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Risky Business: 49ers Take a Flyer on Masoli

Trouble-prone local product a dicey signing; former Heisman-contending QB listed as running back.

Does Jeremiah Masoli have a greater chance of making a touchdown in the NFL or starring in another police report?

Sure, that’s a snarky question. Even so, the 49ers’ signing of the local product with the checkered past seems unduly risky.

The last thing the 49ers need is extra baggage.

With a new coaching staff needing to install its schemes at warp speed after losing invaluable teaching opportunities to the lockout, and an ownership needing to gain public backing for a new stadium, the organization simply can’t afford any missteps. Factor in widespread roster turnover and rumors of a Frank Gore holdout, and the training camp that starts Friday is sounding more and more frenzied.

So why bring in Masoli, a player whose career has been marred by repeated run-ins with the law, and one who will apparently be asked to make a tough position change just to make the 49ers roster?

Masoli’s talent has never been the issue. He quarterbacked City College of San Francisco to a state championship in 2007 and enjoyed two standout years at Oregon that included making the Sports Illustrated cover and leading the Ducks to their first Rose Bowl in 15 years.

But that talent has also come with a heavy helping of off-field woes. Masoli’s promising career at Serra High School came to an abrupt end after he was convicted of robbery along with five other boys in San Mateo in the summer before his senior season. He spent 90 days in Hillcrest Juvenile Hall and was expelled from Serra.

Nearly five years later, Masoli pled guilty to the burglary of an Oregon fraternity house – an incident that came less than a month after the Ducks’ 26-17 Rose Bowl defeat to Ohio State – and was suspended for the 2010 season, a year in which he was on the short list of early Heisman Trophy contenders. A few months after that, he was kicked off the team for good after being cited for marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license during a traffic stop.

Masoli’s reputation has taken so many hits that he established a website whose purpose seems to be largely to set the record straight about his exact transgressions. Apparently, his legend wasn’t matching up with reality after several media outlets reported embellished charges. The ‘Media Mistakes’ section makes for fascinating reading. Masoli wasn’t involved in a string of strong-armed robberies; it was one isolated instance. He wasn’t arrested for burglarizing the frat house or for marijuana possession; he was cited in those instances. And so on.

Now, after transferring and playing his final season at Ole Miss, Masoli is back in the Bay Area, hoping to catch on with the pro team he watched as a kid. After going undrafted in the spring, he signed with San Francisco this week as a free agent.

But after playing quarterback his entire career, the 49ers are initially listing Masoli as a running back. Let’s get this straight. The team thinks his best chance of succeeding as a pro may be to switch him to a totally foreign position – during a year in which there were no minicamps or opportunities to study the playbook until about six weeks before the regular season begins?

Yes, Masoli was viewed as a strong runner as a quarterback in college, but this signing smacks of taking a flyer on a player. That’s always the case with undrafted free agents. They bring nothing to the table but upside, right?

Well, Masoli’s track record shows he’s far from a low-risk proposition.

As a threat with his arm and legs, he may prove to be a great fit in a Wildcat package – which would make him an asset for the 49ers. But if his more noteworthy wildcat exploits come off the field, the San Francisco native could prove to be a public relations nightmare.

It’s the age-old risk-reward debate.

For Masoli’s sake and that of the 49ers, let’s hope he’s worth the gamble.

Chris Corbett August 04, 2011 at 03:58 AM
Jed York was on KNBR today, and I could not have been less impressed! He is a joke. I don't care if he has a top notch education and wealth; he could not answer questions, sidestepped the ones he didn't like, and was an all-around horrible rep for the Niners. To top it off, he backs Harbaugh's decision to keep our current struggling QB...I wish his mother chose a non-family member for thus all-important job of president.
Jim Hunter August 04, 2011 at 07:11 PM
York was the driving force behind bringing in Harbaugh, a coveted coach. That’s gotta count for something. But I think the Wonder Boy is being judged largely on whether he gets a new stadium. And to date, that’s been a big flop. I can’t believe San Franciscans approved the stadium deal in 1997 … and we still are at a standstill. Sad.
Chris Corbett August 04, 2011 at 07:15 PM
It does count for something! However, I need a new QB, and it seems that we are keeping Alex Smith because we can't get anyone better. This is unacceptable!
Jim Hunter August 11, 2011 at 12:06 AM
It looks like Masoli is gonna be the 3rd QB. How many undrafted, 5-foot-11 QB's have any success in the NFL?! ... As for the Alex Smith thing, it's clear he's the place-holder until Kaepernick is ready. I kinda understand why the Niners brought Smith back. Harbaugh got to hand him the playbook before the lockout. Anyone else SF brought in wouldn't have gotten to dive into the playbook till late July -- which would've been a disaster. Kaepernick is the future. Let's hope he isn't forced into action prematurely, stunting his development.
Timothy Rath August 13, 2011 at 01:51 PM
Great story. Jeremiah Masoli is an unfortunate name to have in the respect that everyone will always remember what they've read about you, not like a John Smith. From a personal perspective, it seems to me that if the man is willing to show up back home after his transgressions in the city, then he deserves respect, if not a chance on the field. From the football and business perspective, this guy has proven himself in both the Pac-10 and the SEC, two of the toughest conferences to play in. The potential payoff outweighs the risk.

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