BY TOM MULHERN
Gail Sorgi was in the beauty parlor in Fraser, Mich., last Saturday afternoon, with three of her daughters, who were getting their hair done for the homecoming dance at the high school that night.
The football game between the University of Wisconsin and Michigan State was playing on the radio in the background. It had been a hectic day for Gail, with lots of errands to run, helping her high-school-age daughters - Jessie, Jackie and Joanna - get ready for their big night.
"I heard (the announcer) say, `Sorgi just completed a pass,' and I went, `What?' I couldn't believe it," Gail said.
It was early in the fourth quarter and unbeknownst to Gail, her son, Jim, a redshirt freshman at UW, was playing in his first college game after starter Brooks Bollinger was unable to start the second half due to a concussion.
"The girls and I are listening to the game and we're cheering and they're getting their hair done and all the other ladies in the beauty shop were kind of rooting for us because they knew the situation," Gail said. "It was very exciting."
Jim Sorgi Sr., who has not missed a UW game this season, was in East Lansing, Mich., at the game with his daughter, Jenny, the oldest of the family's five children.
"We were just praying he'd get a chance to get in and take a snap," Jim Sr. said of his son. "Whether it would be to take a knee or turn around and hand it off, just to get in the game. But to have something like that happen is more than anybody expected, to be honest with you."
What happened is that a red shirt freshman, returning to his home state and playing in his first game, threw the winning 45-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds left in UW's 17-10 victory.
There were several people at Fraser High School game with radios, who also were listening to the UW game. Fraser is a town of approximately 5,000 people, located about 20 miles north of Detroit. The heroics of the native son were announced during the homecoming game.
"They got the attention of the crowd and announced it to everybody and the place just went wild," Jim Sr. said.
It has been quite a week for the Sorgi family. "(Jim Jr.) hasn't stopped grinning since he threw that touchdown pass," UW quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton said.
The same could probably be said for the rest of the family. "It's been really crazy," Jim Sr. said. "It's kind of like we're living a dream. I've heard from people I haven't heard from since I went to high school. It's been really great."
The whirlwind could continue today with Sorgi likely to make his first start at Camp Randall Stadium against Purdue and quarterback Drew Brees.
"It would be another dream, to have my first college start against Drew Brees, a Heisman Trophy candidate, probably the best quarterback in the country, and me a quarterback just getting started in my college career," Jim Jr. said.
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"I'm going to watch (Brees). I'm going to study him, to see how he controls himself and han dles himself. I'm going to learn. In the same respect, I want to beat him."
During a season in which virtually everything possible has gone wrong for the Badgers, it would seem only fitting to start a backup quarterback for the Homecoming game against the most high-powered offense in the Big Ten Conference. The last time UW was forced to start a backup quarterback due to injury was Oct. 15, 1994, when Jay Macias started for Darrell Bevell. The result was a 27-27 tie with Purdue.
"I'm sure there will be butterflies and I'm sure he'll be nervous but my son has got a good head on his shoulders," Jim Sr. said. "I think he'll handle it really well. I've got all the confidence in the world in him."
UW coach Barry Alvarez was quiet all week on who the starter would be, but it would seem a big risk to start Bollinger one week after what appeared to be a serious concussion.
"I'm still on an emotional high," Sorgi said after Wednesday's practice. "I don't think I'm ever going to lose that. What happened on Saturday, it seriously was a dream for me, going back to Michigan and throwing a 45-yard touchdown pass to win the game with my family and friends watching.
"It doesn't get any better than that for your first appearance at the college level. I think I'm al ways going to be on an emotional high. It's just time to move on and prepare for this week."
Because Sorgi loves to throw the deep ball, Horton jokingly calls him the Mad Bomber. So, it was fitting that Sorgi's first touchdown pass came on a deep throw to Lee Evans.
"I love winging it," Sorgi said. "I think it's from high school. It's just fun, going out and making a play. Good things happen when you give (the receiver) a chance to make a play. If there's an op tion to go deep or hit a 5-yard or 10-yard out, I'm winging it. I'm going deep. I'm going for it all."
That attitude has been a source of exasperation at times for offensive coordinator Brian White, who calls the plays. "I think (Sorgi) likes to get coach White upset now and then with some wrong reads," Horton said.
Not only might Sorgi be matched against Brees, but Purdue has a quick and athletic defense that is second in the Big Ten with 19 sacks. The Boilermakers would love the chance to blitz a first-time starting quarter back into submission.
"They disguise their blitzes really well and have good speed," Sorgi said. "They fly to the ball real well. You're going to have to look off the safeties with your eyes and be quick with your stuff. Don't make stupid decisions."
Sorgi tried to treat this week no differently than any other, since he always prepares like he's going to start. The only difference was he got most of the work in practice. He said the offense won't change, no matter who's at quarterback.
Although it is a different dynamic, starting and playing a full game, as opposed to coming off the bench, Sorgi's confidence is soaring. "You can do well in practice and not really know if you can go out there and play in game situations and do well," he said.
"Playing the Michigan State game and doing well the second half kind of gave me some confi dence to realize I do have the ability to go out and make some plays."
Today, both parents will be in the stands to watch him if he does. Gail had hip-replacement surgery three months ago and was just given clearance by her doctor to travel. The only prior game she attended this season was at Michigan three weeks ago.
"I think if she had to walk, even with the bad hip, she would be there," Jim Sr. said.
Tom Mulhern is a reporter for Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.