One of the biggest questions that new CSU football coach Jim McElwain was going to face entering spring practice was how to handle a potential quarterback controversy between Pete Thomas and Garrett Grayson.
Half of that equation is out of the picture now.
On Tuesday afternoon Thomas was released from his scholarship and withdrew from CSU. He is now free to pursue opportunities at other schools.
“We appreciate all that Pete gave to Colorado State University during his two years with us, and we wish him the best,” said CSU Athletic Director Jack Graham in a statement.
McElwain was not available for comment as he was on the road recruiting. When he met with reporters a week ago he wouldn’t comment on specific individuals on the roster, but did talk about potential departures following a coaching change.
“The guys that are here are Rams,” McElwain said. “If you don’t want to be a part of it, fine, go somewhere else. Every program that has changes always goes through attrition; I’m just working off of history. I hope no one leaves. I really do.”
In addition to Thomas, CSU lost five other players on Tuesday. Wide receiver Byron Steele, safety Ezra Thompson and defensive lineman Charles Green are all gone after being dismissed for a violation of team rules before McElwain’s hiring. Linebacker Eric Niederberger was ruled academically ineligible. Receiver Derek Serowski left for personal reasons.
But the biggest of the exits is clearly Thomas. The 6-foot-5 quarterback from El Cajon, Calif. came to Fort Collins as a highly touted four-star recruit who was supposed to help lead the Rams back to prominence under former coach Steve Fairchild.
In his freshman season he seemed to be on that path. He started all 12 games and completed a CSU single-season-record 64.7 percent of his passes. He threw for 2,662 yards, 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
But in his sophomore season there was little to no progression. His season, and ultimately his CSU career, ended when he hurt a knee and left the Rams in a loss to San Diego State on Nov. 12.
He missed the rest of that game and did not play in any of the final three games as Grayson took the reins. For the season Thomas completed 61.7 percent of his passes and threw for 1,607 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.
The front-runner for the quarterback position is clearly Grayson. The mobile quarterback completed 56 percent of his passes for 542 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions in his three-plus games.
His competition will be redshirt freshman Conner Smith, who is highly touted and carries a cannon for an arm, and senior to-be M.J. McPeek, who was the third-string quarterback in 2011.
When Grayson was inserted as the starter he brought an undeniable spark to the team, and the players seemed to rally around him. He showed a strong arm and a unique ability to keep plays alive with his legs.
Asssistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.