STANFORD, Calif. (AP) At the beginning of August, the story of how Josh Nunes ascended to Stanford's starting quarterback job seemed to be something out of a Hollywood movie: His father spontaneously bought him a Cardinal cap at 8 years old, he fell in love with the team and developed into a sought-after recruit who spurned schools across the country for a chance to live out his dream.
This season's script took another twist.
In the midst of eighth-ranked Stanford's surprising run to Friday night's Pac-12 title game against No. 17 UCLA, Nunes' new role might appear to be an awkward and unenviable one: helping redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan succeed as his replacement. Instead, Nunes has never pouted or complained. He has quietly played as big a part as anybody in Hogan's seamless transition.
``It's tough. The competitor in me, you want to start,'' Nunes said, speaking publicly for the first time since he lost his job at Colorado on Nov. 3. ``But Kevin has done a lot of good things, and I definitely support the things he's doing. For me, it's just practicing like I'm going to play every week and see what happens.''
After Nunes started the first nine games, Hogan has ignited the offense in victories over Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA - all ranked teams - in his first three starts. Not only has the dual-threat quarterback grabbed the starting spot now, he appears to have cemented the job heading into next season.
The timing for Nunes has made the transition even tougher.
The former star at Upland High School in the Los Angeles suburbs has tried to enjoy the league championship chase. He admits that hasn't always been easy, especially while Stanford (10-2, 8-1) faces UCLA (9-3, 6-3) - his father's alma mater - for the second straight week and fights for a spot to return to the Rose Bowl, which is about a 30-minute drive from his family's home.
``Obviously, not getting as many reps as I was before. Staying locked-in mentally is a big part of it now, taking as many mental reps as I can now in practice,'' Nunes said. ``Preparation remains the same every week. You have to prepare as if you're the starter and make the most of the reps you get during the week. Really, the work hasn't changed.''
Nunes faced near-impossible expectations this season succeeding record-setting quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts. Nunes played spectacularly in the second half to upset then-No. 2 Southern California and rallied the Cardinal from a two-touchdown deficit for a 54-48 overtime win against Arizona, but he struggled for long stretches in close losses at Washington and Notre Dame, with the offense failing to score a touchdown each time.
Hogan's role increase more each week, starting with wildcat and read-option packages, then moving into the prototypical sets of Stanford's complicated offense. Finally, after Nunes failed to move the offense on the first two possessions at Pac-12 cellar-dweller Colorado, Hogan entered in relief.
With his parents in the stands, Nunes smiled back at them and started helping Hogan out.
``Through adversity, you find little glimmers of sunshine. It probably made us almost more proud seeing how he reacted on the sideline and how much he was helping Kevin out,'' said his father, Tim Nunes. ``He was continually looking at the wristband, talking to him when he was on the sideline and helping him out. It's just been another opportunity to be proud.''
Stanford coach David Shaw believes Nunes can be to Hogan what Tavita Pritchard was to Luck.
Pritchard also led an upset against second-ranked USC in 2007, started all of 2008 and lost out to Luck heading into the 2009 season. His experience gave Luck a useful resource, and Pritchard is in his second season as a Stanford defensive assistant now.
While Shaw often reminds Nunes that ``he's always one play away,'' he said the way Nunes has remained an integral part of the team as a backup has been impressive.
``I know it sounds cheesy, but Josh is the kid you want your daughter to bring home one day and say, `This is the guy I'm going to marry,''' Shaw said. ``I can't have a higher praise for what kind of a young man he is. Through all this, it has been hard on him. But every single day he comes out and works. He talks to Kevin on the sideline, he says what he sees. He says, `Hey, what'd you see?' They have little powwows. It's always so good to have another guy that's played, another guys that's performed, another guy that's on your level that's not a coach yelling at you.''
Nunes beat out Brett Nottingham and Hogan in preseason practice and Shaw still insists Nunes ``was the only guy that could've gotten us those six wins. He was the only guy that was really ready.'' More than anything, Shaw said, Nunes best understood the nuances of Stanford's system.
Even now those smarts have proved useful.
Tight end Zach Ertz said Nunes ``has kind of taken a leadership role off the field'' and is still ``a big part of this team. He's in there helping everybody with meetings, watching film and on the sideline just communicating with everybody what's going on on the field.''
Leading the praise for Nunes easing what could've been an uncomfortable quarterback swap: Hogan.
``He has been the most supportive. Sometimes in those situations, it's kind of weird. But he has been great for me,'' Hogan said. ``He has been a great teammate. Every time coming off on the sideline, he's letting me know what he sees, giving me pointers and advice. So for him to do that, it's just really great. I really appreciate that.''
Nunes is still not ready to concede that his days as the starter are done.
The redshirt junior has another year of eligibility left, and he hopes to do more than earn his degree in management science and engineering. If he has learned one thing from his time as a starter, it's that things can change in a hurry.
``Just being out there with the guys and stuff is really special,'' Nunes said. ``I really appreciated when I was out there with them, and I look forward to hopefully getting the chance again.''
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP