With freshman QB Collin Hill, Rams fans should expect growing pains

Collin Hill
Nov 14, 2015; Fort Collins, CO, USA; A Colorado State Rams fan holds a sign from the stands in reference to head coach Mike Bobo (not pictured) in the fourth quarter against the UNLV Rebels at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since he was recruited last year, Collin Hill has been seen as the Colorado State Rams quarterback of the future.

Welcome to the future, Ram Nation.

After practice Wednesday, CSU head coach Mike Bobo named true freshman Collin Hill the starter for this week’s game against the University of Northern Colorado Bears. And when that game kicks off this Saturday (2 p.m. MT inside Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium) it will be the third different starting quarterback for Colorado State in only three games this season.

“We’re going to go with Collin Hill for this game,” Bobo said Wednesday afternoon. “After going back and watching the film and reviewing the tape, that was the pecking order starting Monday and he performed really well Monday, really good practice Tuesday. Today, wasn’t as good and Monday and Tuesday, a lot of third down stuff and red zone, but I believe he’ll get it.”

Like a signal-caller who’s being bull-rushed, Bobo is scrambling to find a successful gunslinger.

He may have finally done that, but don’t expect there not to be growing pains for Hill as this season moves forward. Also, while Hill’s redshirt was burned in the fourth quarter of CSU’s victory over UTSA last Saturday, it doesn’t mean he’s the full-time starter from now until the end of the season. Bobo continued to stress competition after naming Hill the starting quarterback for this one week.

Back to Hill and his likely growing pains in the all-important role of quarterback. On Media Day, which was just about five weeks ago, we asked Bobo if Hill was still in the competition, because he wasn’t listed that way on the team’s initial depth chart. The head coach said he was competing, yes, but also that Hill, “Didn’t know left from right” when he came to Colorado State as a mid-year transfer.

That’s right, Hill decided to forego the end of his senior year at Dorman High School in South Carolina, transferring to CSU mid-year to get a jump on learning all that it means to be a college student, as well as a collegiate athlete. Imagine juggling going to class, doing homework, having a social life and devoting time to practice/study/meetings for the football team. It’s got to be an arduous task for anyone, and that’s only amplified if you’re going to be playing quarterback, who must know where all 11 players on offense are supposed to be at the same time.

Bobo’s “left from right” comment was sarcastic, but it was also an indication of the young man being in over his head due to his youth. Taking the leap from high school star to a DI quarterback is one giant step; it’s why true freshman quarterbacks are somewhat a rarity in college football. After the UTSA victory, Saturday, Bobo also said there were two times Hill didn’t check out of a run because he didn’t read the defense correctly, which forced a fourth quarter drive to stall. That was an indication of his youthful inexperience and how it can — and likely will — hurt the Rams offense moving forward.

It’s why a mix of Hill and graduate transfer Faton Bauta were used together in the final drive of the day for CSU which resulted in a field goal and a comfortable nine-point lead with less than three minutes to go last Saturday. Bauta, who started in Week 2 against UTSA, was wildly inefficient as a passer, going 6-17 for 82 yards which included a 45-yard bomb that was completed. Bauta, a run-first quarterback, injured his ankle in the win over UTSA, putting him in the No. 3 spot because he can’t move the way he needs to.

That left Hill — who entered the week No. 1 and took all of the reps with the No. 1 offense on Tuesday — and redshirt junior Nick Stevens — who was No. 2 — to compete, and Hill won the job. For this week.

What Hill brings to the football field physically is all the attributes needed of a successful quarterback. He’s got the strongest arm of the three, which allows him to get the ball where it needs to be on time. Timing — on the two routes he’s completed — has been top-notch, even if they were just deep out routes. His accuracy has been solid –from what we’ve seen in practices, the spring game and his two in-game completions — which has been the most important thing lacking from both Stevens and Bauta. And Hill can move a bit too, though he’s not nearly as fleet of foot as Bauta.

Hill has the perfect physical makeup of a quarterback, but fans must realize the mental side of his game needs much more development. Of course, playing in games and making those mistakes/correct calls is the only way to learn, especially when a player goes back and looks at the tape. Plus, it helps that Bauta — the graduate who studied and practiced in Bobo’s system for four years at Georgia — has been mentoring the freshman since spring, teaching him the philosophies.

Without a doubt, getting playing time against UTSA and then the start against UNC this week — a team Colorado State has never lost to (19-0-1) — is a great way to build the young man’s confidence. If there were ever a perfect time to start a true freshman, it’s following two terrible offensive performances in which the two, older, more-experienced quarterbacks already had their chance to lead the attack. Also working in Hill’s favor is the fact that Bobo’s offense is run-first, run-second and pass-third; he’ll likely only be asked to take what the defense gives him and protect the football.

Collin Hill was rated a three-star, pro-style quarterback by Rivals and had interest from big-time programs like Georgia, Michigan State, Clemson, Louisville, Stanford, though none of them officially offered. Hill was offered by Marshall, Eastern Michigan, and a few others before deciding to go with CSU.

And when he stepped on campus, fans hoped he would be the quarterback of the future. Hill is just that, and CSU’s football future begins this week.

But just call him Kirk Cameron, because Hill will be starring on “Growing Pains” this fall on a TV, and in a stadium, near you.

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