofficial visit there, they really started to recruit me," Bercovici said. "They liked my highlight tape a lot, and at the Badger Sports Tournament I won MVP and our team won the entire tournament in Las Vegas. I think that attracted their attention, and when I went there and in the quarterback room we went over three plays and they were probably our three most highly run plays on our high school team and I showed them how much I knew and they were really impressed by how much I grasped offensively already as a senior in high school. I feel that's one of my strengths, is understanding the game of football, and I think that really grabbed their attention.
"Coach Erickson and coach Mazzone like my strong arm and quick release, and it fits into their offensive philosophy of getting the ball out quickly and to the receivers. It helps to have a strong arm, and that's what they really liked about me."
A strong student who reported a cumulative grade-point average over 4.0, including 4.2 in his most recent semester, Bercovici said he is incredibly passionate about the game of football and studying football is his favorite thing to do other than play it.
"Everything I do in life pretty much revolves around playing quarterback," Bercovici said. "You never learn enough about playing quarterback. My footwork is really important to me because all good quarterbacks say it starts from the ground up. I really take pride in having good feet and in knowing at all times where all my receivers are on the field because that helps me get the ball out of my hands quicker. Knowing where everyone is and making the right decision is so important because the biggest part of playing quarterback is decision making."
In the coming months Bercovici said the only camp he'd attend would be the Rising Stars Camp at USC, but primarily to stay fresh and attempt to recruit prospective future teammates for ASU. Beyond that, his focus is on his high school team and getting ready to play in college.
"We run a little bit of a combination of pro style and spread," he said. "It's very similar to ASU. We're not a big quarterback run team. We're about getting the ball in the hands of the receivers. We can line up one formation with two backs and a tight end and the next formation we can have four wides. We're pretty balanced throwing and passing, so we're very similar to ASU.
"Over the summer I'm just going to work really hard on my speed and leaning out a little bit. I feel like our high school has a good chance to win a (Los Angeles) city championship this year, so I'm going to work on being a leader and get ready for the next couple of years when I'll be at Arizona State."
Rivals.com national evaluator Barry Every's take on Bercovici from the Berkeley Elite 11 camp:
At first glance, he does not pass the eyeball test for a gun-slinging pro-style quarterback as he does not have tremendous height or body structure. Bercovici does possess a canon and receivers better get their hands up or he will leave them with stitches. That power comes from a nice, smooth transfer of weight using his powerbase to create torque. His throwing motion is very consistent, making it easy for him to be spot on with his accuracy. This will be his first season as a full-time starter. Colleges will keep tabs on him since there is a shortage of quality throwers in the 2011 class.