How Max Duggan persevered to become the perfect fit at TCU

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The Legend of Max DuganStubborn overachiever who started the regular season as a backup quarterback and finished it as the Heisman Trophy runner-up TCU A college football playoff was born on the Fourth of July in Barth, Iowa.

Jim Duggan, Max’s father and former high school football coach in Council Bluffs, first recalls his son’s stubborn resistance to losing during the annual family event, a water fight in which all Duggans would use any means necessary to drench their opponents.

“It’s the hose and it’s the water gun and it’s the balloon,” Jim said Thursday morning from Arizona, where he first saw his son’s never-say-die attitude take shape. “It’s buckets of ice water. It’s grown-ups climbing up on Grandma and Grandpa’s roof, hiding and then blasting the kids with a garden hose. It was all good water, and the water in that well came out of the icy cold of the ground. It’s a shock. Body. Kids were slipping and falling in the yard. It was a good old-fashioned water fight and it went on for 45 minutes. It was a tradition at Duggan Fourth of July parties.”

There was only one rule in determining the winner: You cry, and you’re out.

“He’ll be 3, 4, 5 years old and always be one of the last ones alive because you can do almost anything to him and he won’t cry, he won’t get out of that water fight for anything.” Jim Dr. “He was always fighting. That was an early sign that this kid was a little different.”

In his four years at TCU, Max Duggan has been in the fray. He overcame the discovery and subsequent nine-hour surgery to correct a heart condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, in which an extra electrical pathway causes a rapid heartbeat. He underwent subsequent emergency surgery for a blood clot from the procedure. The TCU coach he bonded with in recruiting, offensive coordinator Sonny Cumby, is gone. The coach who signed him, Gary Patterson, parted ways with the school, and the new coach, Sonny Dykes, gave Duggan the starting job as his backup. Chandler Morris.

But the opener of this season also got injured against Morris Colorado, saw Duggan reclaim the job and lead the Big 12 in passing yards (3,321) and passing TDs (30), opponents are learning the same lesson. You can’t hold Duggan down.

“He’s like a cockroach,” Morris said. “You can’t beat him. That’s how I see Max. He’ll be right back and he’ll keep going.”

After 41 starts and a season that will go down in TCU history, Duggan gets his chance as a Giant Slayer on Saturday when No. 3 TCU faces No. 2 Michigan College Football Playoff Semifinals at Vrbo Fiesta Bowl (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) If we’ve learned anything this season, and apparently returning from his childhood in Iowa, it’s not to count out Max Duggan.


TCU lost one 31-28 loss in overtime in this season’s game State of Kansas in the Big 12 Championship Game. Duggan had a subpar first half by this season’s standards, then rallied the Horned Frogs from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit, ran for 95 yards on an 80-yard drive, collapsed in exhaustion after scoring a touchdown, before throwing the game—with 1:51 left in the game. 2-point conversion with rest.

After Kansas State held TCU scoreless in overtime and kicked the game-winning field goal, Duggan sat in his locker for 45 minutes in full uniform. An hour after the game ended, Duggan arrived at the news conference, still not over the heartbreak of coming up inches short of scoring a touchdown on an overtime drive, ending his hopes of bringing a Big 12 title to Fort Worth.

The child who never cried was red-eyed and bleary, tears streaming down her face as she accepted responsibility for the loss. After 18 losses in his first three years at TCU, it broke him.

“At the moment, it was a real emotion that was coming out,” Duggan said this week. “I’ve been here four years and there’s been a lot of ups and downs and failures and successes. You want to do everything you can to make them proud, and you come so close to a league championship and then you fall short. The locker room, the staff. And feel bad for the varsity guys because it means a lot to them. As a quarterback, you feel responsible like a responsible guy.”

Clips from that press conference continue to haunt TCU coaches and players. It’s almost unfair that this will remain a signature memory of one of the greatest seasons in TCU football history.

“Man, it hurts me and us more,” offensive coordinator Garrett Riley said. “He’s not usually an emotional person. I think it really struck a chord with a lot of people to see a guy like him in that moment.”

As TCU prepares for Michigan, the images have served as a motivational factor, especially for Duggan’s offensive linemen, who don’t want to see their leader in pain.

“We were the position he was supposed to take the beating for,” Tackle said Andrew Coker, who has started every game for the last two years. “Whenever you see your quarterback come out, you want to pick the guy up, you want to keep him off the ground. You want to get his attitude.”

linebacker Johnny Hodges Wednesday joked that it was the first time he’d seen Duggan excel at something.

“I saw him after losing a game this year and he didn’t look too good,” Hodges said Wednesday. “He is not a good crier.”

But then again, he didn’t have much practice.


TCU will go As a 7.5-point underdog entering Saturday’s game, according to Caesar’s Sportsbook. But given that the Frogs had 200-1 odds to win the national championship entering this season, the longest odds of any team to reach the CFP, they’ll take it.

A lot of things had to go right for Duggan to be here. But something had to go wrong, too.

After Dykes named Morris the starter, Duggan vowed to stick around and be his best backup. He came to TCU, he said, because he wanted to go somewhere where he would enjoy being just a regular student and not a football player. TCU, in a metropolitan area, appealed to him. So, he was willing to see it.

