Mark your calendar — two weeks from today is Feb. 4, and do you know what that means? It’s Signing Day 2009! Yep, on Feb. 4, high school football players have their first opportunity to ink their letters of intent to NCAA schools. Forget Christmas, my birthday or the start of summer vacation, Signing Day is my favorite time of year.
Before I go any further, let me introduce myself. I’m Matt Stephens. I covered football for the Collegian this past fall and will bring you men’s basketball coverage this semester, but something I’ve covered since my senior year of high school has been recruiting – and I love it!
Since 2006 I’ve worked for Rivals.com, covering the recruitment of the future stars of college football, and I’d like to bring some of my insider information to you folks from now through signing day. Each Wednesday leading up to signing day, you’ll be able to find my column right here giving you the latest scoop on the future of CSU Ram football.
So what do ya say we get things started?
CSU currently has commitments from 14 players, three of whom are junior college players that have already signed their letters of intent. This week I’d like to take some time and focus on the quarterback position. Don’t worry, no one enjoys running backs as much as an Oklahoma boy like me, but we’ll get to them next Wednesday.
Just as it was at end of the 2007 season with the graduation of senior quarterback Caleb Hanie, the Rams will undoubtedly have a battle for the starting signal caller this off season as well, but this time there is no clear-cut favorite like Billy Farris was a year ago.
Currently on the roster CSU has three returning quarterbacks in Grant Stucker, Klay Kubiak and Alex Kelly, as well as former quarterback turned wide receiver T.J. Borcky. All of these players have a legitimate case to be heard, but let’s don’t go so far as to count out the two newcomers.
Originally, CSU was hot on the trail for the nation’s top junior college quarterback, Adam Froman. Froman, who narrowed his choices to Colorado State and Louisville ultimately chose bluegrass over the Rockies. Froman’s decision opened the door to Utah’s Snow College quarterback Jon Eastman.
Eastman grew up in Fort Morgan before moving to Utah for high school. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Eastman took a mission to Brazil prior to playing for Snow. Now you may ask what does one’s religion have to do with their ability to play football and the truth is it doesn’t, but Eastman is older than most college athletes at his grade level and I feel this is a great help to one of the main qualities a quarterback needs, leadership, and he knows how to lead.
If you’d like an example of an older quarterback who knew how to lead his team, take a look at the 2000 Heisman Trophy winner, 28 year-old Chris Weinke. Now, granted the circumstances with Eastman and Weinke aren’t the same, but you get my point.
Eastman missed the first nine games of the 2008 season with a broken hand, but when he returned he led the Snow Badgers to the NJCAA National Championship Game (AKA the Top of the Mountain Bowl) where they lost to defending national champ Butler Community College in double overtime.
In only four games, Eastman completed 67 percent of his passes for over 800 yards and eight touchdowns. Not too shabby.
While Eastman comes from the JUCO ranks, the Rams have a commitment from one high school quarterback that I am really excited about.
Dr. Phillips High School (Orlando, Fla.) quarterback Nico Raineri is a flat out playmaker. Raineri, also known by his nickname “Uncle Nico” (credit to the online communities), stands at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and is a solid dual-threat guy. In 2008 he ranked ninth in the state of Florida in terms of passing yards with 2,496 yards to go along with 26 touchdowns and only seven picks. He’s also a smart kid, both with decision making on the field and in the classroom as he holds a 3.9 GPA.
I’ve watched his film time and time again and I cannot get over how he makes things happen with both his legs and his arm. It doesn’t matter if the pocket is collapsing on him, he’ll either step up to make a throw, or step out and take off. He’s even accurate to a fault. Watching his tape I had to wonder, how many more yards would he have had if his receivers just could have caught the deep balls that hit them square in the chest?
It doesn’t matter, all that’s in the past and in Raineri’s future is green and gold and a talented receiving corps.
Collegian columnist and friend Sean Star has his “Star Gazing;” what I have is my informal “hey you, listen to what I have to say.” Uncle Nico is the future of Ram football. There’s a lot to be determined between now and next season and he may not start or play during the season opener in Boulder, he may not start at all during the 2009 season, but listen when I tell you… Uncle Nico is the future.
Collegian sports writer Matt L. Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.