Tommy Grady came to Oklahoma in 2003 a highly rated quarterback prospect loaded with size and skill.
Tough depth charts to climb, a still-haunting decision to transfer and a little bad luck yielded a disappointing college football career for Grady spent mostly on sidelines.
Nine years later, Grady is finally shattering records and leading a football team to success as a starting quarterback.
The crowds are smaller, the competition is weaker and there's much less glory than Grady once dreamed there'd be.
Still, in quarterbacking the Utah Blaze, Grady has become a bona fide Arena Football League superstar.
During the 2012 AFL season, Grady has thrown an AFL single-season record 137 touchdown passes for the Blaze, which enters Sunday's regular-season finale at Philadelphia with a 12-5 record and on a six-game win streak.
Just last week, he tossed a league single-game record 12 touchdowns.
The record-breaking campaign prompted the AFL to ask fans in an online poll Monday if Grady's season is the greatest by an individual in league history.
Both Grady and his coach agree on the primary cause of his success: The 27-year-old is finally in one place long enough to truly learn an offensive system.
“This is really my first time being in one offense for a while,” Grady said. “I really understand it and where the ball needs to go.”
Blaze coach Ron James said, “He's got a quick release and he gets very fast reads on what's going on.
“We put him in a system where he's flourished in the last two seasons. He's really starting to figure this thing out.”
Grady was a four-star prospect when he signed with OU out of his native Huntington Beach, Calif.
He redshirted, then was Heisman Trophy winner Jason White's backup during the Sooners' 2004 run to the national championship game.
Before the next season, Grady was one of three — along with Rhett Bomar and Paul Thompson — hoping to inherit White's job.
But Grady missed preseason workouts and meetings while taking an intersession class he needed to stay academically eligible. He fell far behind Bomar and Thompson and transferred to Utah.
He sat out the NCAA-mandated one year, during which Brian Johnson shined and took hold of the Utes' quarterback job, leaving Grady stuck as the backup in a spread option system that didn't complement his skills or his 6-foot-7 frame.
Meanwhile in Norman, Thompson moved to wide receiver before Bomar's August 2006 dismissal from the team, leaving what could have been a clear opening for Grady to rise to the top of OU's depth chart.
“I regretted leaving after finding out what happened with Rhett,” Grady said. “But, you know, it happened and I'm just looking forward to the future.”
He got opportunities on a few NFL practice squads, but eventually landed back in the Sooner State, playing two arena seasons for the now-defunct Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz before joining the Blaze in 2010.
His record-breaking season has sparked some interest; James said he's gotten “several” calls from NFL scouting departments this year.
Grady said the NFL is still a dream, but that even if he never reaches it he's content to continue playing arena ball, which gave him his first significant playing time since high school.
“Until I got to arena football, I didn't really have the chance to be the starter and get all the reps,” Grady said. “The biggest thing for me was getting all the reps in the arena league and showing that I can play.”