Then Morris sprained his knee in the second half against Colorado and Duggan began to improve. The following week, Duggan completed 23 of 29 passes and set career highs in passing yards (390) and TD passes (5) in a 59–17 win. Tarleton. But Riley admitted he wasn’t entirely sure about Duggan until the following week in a 42-34 victory. SMU In Dallas, of course, the previous two seasons before coming to TCU, Riley was on the SMU sideline as the Mustangs beat Duggan and the Frogs both times.

“He really made some plays in the passing game in the first half where I was like, ‘OK, that’s a little bit better than what I’ve seen him do,'” Riley said. “There were times where he stood completely in the pocket and went into his fourth lesson and delivered a strike. I was like, ‘Oh—, that’s a lot better than I could have possibly guessed.’ And then, the next week he duplicated some of those things Oklahoma. I thought there was something pretty special here.”

And then came the comeback. TCU went 5-1 this year when it trailed in the second half. And Duggan leads the FBS with 10.3 yards per attempt while under pressure.

Riley said the most dramatic improvement has been in the deep pass. On passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield, Duggan has the highest completion percentage (50%) in the FBS, with 12 touchdowns. He has 13 completions of 50 or more yards this season, also tops nationally.

“He’s gotten a bad rap for hitting the deep ball,” Riley said. “That was kind of a big thing. Now the deep ball is probably his No. 1 strength. So it’s not like I came in here and this whole equation was, ‘Hey, this is how we’re going to hit them. ‘ We just do it.”

After the SMU game, Dykes was emotional about how Duggan responded to all the changes and doubts, saying he hoped his son would handle them as well. He said Duggan has yet to question the decision.

“I’m sure he wanted to say a lot of times, ‘What were you thinking, idiot?'” Dykes said. “That’s what I’ve wanted to say to a lot of people. Part of being a quarterback and being a head coach is you don’t say things that you think sometimes. So I think he probably showed some restraint by not going out here. Going, ‘Are you stupid?’ I think that’s part of who he is.”


28 days Between the Big 12 championship loss and the Fiesta Bowl, the Horned Frogs are priceless, ending their streak of 11 straight conference games this season, and Duggan almost couldn’t walk off the field by himself after the Kansas State game.

He takes so much punishment, his teammates love him Kendre MillerThe hard-nosed running back, who rushed for 1,342 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, says he inspires the rest of the players and backs up quickly after seeing their QB bleed for them.

“We talk about emptying our tanks. That’s one of the pillars of our program,” Dykes said. “Fill up your tank every week, go to the game, then empty it. Max Duggan does it as well as anyone I’ve ever been around. He goes out there and gives it everything he’s got on Saturday. He shows up Sunday morning and we have him bailing wire and super. Put the pieces back together with glue and he can barely walk and looks like he’s 75 years old. We’ll play on Saturday and he’ll be fine. Being able to do that for 13 straight weeks, that’s normal.”

Dykes compared Duggan to a 1950s All-American, wearing a leather jacket and driving a 1957 Chevy to prom. Coker complains that he is very competitive and very good at Madden.

“He looks at it from a quarterback lens so he’s out here trying to dissect your coverages and dinking and dunking all the way down the field,” he said. “You’re like, ‘Dude, I’m not playing with you anymore’.”

Offensive lineman Wes Harris He said he never saw Duggan mumble, or see him get restless.

“That dude has a right to be like, ‘Look at this,'” he said. “He doesn’t say it. He does it.”

All the while, Morris is taking notes.

“I’ve learned a lot … I’m happy for our teammates and I’m happy for Max, because he put his heart into a lot, then lost his job his senior year, and he didn’t freak out,” Morris said. “He’s always been the best teammate. Then the roles reversed and I’m proud to be the best teammate I can be and the best backup quarterback in the country.”

Duggan is the brains, heart and soul of the Horned Frog, and if he can’t pull off one more wild upset, it will be the end of the road for him in Fort Worth, as he’s already announced he’s entering the NFL draft.

“I don’t think you can measure what he means in your program because how do you put a measure or a standard on that?” Dykes Dr. “How can you measure how important it is?”

Jim Duggan, who has retired from coaching, knows Max is ready for his shot. And, he said, there is precedent.

The last time Michigan played in a bowl game was in 2013 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Arizona. The Wolverines lost to a Big 12 team (Kansas State) led by a quarterback named Jake Waters, who had been Duggan’s coach at Council Bluffs and was ranked No. 15, just like Max.

But win or lose, Dykes said Thursday that Duggan’s legacy has already been established, comparing his accomplishments when Andy Dalton led TCU to a Rose Bowl win and a No. 2 finish in 2010 and “put TCU on the map.”

“Max is going to be on that Mount Rushmore of TCU guys,” Dykes said. “He definitely deserves to be. Here we are in the College Football Playoff; I don’t think anybody expected us to be here. I don’t think anybody was betting on Max Duggan to be the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. I think there’s a lot of that this year. Something happened that was beyond people’s expectations.”



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