|Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports|
|Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo is closing in on Tony Romo's school record for career TD passes.|
There hasn't been a FCS quarterback drafted in the first round since Baltimore selected Joe Flacco out of Delaware with the 18th overall pick in 2008. Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo could be the next.
Garoppolo (6-feet-3, 222 pounds), who ranked 48th on NFL Media draft analyst Gil Brandt's preseason list of the nation's top 100 seniors, plays his second FBS opponent of the season Saturday when EIU plays at Northern Illinois. In EIU's opener, Garoppolo torched San Diego State for 361 yards and three touchdowns. His performance drew praise from Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, whose team played San Diego State in Week 2.
During his weekly teleconference before the SDSU game, Meyer said he had watched tape of the San Diego State-EIU game and said that "Eastern has really one of the best quarterbacks I've ever seen. I didn't even know who he was until I watched him. He's a great player."
Garoppolo threw for 440 yards and four TDs in a Week 2 win over Southern Illinois, then for 480 yards and seven TDs (six in the first half) last week against Illinois State.
Eastern Illinois coach Dino Babers was Baylor's wide receivers coach when Robert Griffin III was the Bears' quarterback, and he told the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald that in the first half against Illinois State, Garoppolo "was as hot as I've ever seen any quarterback, and I've seen Robert Griffin III mighty hot in a couple of games in the Big 12."
Garoppolo was lightly recruited out of high school in the Chicago suburbs and signed with EIU over offers from Illinois State and Montana State. During the recruiting process, he heard from FBS schools Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Illinois, Ohio University, Purdue and Western Michigan, but none offered a scholarship. Before his senior season, Garoppolo told rivals.com that his "dream schools" were Florida and Notre Dame, but he never heard from either one.
Garoppolo has been a four-year starter for Eastern Illinois and recently passed New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton to become the school's career leader in completions. He has 79 career TD passes, six away from tying Tony Romo's -- yes, that Tony Romo -- school record of 85. (Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan is another former EIU quarterback.)
Garoppolo has a strong arm, but what sets him apart is his quick release. Babers told the Chicago Tribune that Garoppolo has the fastest release he ever has seen.
Garoppolo long has credited former EIU quarterback Jeff Christensen for helping him develop top-flight mechanics. Christensen played in the NFL and began working with Garoppolo when he was in high school. (Jeff Christensen's son, Jake, played quarterback at Iowa before losing the starting job to Ricky Stanzi and finishing his career at EIU.) Christensen told the Tribune that he often has told Garoppolo that he will be an NFL quarterback -- and an NFL starter at that.
If Garoppolo works out as well as Flacco ...
Mike Huguenin can be reached at email@example.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.