Former Baytown, Arkansas product Stoerner now Cowboys' backup QB

Thursday, September 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas--When the Dallas Cowboys invited quarterback Clint Stoerner for a tryout, team owner Jerry Jones did it mainly as a favor for a friend.

Frank Broyles was Jones' coach at Arkansas in the 1960s and has been the school's athletic director the past quarter-century. Yet in the 11 years since Jones bought the Cowboys, Broyles had never recommended a player _ until Stoerner.

That call was made in April. On Sunday, Stoerner will be Dallas' No. 2 quarterback, ready to replace Randall Cunningham at a moment's notice when the Cowboys (0-1) play the Arizona Cardinals.

Stoerner is getting his chance because Troy Aikman is recovering from a concussion. Stoerner was on the practice squad last week and not eligible to play when Aikman and Cunningham were hurt in a 41-14 loss to Philadelphia.

Word of his promotion to the active roster came in a strange way. Reporters broke the news to him after Jones announced it during a news conference.

"I've got a long week ahead of me _ a lot of game plan to go over several times and a lot of coaching to take," he said. "But one way or another, I'll be ready."

That willing attitude and strong leadership is what impressed Broyles the most. Stoerner also has the credentials: the Baytown native set Arkansas records for completions, yards passing and touchdowns while starting from 1997-99. He capped his career with a big day against Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

In addition to Jones, Broyles called Cowboys scouting director Larry Lacewell. Arkansas coach Houston Nutt also called Lacewell to recommend Stoerner. Those calls mattered little, though, because Broyles' conversation with Jones sealed the deal.

"I would value his opinion of a quarterback's potential more than anybody I know," Jones said.

Stoerner signed with Dallas early in the summer after not getting selected in the draft. He was invited to minicamps and had to earn an invitation to training camp.

Stoerner beat out Charlie Puleri to advance to Wichita Falls, but by then the Cowboys had added Cunningham as Aikman's primary backup. That meant Stoerner would have to beat out veteran Paul Justin if he was to make the team.

Justin helped by throwing four interceptions and fumbling twice on his first eight series. Stoerner moved up to third-string midway through camp and got the majority of playing time in Dallas' five preseason games, all losses.

Stoerner was 42-of-73 for 513 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He led the Cowboys to 17 points against Denver _ including a 50-yard touchdown run after scooping up his own fumble _ and to two touchdowns against St. Louis.

"I think he's a tough guy, a guy who is very competitive," Cowboys coach Dave Campo said. "He's got a good arm and he's smart."

Dallas decided to keep only two quarterbacks, though, so Stoerner was waived when the roster was cut to 53. When no other team snagged him, the Cowboys were more than happy to add him to their practice squad.

A week later, he's headed to the active roster, albeit strictly because of Aikman's injury.

"You never hope something like that happens to anyone," Stoerner said. "But it happens in football."