One of the most unlikely Heisman Trophy winners in the history of the award remains John Huarte, who missed much of his sophomore year due to injury and didn’t play enough as a junior to win a monogram. But when first-year head coach Ara Parseghian named Huarte the starting quarterback for the 1964 season, the 6-0, 180 star from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, CA responded by leading the Irish to a 9-1 season, their first winning campaign in five years.
Huarte broke nearly every Irish single-season passing record, throwing for 270 yards in the opening game upset of Wisconsin. He directed Notre Dame to impressive wins over Purdue, Pittsburgh, Michigan State and Iowa before the final-season 20-17 loss to Southern Cal. Huarte credits Parseighian with much of his quarterback success at Notre Dame: “I lucked out playing for Ara,” Huarte said. “After a practice, four days before our first game, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘John, you’re my quarterback. I want you to get out there, relax, and if things don’t go right, if you make a mistake, you’re still my quarterback.’ I’ll never forget that.”
A second-round draft pick by the New York Jets, Huarte was a backup quarterback in the NFL with Boston, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Kansas City and Chicago from 1965-72. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.