Mike Bercovici can identify with Dillon Sterling-Cole, Joey Yellen and Ethan Long.
Bercovici came to Arizona State eight years ago wanting to be the starting quarterback, and most thought he was going to be that guy. But after sitting behind Taylor Kelly for three years, it wasn’t until his fifth season at ASU when he finally got that chance.
He went on to have an impressive senior season in 2015, throwing for 3,855 yards and 30 touchdowns. That led to cameo appearances with the San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals, as well as time in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football.
Following the announcement of true freshman Jayden Daniels as ASU’s starter, the positive encouragement Bercovici can offer the three quarterbacks who lost the bid comes from experience.
Bercovici, 26, joined the Sun Devils’ staff this season as a graduate assistant and has been mentoring the four quarterbacks, three of whom are true freshmen. Coach Herm Edwards and offensive coordinator Rob Likens specifically brought in the ASU alum because he has seen every scenario firsthand and they thought he could relate to them.
He is not that far removed from playing Division I football, either.
“We knew we were going to walk in there one day and three guys were going to get their hearts broken,” Likens said. “He has been through that situation here at Arizona State, and waited and then came on to become the starter. We knew he was going to be the perfect guy to have those side conversations with those guys when it became D-Day.”
Edwards formally announced Daniels as ASU’s starting quarterback Monday night, but it seemed like a forgone conclusion based on how the playing time had been distributed in recent practices.
Yellen was tabbed as Daniels’ backup, giving ASU something seldom seen at the Division I level – true freshmen as the top two quarterbacks.
Long was the first of the four taken out of the mix for the starter’s spot but that was largely due to his versatility and the potential he has to contribute elsewhere. Edwards and Likens have both said Long will play somewhere, which makes Sterling-Cole’s role less-defined.
Bercovici knows that feeling well.
“The majority of my career I was the backup. That’s the first thing I talked about in the second-team huddle,” he said. “I told them, ‘Hey fellas, I lived in this huddle for four years. Don’t ever step in this huddle not thinking you’re a starter. Don’t ever pigeonhole yourself into being a backup. Coach Herm has always said whenever you step in that huddle you are a starter. In his eyes, coach’s eyes, more importantly in your own eyes. You never knows when that opportunity is going to come.'”
While Bercovici had a stellar senior season, his defining moment came as a junior when he replaced an injured Kelly for three games early in the 2014 season. He threw a 46-yard Hail Mary, dubbed by ASU faithful as the “Jael Mary,” to wide receiver Jaelen Strong as time expired for a 38-34 upset of USC that October.
Back when Bercovici played, it was tougher to change schools if you didn’t get the playing time you desired. Now with the existence of the NCAA’s transfer portal, that process has become a lot easier for student-athletes. A total of 119 quarterbacks have entered the transfer portal since it opened last October.
Bercovici said he wasn’t sure he would have gone that route if he had that opportunity, but he does not regret staying at ASU. Sticking it out made capitalizing on the opportunity he had as a senior all the more gratifying.
He pointed to Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who started just one year at Oklahoma because he played behind Baker Mayfield and yet was the No. 1 overall pick as well as the Heisman Trophy winner.
“Each individual situation is different,” Bercovici said. “When I was here at that time Taylor was older than me and I felt like my one year here at ASU was all I needed. My message to the quarterbacks is as long as you get one year to play college football that’s all you need. I can’t say what I would have done. I just know for the rest of my life, staying committed to my school was the best decision I ever made. Not just because I still got to play but the gratification to say I have an alma mater and there’s only one of them.”
ASU’s current quarterbacks have appreciated his input.
“We know we can go to him if we have any questions,” Daniels said. “He is always there for us.”
Yellen said, “Talking football with him is awesome. I’ve learned an unbelievable amount already about blocking schemes, pass concepts and mechanics from him.”
While the character and work ethic of each of ASU’s four quarterbacks dominate the discussion around the position, Likens sees potential in Bercovici, as well.
“As much as I feel like we struck gold with our quarterback recruiting class, it’s the same way I feel about Michael,” Likens said. “As a coach, he’s going to be a star in this profession.”