There is a new quarterback in town, and he is no stranger to head football coach Mike Bobo.
Faton Bauta arrived on the Colorado State campus January 15 to join the Rams for spring football. The former backup at the University of Georgia is a graduate transfer and will be eligible to play immediately in the spring. He was listed as a three-star recruit in 2012 by Rivals.com and Scout.com. ESPN ranked him the No. 29 quarterback in his class, and Rivals.com ranked him as the No. 15 dual quarterback in 2012.
Things never quite panned out for Bauta at Georgia though. He saw minimal action and was relegated mostly to holding kicks on game days. In his lone start as a junior, Bauta struggled, completing 15 of 33 pass attempts for 154 yards against Florida with zero touchdowns and four interceptions in a 27-3 loss.
Bobo, who recruited Bauta to the Bulldogs during his time as offensive coordinator, was still eager to have him on board with the Rams, though.
“He’s a serious guy,” Bobo said. “When I talk about focus and being in tune with what he has to do. And what we want to do as an offense and a football team, he gets that. He’s a great example for our whole football team of what I’m looking for. Somebody that’s going to be able to lay his head down at night and be able to sleep realizing that he’s done everything that’s possible to be the best that he can be.”
Central Florida, Iowa State, Eastern Kentucky and James Madison all showed interest in Bauta upon being granted his request to transfer, according to Ryan Krous of Rivals.com.
Whether or not Bauta is able to earn the starting job, Bobo believes his attention to detail and leadership will benefit the team, noting that Bauta is his own biggest critic.
“Sometimes he’s too hard on himself if things don’t go right, but that’s part of being a perfectionist and that’s what I think he is,” Bobo said.
With the Georgia connection in place, and coming off of a year of inconsistent quarterback play at CSU, Bauta must have known that he had a very legitimate shot of becoming the starter for his senior season, but he said nothing was ever promised to him, which is consistent with the way Bobo managed personnel in his first year.
“(Bobo) didn’t say anything about starting,” Bauta said. “He said, ‘you have an opportunity to come play,’ and I said, ‘great’. It’s just an opportunity. That’s all I was looking for.”
Bauta entered spring camp as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart behind junior-to-be and returning starter Nick Stevens.
“Doesn’t matter– 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… you could put me at No. 7 and there’s only six quarterbacks,” Bauta said. “Doesn’t really matter. It’s not going to stop me from doing what I always do, which is get up and be the best quarterback I can be everyday.”
Bauta and Stevens will be the frontrunners for the starting quarterback position next season, with underclassmen Colin Hill and J.C. Robles also in the mix for the job.
Stevens is no stranger to competition, having split time under center for much of the 2015 season before really taking sole possession of the starting job later in the year.
“I think I got pushed a lot last year by Coleman (Key),” Stevens said. “… I totally expect to be pushed a lot this year also. Faton Bauta is a talented quarterback.”
Stevens said he has already taken notice of Bauta’s work ethic.
“I see a hard worker in him,” Stevens said. “He’s in the weight room and gets extra work in most days. He’s definitely a hard worker and definitely wants to be the best.”
Bauta said he has already become pretty tight with Stevens, and is also beginning to take Hill under his wing.
Bauta takes pride in his preparation. Accordingly, he tried to make sure he was ready to handle the altitude before he made the move to CSU.
“Honestly, the first day we ran, I was surprised that I felt great,” Bauta said. “I was actually really pumped about that. When I was home, I was training with an altitude mask to make sure I wasn’t at a disadvantage.”
Do not expect a starter to be named by the end of spring camp. Bobo will likely leave the race open going into the fall, much like he did in his first year.
And while the idea of having a former SEC quarterback on the roster sounds nice, do not count Stevens out or assume that the job is Bauta’s for the taking.
Stevens handled a tricky quarterback situation with maturity, adjusting quickly to a new offense and showing improvement as the year went on. Many CSU fans were too spoiled by the brilliance of Garrett Grayson’s senior, and held Stevens to an unfair standard that Bauta likely would not meet this season either.
As a sophomore, Stevens quietly completed 60.8 percent of his passes, throwing 21 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and also running for another three scores. He led the Rams to a 7-6 record, finishing the regular season on a four-game winning streak to deliver the Rams to a postseason bowl game for a third consecutive year.
With a year of experience under his belt and a better understanding of Bobo’s offense, it is reasonable to expect Stevens will be even further ahead going into next season than he was in Bobo’s first year.
According to Bauta, he just wants the opportunity to compete. That is who he is as a person and a player. No matter where the former Bulldog lands on CSU’s depth chart, he says he will always know that he left everything he had on the field.
“The only talent I have is that I can absolutely outwork everybody and I have no problem saying that,” Bauta said. “That’s the only talent I have and that’s the only thing I can do. I can out-prepare everybody. Nobody is going to tell me different.”
Collegian Sports Editor Emmett McCarthy can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.