In 1981 John Miller started at quarterback for Colorado State. At the time, Miller was 18 years, 10 months and 20 days old.
When Colorado State (1-1) takes on the University of Northern Colorado (2-0) Saturday, a new era of CSU football will begin.
True freshman Collin Hill (18 years, 11 months, eight days) will jog onto the field and take the first snaps at quarterback, becoming the third youngest quarterback to play for CSU in the past 35 years. Only Miller in 1981, and Pete Thomas (18 years, 10 months, 24 days) in 2010 took their first snap at a younger age.
When Miller started Sept. 26 1981, it was the team’s third game of the season, just like Hill’s first start. Miller and the Rams fell to the West Virginia 49-3. The 1981 Rams went on to finish the season 0-12.
Thomas faired a little better than Miller, leading CSU to a 3-9 record in 2010.
In 2016, Collin Hill will have his chance to shine.
Since coming to the program in the spring of 2015, Hill has steadily worked himself into the starting quarterback competition. So much so, in fact, that had the team not played in the Rocky Mountain Showdown to start the season, Hill probably would have been named the starter earlier, according to head coach Mike Bobo.
“Coming out of spring, Collin was not there,” Bobo said. “I knew that, just having fifteen days of practice. But as fall camp started he really started to progress…Going with the twos, his numbers were as good or better than the other guys.
“We were going with experience. If we went off straight numbers he probably would have been the quarterback (to start the season), but there is a lot that goes into playing quarterback,” Bobo continued. “There’s the intangible factor, are you ready to lead a football team? Playing your first game at Mile High Stadium in front of 70 thousand, straight out of high school, it just felt like he wasn’t ready.”
Bobo wanted to give Hill time to grow, time to improve upon the skill set he already possed. According to Bobo, the worst that the team could have done to Hill was start him before he was ready.
“The worst thing you can do with a young quarterback, you put them in too early,” Bobo said. “He doesn’t have success and you can damage him for a while. But the whole time, even after game one where we named Nick, we said (to Collin) you’ve got to keep getting ready, keep progressing.”
Being a true freshman, Hill may be behind his competitors in terms of understanding how to play the position. Redshirt junior Nick Stevens and graduate transfer Faton Bauta have been around more football; naturally, they may have a better handle on the ins and outs of the position. Bobo understands that, and wasn’t ready to throw the freshman into the fire right away.
“There’s the intangible factor, are you ready to lead a football team,” he said. “Playing your first game at Mile High Stadium in front of 70 thousand, straight out of high school, it just felt like he wasn’t ready.”
After Stevens and Bauta struggled to put together any sort of momentum in the first two games of the season, completing only 12 of their 37 passes, Bobo had no choice but to play Hill, virtually eliminating his chances at redshirting.
Hill came in during the fourth quarter against Texas-San Antonio, going 2-6 for 26 yards. His first career attempt went for 11 yards to sophomore Olabisi Johnson. While Hill didn’t come into the game and domintate, Bobo saw enough to pass the torch to young freshman from Moore, S.C.
The CSU offense has been riddled with shaky quarterback play to start the year. Hill is included in that during his minimal playing time thus far. However, Hill has done enough to earn his shot. Whether or not he keeps the starting job moving past the UNC game depends on how the team plays with him at the helm, according to Bobo.
“We have got to play better offensively,” Bobo said. “We need to get some consistency at that position and right now you’re probably thinking ‘well, we’ve had two games, had two quarterbacks and played three.’ Hopefully that consistency will start on Saturday with improved play and go from there.”
It is now Hill’s turn to prove to his coach he can provide the consistency Bobo wants. That might be easier said than done, but Bobo, and the team, have the upmost confidence that No. 15 is up for the job.
“I feel comfortable with (Hill) going forward,” Bobo said. “I expect him to play well. I expect us to improve in our passing game and improve offensively. Hopefully we’ll do enough to put ourselves in position to win the ballgame on Saturday.”
Tight end Nolan Peralta shared the coaches thoughts.
“(Collin) is a confident guy, he definitely has a lot of ability,” Peralta said. “The coaches have a lot of respect for him and what he has been able to come in and do since he came in this spring. He is one of those guys that is real mature in the offense and doesn’t really have that deer in the headlight look. He is coming out slinging it and ready to play. As an offensive unit, that kind of gives us some confidence. We hope that he can trust in us to get the job done as well.”
Coming in as a true freshman can be a daunting task. There are tremendous amounts of pressure put on the quarterback position. It takes a certain mentality to be able to handle those pressures. Hill appears to be up to the challenge.
“(Collin) is very, very calm, he has an even temper,” Bobo said. “Sometimes I think he’s too calm cause he throws a good pass he’s fine, he throws an interception he is kind of nonchalant, he’s just got a great temperament.”
Hill inherits a sound offensive line and a work-in-progress receiving core. Both position groups are ready to move forward with Hill has their quarterback and help him with the transition.
“I think we are confident with all three of these guys, but especially with one-five back there,” center Jake Bennett said. “If you’ve ever watched the kid throw, he’s definitely got some talent. There is going to be some growing pains with how young he is, but I think with how experienced we are up front we can help him out.”
“I think a lot of the veteran receivers that are here can help him out on different calls or plays because we know what’s going on,” wide receiver Elroy Masters said. “Then just give him some confidence and some boost when we’re in the huddle and if he’s kind of getting tense or something say ‘hey, calm down, lets just play catch.”
Colorado State is about to embark on a journey with a true freshman quarterback, something they have seldom done in the past 35 years. Collin Hill is now the guy.
“The kids respect Collin,” Bobo said. “Number one, they see him practice and see him throw the ball. And two, they respect him because of the type of person he is and how he works.”
Collegian sports editor Chad Deutschman can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ChadDeutschman