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Asack reflects on lost season

The minimum-wage-earning kid tossing footballs to Tom Brady each morning has one of the best throwing arms in the history of assistant NFL ball boys.

The kid-the same one-coaching the quarterbacks and throwing to the receivers each afternoon at Xaverian Brothers High School in Newton, Mass. should have been Duke's starting quarterback this season.

But the kid made a mistake when he decided to cut a corner during the first session of summer school. He copied sections of his term paper for Introduction to Cultural Anthropology from a website, didn't cite his sources-and his teacher caught him.

Now the kid, 19-year-old Zack Asack, is back at home paying the price-suspended from school for two semesters, forced to watch his team from the sidelines instead of directing it from inside the huddle.

"I've definitely learned my lesson," Asack said. "I let a lot of people down in the whole Duke community. I'm never going to do anything like that again."

Asack arrived at Duke before the 2005 school year as one of two highly touted freshman quarterbacks expected to push Mike Schneider for playing time. With Schneider struggling three weeks into the season and the other freshman quarterback, Gene Delle Donne, suspended from the team, head coach Ted Roof called Asack's number during Duke's week-three win over VMI.

In his first collegiate playing experience, Asack engineered a nine-play, 76-yard drive that culminated with a six-yard touchdown pass to then-freshman wideout Marcus Jones.

The next week at Virginia, Schneider turned the ball over twice in the first half and could not move Duke's offense. Asack came in and led Duke's only scoring drive of the game, and from that point on the starting job was his.

After the 2005 season, Duke saw a massive exodus at the quarterback position-Schneider and Curt Dukes left with one year of eligibility remaining and Delle Donne transferred to Middle Tennessee State. That left Asack as the presumptive starter for 2006. Asack took the majority of the snaps with the first team in spring practice and planned to hang around for both sessions of summer school to get ahead on schoolwork and improve his game.

But with finals around the corner and pressure building at the end of first session, he got sloppy with his schoolwork. "It was a moment of complete laziness on my part," he said.

When Asack found out he might be in trouble, he kept the news to himself for the first few days. But once he was sure the final result was going to be bad, he dropped into Roof's office on the fourth floor of the Yoh Football Center.

"He just came into my office and laid it out," Roof said. "We certainly don't condone that type of behavior. But at the same time, he's still part of our family. My kids make mistakes, they're still my kids. Zack's still part of my family."

Once the judicial affairs process was complete, Asack had a decision to make. He knew he was suspended for two semesters, but because judicial proceedings are kept private, Asack had the option of not releasing to the media the reason for his leaving the University for a year.

"I didn't want there to be any speculation about why I was suspended," Asack said. "I didn't want anyone to think it was because of drugs or anything like that, so I said, 'Just be straight and tell them what really happened.'"

Roof held a meeting with the Blue Devils to deliver the news-which had been rumored among the players for several days prior-and to rally his team.

"Right away it was, 'We still have Marcus Jones at quarterback, we have a great freshman coming in," kicker Joe Surgan said. "You know what? It's not like it's the first person to ever get kicked out for plagiarism here. It happens-it's unfortunate it was our starting quarterback. But we knew we had to move on."

For a guy who has played every Saturday in the fall for as long as he can remember, it has not been an easy transition being away from the Blue Devils.

Back at home, Asack has not strayed far from football. Each morning, Asack works at the Patriots' practice facility in Foxboro, Mass., 30 minutes away from his hometown. The job isn't exactly glorious, but as an assistant ball boy, Asack has gotten plenty of opportunity to watch and interact with Brady, New England's all-pro quarterback.

"I'm over there every day watching Brady, learning stuff from him, picking stuff up," Asack said. "I soak in as much stuff as I can from a great QB like him, also looking at the defense they use to keep my mind sharp."

Roof said he thinks the experience will be beneficial.

"Regardless of what business you're in, when you're around successful organizations that's certainly a very positive experience," Roof said.

When he's finished at the Patriots' facility, Asack heads over to his old high school, where his brother, Paul, is the team's starting quarterback. The elder Asack works with the quarterbacks, throws to the receivers and keeps in shape.

He also makes sure to keep up to date on younger brother Paul's college search. Zack Asack said his younger brother, a junior in high school, would love to come to Duke as a placekicker.

So far this season, Asack has been able to watch two of Duke's three games. He was in Wallace Wade Stadium for the loss to Richmond and caught the tight loss to Wake Forest on pay-per-view at his home.

"It was crazy for me because that was the first time since I was seven years old I wasn't playing," Asack said of the Richmond game. "It was weird watching from the stands."

Once again this weekend, Asack will make the trip down to Durham, where Surgan-Asack's best friend-has two tickets waiting for the quarterback and his mother.

The Blue Devil team Asack and his mom will watch is markedly different from the one he saw in the same stadium a month ago-especially at quarterback.

Since then, true freshman Thaddeus Lewis has emerged as Duke's starter at the position. But though Lewis has looked strong, Asack said he is not considering transferring.

"I love it at Duke-the coaches and players-I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," he said. "There's always going to be competition no matter what the job is. He's going to push me and I'll push him and it'll be interesting."

For Duke's coaching staff, the return of Asack will provide relief from the team's constant worrying about its paper-thin depth at the most important position on the field.

"Anytime you can increase talent level or competition, that's good for everyone," Roof said. "In this league, quarterbacks get knocked out some times."

Surgan said he was looking forward to his best friend and teammate's return to Duke, taking classes and leading the Blue Devils on the field.

"He still has three more years to play football here," Surgan said. "Is it the most common route people take? No. But it happens. He made a mistake and everything will be fine in the end."

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