STANFORD Josh Nunes grew up in the shadows of USC's championships, and he had family and friends with UCLA roots.
But his father saw Stanford in his future.
Everything about Nunes, named Stanford's starting quarterback last week, can be traced to a single moment.
Tim Nunes came home one day when Josh was 8 years old, sneaked up from behind and plopped a red hat on his son's head. Josh looked at the logo, an "S" with a tree in the middle, and smiled.
"He's like, 'Oh, what's this?' " Tim Nunes said. "I said, 'That's where you belong. You're going to go there one day.' "
The Nunes family had no connection to Stanford, but somthing steered Tim Nunes, who has a degree from UCLA, to push aside the Bruins' and Trojans' hats that day at the Chick's Sporting Goods near the family's home in Upland and reach for the Cardinal cap.
Josh "wore the heck of that hat," Tim Nunes said, even if it didn't always sit well with his friends.
Nunes took French in high school because he read Stanford accepted more students who spoke that than Spanish as a secondary language, and he graduated from high school with a 4.6 grade-point average. He turned down offers from football powers Florida, Oklahoma and Tennessee, opting for Stanford.
"It just goes to show you," Nunes said, "that I always wanted to be a Stanford man."
Now he's the Stanford man.
Nunes, a redshirt junior, will make his first collegiate start and begin the post-Andrew Luck era when No. 21 Stanford hosts San Jose State on Friday night.
Walking on campus last week, Nunes already was recognized by students and at least one woman who promised to bring her camera and ask for a photo next time.
Said Nunes' mother, Debbie: "I've had to pinch myself to make sure it's real."
Late bloomer quickly dazzles
Nunes grew up playing baseball, soccer and just about any sport but football. He struck out all 18 batters in a Little League game when he was 12, his father said, and threw a four-seam fastball clocked in the 90s and an overhand curve in high school.
His father, a private contractor, did not allow Josh to play youth football out of fear of injuries and overbearing coaches.
The first time Nunes threw a football competitively was during a flag football game in eighth grade, and he doesn't count freshman football at Upland High School because he "spent the whole year learning everything."
By the end of his sophomore season, then-Hawaii coach June Jones offered him a scholarship. Soon Urban Meyer at Florida and coaches from the Southeastern Conference to the Pacific-10 Conference came calling.
"It kind of took us back like, 'Oh, this is something I might want to look into,' " Nunes said.
For Nunes, though, there really was only one choice. He took recruiting visits to Stanford and USC for baseball, too, but committed to Stanford as soon as former coach Jim Harbaugh offered him a scholarship and the admission's office approved his transcript.
Nunes is majoring in management science and engineering, which he describes as an "engineering degree with a business focus," particularly on entrepreneurship and startups.
He has taken an economics class taught by former Treasury Under Secretary John Taylor and engineering classes taught by former Defense Secretary William Perry and nuclear policy expert Siegfried Hecker, emeritus director of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
During a course last year, Nunes teamed with wide receiver Sam Knapp and pitcher Mark Appel the eighth overall draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates who decided to return for his senior season and formed their own startup with a full-working website.
The idea was called "Coachbook," a site that allowed people to connect with instructors in their area. They even pitched the project to a panel of Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
"He was always one of the geek kids," Tim Nunes said.
Managing the offense well
Northern California has become a second home for the Nunes family.
Josh's younger brother, Justin, is a redshirt freshman quarterback for UC Davis. The family tries to attend every game for both.
In 2010, Nunes completed one of his two passes for seven yards for Stanford. Last year, he never played a down after tearing a ligament underneath his right big toe duing the third practice of training camp and wearing a boot for the first five games.
Nunes was selected as the starter more for the way he runs Stanford's complex offense and how he protects the ball than his ability to make throws downfield, which is one of backup Brett Nottingham's strengths.
In the end, second-year coach David Shaw said he chose the quarterback who allows him to "sleep well at night."
"Of all the empirical evidence we collected," Shaw said, "Josh was the most consistent."
Nunes knows replacing Luck, the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up and No. 1 overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts, won't be easy.
He talks about how he's "not Andrew Luck" but good enough to make sure Stanford doesn't slip and how the offense has always been a run-first, balanced approach.
"I don't think we're holding anything back," he said. "The coaches expect us to do everything Andrew could do. Not to be Andrew, but to have the mental capacity that he did is definitely expected of us."
Shaw informed Nunes, Nottingham and redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan of his decision before last Tuesday morning's practice.
Nunes said when Shaw broke the news "it was just great to hear him say it." He sent two quick text messages to his parents before practice.
His father had to fight tears. His mother, a business analyst with 21 years at Southern California Edison, was in the middle of what turned out to be a two-hour meeting with her boss.
When she returned to her desk and learned the news on her phone, she became so overwhelmed that co-workers began asking questions during another colleague's birthday luncheon.
"They thought my boss had done something to upset me," she said. "I had to tell them that they were happy tears."
The good wishes filtered in from teammates past and present, friends back home and former Stanford players. Nunes talked to his parents late that night. Luck's text message to Nunes was "typical Andrew," he said.
He congratulated Nunes and told him, "Now it's time to get to work."