Sudfeld was 14 when he saw kids without shoes, villages with mud huts instead of stable homes, people afflicted with AIDS and malaria, and little medicine to combat it.
“It was a life-changing experience,” he says.
The 6-5 sophomore speaks from the comfort of Memorial Stadium's Henke Hall, braced for Saturday's game with Navy (0-0), another world from Uganda's poverty and hardship.
“You take everything for granted when you're home,” he says. “It opens your eyes and lets you know there's more than just your bubble that you're living in. There's a lot of people who need help.”
Sudfeld's insight came courtesy of his grandfather, Bob Pagett, who runs Assist International, a California-based charity organization that has sponsored more than 500 projects (such as building orphanages and schools, and improving water supplies) in 61 countries since 1990. All of Pagett's grandchildren make at least one international trip. One of Sudfeld's brothers, Zach, a tight end with the New England Patriots, went to Cuba. Another brother, Matt, spent time in Romania.
Sudfeld chose Uganda, an east-central African nation, with Pagett providing guidance.
“My grandfather has a passion for helping people,” Sudfeld says. “He always donates money. He's the most generous guy I ever met. He's 74, 75 and still traveling the world.”
Sudfeld has his own passion, much of it centering on football. After one game, a 73-35 victory over Indiana State, he leads the nation in quarterback rating, at 244.7. In simpler terms, Sudfeld was 12-for-17 for 219 yards and four touchdowns.
He did that, by the way, after coming in as the replacement for starter Tre Roberson.
“I didn't feel I played that great and we put up a decent amount of points. We can put up a lot of points against a lot of people because we have so many weapons.”
Tight end Ted Bolser caught two touchdown passes. So did receiver Shane Wynn. Receivers Kofi Hughes and Nick Stoner caught one each. Cody Latimer, last year's leading receiver, caught two late passes for 44 yards.
“I was frustrated at one point,” Sudfeld says, “because, 'Man, I haven't gotten the ball to Cody in forever.' But we were clicking without getting the ball to Cody, who is arguably the best athlete on our team. We have so many good players who won't get the ball because we have so many good players.”
In just over one season Sudfeld has thrown 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. Both interceptions were returned for touchdowns – one last year, one last week. Indiana State defensive end Connor Underwood had a 34-yard return for a score.
“I made a mistake,” Sudfeld says. “I pre-determined what I was going to do with the ball. I'm glad I got to keep playing and bounced back from it. You have to have a short memory about it.”
Coach Kevin Wilson didn't pull Sudfeld after the mistake. The result — Sudfeld came back to throw TD passes of three yards to Wynn and 27 yards to Hughes.
Still, the interception ticked off Sudfeld.
“I told (me teammates) that won't happen again.We went out and had a few scoring drivers after that.
“You don't want to make a mistake like that, but I don't think it affected me too much.”
That ability to bounce back from mistakes is among the reasons why coaches are so high on him.
“We put him in a bad position on that interception,” quarterbacks coach Kevin Johns says. “That was more on the coaches than it was on him. But he responded well, played well, handled himself well.
“He has a calmness about him. A lot of that comes from his knowledge of the game. He knows what he's doing and where he's going with the ball.”
Sudfeld was an all-state player out of Modesto, Calif., who threw for 2,332 yards, 31 touchdowns and six interceptions as a high school senior. That got Wilson's attention.
“I thought his tape looked pretty good, but he was playing in a pass-catch-and-throw-it-every-play (system),” Wilson says. “I didn't know how good an athlete he is. He's a better athlete than I thought, and a great kid, very smart.”
Last year's baptism of freshman fire — when Roberson's season-ending broken leg against Massachusetts forced Sudfeld and Cam Coffman into a season-long rotation — prepared him for what he'll face this season, and beyond.
“Last year I was very nervous,” Sudfeld says. “I didn't know when I'd play. Against UMass, I didn't think I'd play. At halftime when I was told I would play, I was very nervous. I was not that prepared. When you don't think you'll play, you go through the (practice) motions.
“As we went through the season and I kept preparing, I felt better. (Against Indiana State) I wasn't nervous at all. I was anxious, hoping I'd get to play, and that if I did, I'd have the confidence I could play. I tried to make the most of it.”
He'll continue trying Saturday against Navy. So will Roberson and Coffman. Wilson said the three-way quarterback rotation will likely continue.
“I thought they all looked sharp (against Indiana State),” Wilson says. “I don't think it really matters (who starts). I don't think it's a problem.
“We've shown the quarterback has got a chance to play well, and he'll need to play well again this week for us to win, whoever it is, whether it is one, all, multiple. Whoever it is, they'd better play well.”
Adds Johns: “We're very comfortable with that. We're so used to playing all three in practice. One of the best things we can do is create competition the entire season. Sometimes you anoint a starter and maybe he doesn't work as hard. It's not a big deal.”
Sudfeld understands he remains a work in progress.
“I'm a little lazy on my fakes. I'm looking at the running back instead of carrying out the fakes. I have some footwork issues where I wasn't pointing to the target. Maybe that's why I missed some throws. I have a lot of mechanic things to improve. The whole offense does. We're no where near where we need to be.”
Given IU scored 73 points on Indiana State, and could have scored at least 80 (the Hoosiers backed off after getting inside the Sycamores 10-yard line in the final minutes, who knows what numbers the Hoosiers could unleash.
“It's a pretty good (offensive) start,” Sudfeld says, “but we'll be playing some high-end defenses. Navy will be a tough test. We have to have a big jump in improving. We're ready for the challenge.”
Up nextKickoff: Navy at Indiana, 6 p.m., Saturday
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