Two years ago, Tom Savage, working construction with his father and desperately seeking one last college opportunity, thought his football playing days might be over.
Now, after impressing in one season at Pittsburgh and dramatically raising his stock in recent months, the strong-armed quarterback from Cardinal O'Hara is set to begin a pro career. He was selected Saturday in the fourth round of the NFL draft, with the 135th overall choice, by the Houston Texans.
"I think he's a guy that has a good arm, I think he's an accurate passer, he's smart, and he's articulate," first-year Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "We're excited about working with this guy and teaching him how we do things."
The 6-foot-4, 228-pound Savage made three stops in college, bouncing from Rutgers to Arizona, where he did not play a down, and finally to Pittsburgh. "All of what happened might make him a better quarterback down the road," O'Hara coach Danny Algeo said. "He's had to handle adversity a couple of times."
O'Brien was at Pittsburgh's pro day in early March and met with Savage, a 24-year-old from Springfield, Delaware County, afterward.
"We had a really good experience with him, interviewing him, sitting down with him," the former Penn State coach said. "We're excited to work with Tom Savage."
As a true freshman at Rutgers, Savage threw for 2,211 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was named the team's offensive most valuable player.
The blue-chip recruit's second year with then-coach Greg Schiano and the Scarlet Knights took a turn for the worse. Slowed by a hand injury, he started only four games and ended up losing his job to freshman Chas Dodd. That prompted a transfer to Arizona.
While sitting out the 2011 season at Arizona, the unexpected happened. Head coach Mike Stoops was fired after a 1-5 start and Rich Rodriguez, who employs a spread attack not fitting Savage's playing style, was announced as his replacement. That left Savage again searching for a place to call home.
Savage found it, after another year on the sideline per NCAA rules, with Pittsburgh. He made the most of his final season of eligibility. Last fall, despite being sacked 43 times, he threw for 2,958 yards and 21 scores with nine interceptions.
"This is a kid who can throw the football," ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said. "I think he's a team guy. The Pitt kids really rallied around him, they liked his attitude, his approach."
His best showing at Pitt came in Week 3 against Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke. Passing for 424 yards and six TDs, which tied an ACC record, he led the visiting Panthers to a wild 58-55 victory.
At Houston, Savage will compete for playing time with Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatick, and T.J. Yates.
"He's a big quarterback, he's a tough QB, and he's a smart quarterback," said Schiano, now an NFL Network analyst. "Those three things are going to give him a chance. He's going to be a good player in this league."