CSU’s Stevens leads pack of in-state QBs

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Matt L. Stephens

COLORADO SPRINGS» Colorado State quar­ter­back Nick Stevens was dumb­founded this sum­mer when his coach told him the news.

“I think I’m go­ing to an­nounce to the me­dia that I’m go­ing to bench you right now in the sum­mer, and then name you the starter be­fore the first game,” CSU coach Mike Bobo told him. Re­lax. He was only jok­ing.

But given the Rams’ track record at quar­ter­back dur­ing the past two sea­sons since the de­par­ture of Gar­rett Grayson, who set nearly ev­ery pass­ing record CSU has be­fore be­ing se­lected by the New Or­leans Saints in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft, it’s no sur­prise that Stevens would have con­cern he needs to prove him­self — again.

He has twice won the start­ing job in the pre­sea­son, but never out­right. As a sopho­more in 2015, he passed for 2,679 yards, 21 touch­downs and 12 in­ter­cep­tions while com­plet­ing 60.8 per­cent of his at­tempts, but his leash re­mained short, at times be­ing benched in big games in fa-

vor of fresh­man Cole­man Key.

Last sea­son, Stevens won the bat­tle again — this time a three-way com­pe­ti­tion against Ge­or­gia trans­fer Fa­ton Bauta and true fresh­man Collin Hill — but strug­gled so much in the opener against the Univer­sity of Colorado, he found him­self play­ing third fid­dle three games into the sea­son. It wasn’t un­til Bauta proved in­ef­fec­tive and Hill went down with a torn an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment that Stevens was given an­other chance. And it was that op­por­tu­nity that has made him ar­guably the most in­trigu­ing col­lege foot­ball player in Colorado to watch head­ing into the 2017 sea­son.

“I watch ev­ery game. … I thought Nick played re­ally well at the end of the year (in 2015), and then last year, at the be­gin­ning of the year, he wasn’t play­ing a lot, then he started play­ing well again,” CU coach Mike Mac­In­tyre said. “I think Nick Stevens is a great quar­ter­back.”

But this sea­son, there is no de­bate in Fort Collins about who will start un­der cen­ter. It’s Stevens. With 4,751 ca­reer yards pass­ing and 41 touch­downs through the air, he’ll look to lead the Rams to their fifth con­sec­u­tive bowl game while turn­ing heads against three Power 5 op­po­nents (Ore­gon State, CU and Alabama) along the way. And while he’s the most es­tab­lished quar­ter­back from the state’s ma­jor col­lege foot­ball teams head­ing into 2017, there’s plenty of tal­ent across the board.

In Boul­der, sopho­more Steven Mon­tez takes over for the grad­u­ated Sefo Li­u­fau af­ter prov­ing he could daz­zle as a red­shirt fresh­man. In Li­u­fau’s ab­sence last sea­son, Mon­tez started three games, go­ing 2-1, in­clud­ing a record-set­ting per­for­mance in a win at Ore­gon when he be­came the first Buffs player to throw for more than 300 yards while rush­ing for more than 100 yards in the same game.

In lim­ited play­ing time last year, Arion Worth­man, who’s ex­pected to start for Air Force this fall, com­pleted 23-of-39 pass at­tempts for 546 yards and four touch­downs, in­clud­ing a 215-yard game in a 41-38 win at San Jose State. He added 674 yards and six scores on the ground, av­er­ag­ing 16.3 yards per carry.

And at NCAA FCS North­ern Colorado, coach Earnest Collins Jr. thinks Ja­cob Knipp, a grad­u­ate of Ral­ston Val­ley High School, can lead the Bears to their third con­sec­u­tive win­ning sea­son. Knipp broke the school’s fresh­man pass­ing records for yards (1,969), touch­downs (13) and com­ple­tions (157) in 2015, but he suf­fered a sea­son-end­ing shoul­der in­jury three snaps into last sea­son.

But with the bar Stevens set last year, post­ing the best passer ef­fi­ciency mark in the coun­try af­ter Oct. 22, de­thron­ing him as the top col­lege quar­ter­back in Colorado will be a tall task. Bobo knows it, but he’s just happy to head into the sea­son with­out a quar­ter­back com­pe­ti­tion on his hands.

“He knows what I want now. He’s tak­ing con­trol,” Bobo said. “Talk­ing to the strength coach yes­ter­day, I just feel like Nick’s a different per­son with his de­meanor and he’s not afraid to take the bull by the horns.”

Foot­note.

CSU’s back­field in its sea­son and on-cam­pus sta­dium opener Aug. 26 against Ore­gon State is look­ing bet­ter than an­tic­i­pated. Bobo said Wed­nes­day that he orig­i­nally ex­pected sopho­more run­ning back Marvin Kin­sey to re­turn from his torn ACL in time for Moun­tain West play, but now thinks he’ll be ready to go against the Beavers.

Kin­sey rushed for 546 yards and seven touch­downs on 93 car­ries as a fresh­man be­fore tear­ing his ACL be­fore the Rams’ ap­pear­ance in the Potato Bowl.

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

Se­nior Nick Stevens and coach Mike Bobo are happy to en­ter Colorado State’s foot­ball sea­son with the keys to the of­fense in sure hands.

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