In the horse race to become the next starting quarterback at Colorado State, freshmen Pete Thomas and Nico Ranieri are the unproven colts.
What the two lack in experience, they more than make up for in raw ability. Both Thomas and Ranieri enjoyed standout high school careers, though the two reign from different sides of the country.
Thomas, a 6-foot-5-inch native of El Cajon, Calif., was the Rams most highly touted recruit this off-season. In his final two years at Valhalla High School, Thomas torched opposing defenses for 64 total touchdowns while throwing just 11 interceptions.
His prep success earned him a four-star rating by Rivals.com, making him the Rams highest rated recruit since Tristan Walker in 2002.
After graduating a semester early to enroll at CSU, Thomas now finds himself amid of a five-man bout for the starting quarterback position, a challenge he openly embraces.
â€œI definitely feel like I made the right decision in graduating early,â€ said Thomas after practice Tuesday. â€œAny reps I get at this point, I am happy with; itâ€™ll only help me to improve.â€
Head coach Steve Fairchild said he has been impressed thus far with Thomasâ€™ maturity.
â€œWe probably have about 250 plays for a kid that should be in high school right now,â€ said Fairchild, who quarterbacked the Rams himself from 1978 to 1980. â€œI donâ€™t think a guy should be able to do what heâ€™s doing (at his age).â€
Thomas, who deferred on an earlier commitment to Arizona State to instead sign with the Rams, said the difference between high school and college football is already noticeable.
â€œIn high school, they pretty much just say â€˜Go out there and do whatever. Call your own plays,â€™â€ Thomas said. â€œOut here youâ€™ve got eight variations of one play, and you have to know what to do.â€
Ranieri, who was signed a year ago out of Orlando, Fla., starred at Dr. Phillips High School during his senior season. The redshirt freshman accumulated 2,500 passing yards and threw for 26 touchdowns during his final high school season in route to being named the Central Florida Player of the Year.
After redshirting in 2009, Ranieri spent much of last season furthering his knowledge of the offensive system.
â€œI had a whole year to learn the plays and watch the system,â€ said Ranieri, one of 24 Rams hailing from the state of Florida. â€œIt helps me feel more comfortable, Iâ€™m happy they redshirted me. I feel a lot better prepared this time around.â€
In each of head coach Steve Fairchildâ€™s first two seasons, the Rams have started fifth-year senior quarterbacks, a trend that looks likely to end this season.
The two prized recruits each received the bulk of the reps in spring practice thus far, alongside junior T.J. Borcky, who currently sits atop the depth chart.
Fairchild stressed that when it comes time to making the decision regarding who will start under center, the determining factor will be who gives the team the best chance to win, not which player the team can build around for the future.
â€œItâ€™s more about who can help us right now,â€ Fairchild said. â€œWeâ€™re not in a hurry to decide, knowing that everybody we put in there is going to have a little developmental curve.â€
Both Thomas and Ranieri represent a prospective new era in Rams football. If either of the two freshmen is selected to lead the Rams onto the field Sept. 4 at Invesco Field, it could mark the beginning of a four-year career under center.
The pedigree necessary to become the next Rams legend is present in both youngsters, but as was evident a season ago, Fairchild has no qualms with using all the time necessary in choosing his signal caller.
The five-man battle seems destined to continue through the spring and into the fall.
Sports Reporter Joel Hafnor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.