A year ago, he was preparing for basketball season as a senior point guard at powerhouse Duke. Today, he's halfway through a stint quaterbacking Syracuse, a storied but struggling program.

Greg Paulus has had a rare collegiate journey _ a captain at two Division I schools in different sports. He's relished the role in both settings.

"The responsibility of being a leader and putting others before yourself is the same," Paulus said before practice in the Carrier Dome last week. "You've got to be the first one to get there, the last one to leave, showing by example that you're willing to sacrifice, do whatever you need to for the team."

Before this season, Paulus hadn't played football competitively since he was named 2004 national high school player of the year. The fact that he not only returned to the game, but did it in his hometown has excited fans in Syracuse.

"This has been a joy for our whole community. We were hoping it was going to happen. It's unbelievable," said John Wleklinski, athletic director and basketball coach at Christian Brothers Academy, where Paulus was a two-sport star (he played varsity basketball as an eighth-grader). "He's grown up with us. We watched him go from seventh and eighth grade _ we knew he had potential _ to Duke where he had a great career to now. Whoever would have thought?"

Certainly not Paulus. Last spring, he was mulling the possibility of playing pro basketball in Europe and then becoming a coach, when a scout for the Green Bay Packers called his apartment.

The NFL didn't work out, but playing one year of college football quickly became a reality. Paulus received an NCAA waiver to use his final year of athletic eligibility as a graduate student and chose Syracuse because of its Newhouse School of Public Communications, and because there was a better chance to get on the field with the Orange than with Duke.

Syracuse had won just 10 games in four years under Greg Robinson, and new coach Doug Marrone offered no Paulus no guarantees about playing time.

"He came in here understanding that and knowing that there was a job to be won and he would have to compete for that," Syracuse offensive coordinator Rob Spence said. It didn't take long for Paulus to win the job _ Marrone named Paulus the starter barely a week into preseason camp. He was elected one of four captains by his teammates soon after.

"In the summertime, he showed a lot of qualities of being a leader," senior wideout Donte Davis said. "I guess that comes with being a point guard, too, at Duke. He was leading. People were looking up to him."

Spence said that even if Paulus hadn't won the top job, he commands so much respect that he still would have been voted a captain.

"He has a unique gift of being able to connect with people," Spence said. "That's, obviously, an invaluable part of leadership and a quality that's necessary for a leader to have. He's one of those guys that makes friends like bakers make cookies, and people recognize that immediately. That gives him a chance to get around people he doesn't know and direct them and lead them and get them going in the right direction."

For Paulus, it was all about doing what comes naturally.

"The positions of quarterback and point guard are very similar," said Paulus, whose Duke teams twice made it as far as the round of 16 in the NCAA basketball tournament. "From a leadership standpoint to the intangibles to physically doing it for your guys, it's the same."

There have been plenty of ups and downs since Paulus and the Orange took the field: Their record now stands at 3-4, as many wins as they had all last year, headed into a matchup against fifth-ranked Cincinnati. Through it all, Paulus has displayed his aw-shucks smile more often than not.

Syracuse's first offensive snap of the season _ against Minnesota _ sailed far over his head. The Gophers recovered and led 7-0 when the game was 19 seconds old. Paulus and the Orange wound up forcing overtime before he threw an interception into triple coverage in the end zone in the first extra period, essentially giving the game away.

"I'm going to make mistakes and I'm trying to learn from them," Paulus said. "There's not a lot of time. I'm trying to take advantage of every practice, every meeting, every game."

After a 28-7 loss at Penn State, Paulus passed for 346 yards _ the sixth-highest total for a single game in school history _ to rally the Orange to a 37-34 victory over Northwestern. Then he guided them to a tougher-than-expected victory over Maine as Syracuse reached .500 for the first time in three years.

"It's a great investment," Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. "Do you go with a fifth-year guy for one year or do you invest in a young player? That had to have been a question. Boy, they nailed this one because this kid is good. He's really good."

In the first two games of Big East play, home losses to South Florida and West Virginia, Paulus often looked like a raw freshman, with flashes of great play hurt by a bunch on mistakes. He threw two TD passes against the Bulls, who hadn't allowed any in their first four games, but was intercepted six times in the two games.

After an awful first-half performance against West Virginia _ Paulus was 5 of 9 for 30 yards and one interception _ he watched the second half of the Orange's 34-13 loss from the bench. Just as he did when he lost his job as the starting point guard for the Blue Devils, he cheered his teammates on every play.

He was back in his starting role last Saturday against Akron, finishing 12 of 17 for 105 yards and a TD in a Syracuse win.

"The main thing I see in Greg is that he's having fun and he's a great team player," said Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who talks to Paulus about once a week. "His team isn't a great team. It's a team that's building. They're building a program there, and Greg being there and doing what he's doing has moved their program up.

"He'll leave his DNA on that program in a very positive way," Krzyzewski said.

Marrone and Spence agree. The quarterback position in major college football is incredibly complicated, and Paulus has learned quickly.

"I've said this many times, but it's remarkable (what Paulus has done)," Marrone said. "You have to remember he did not play spring ball with us."

For his part, Paulus says he's focused on only one thing.

"I don't look at the numbers. I look at the result. That's the most important thing," he said. "We don't care how we get it done. We just want to win, and I guess having a little bit of a contribution to that is a good thing.

"This team is heading in the right direction," Paulus said. "We've got to keep building and pushing one another."

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AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, N.C. contributed to this report.