FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Colorado State will start true freshman Pete Thomas in its season opener Sept. 4 vs. Colorado, Head Coach Steve Fairchild announced Tuesday.
"Pete's been the most consistent guy this fall," Fairchild said. "We're going to be young this year, but Pete's been the most consistent and hasn't dropped his guard."
Nico Ranieri and Klay Kubiak will compete for the backup role, Fairchild added.
Thomas, a poised 6-foot-5, 218-pound passer from Valhalla High School in El Cajon, Calif., was rated the No. 6 pro-style QB in the nation by Tom Lemming (USA Today Super 25). Rivals.com also ranked him the country's No. 16 pro-style quarterback and No. 48 overall prospect from the state of California.
A three-year starter, three-year captain and two-time team MVP, he guided the Norsemen to a 19-5 record over his final two seasons. Combined over those junior and senior seasons, he threw for 5,553 yards, 52 TDs and only 11 INTs, completing better than 66 percent of his passes to capture consecutive Grossmont South League Offensive Player of the Year honors, in both 2008 and `09. Including the last three contests of his freshman year, he started 36 games in a storied prep career, finishing with back-to-back first-team all-state recognition as a junior and senior.
He graduated from high school one semester early in order to enroll at CSU in January and take part in all 15 CSU practices this past spring.
A freshman, true or redshirt, has never led the Rams in passing during any given year. The last true freshman to start at quarterback for the Rams was Caleb Hanie, who replaced an injured Justin Holland on Oct. 22, 2004. In a 30-7 win over Wyoming in Fort Collins, on a Friday night in a nationally televised game, Hanie completed 11 of 22 passes for 167 yards and one interception.
According to team historian John Hirn (coloradoaggies.com, Aggies to Rams), Thomas will become the program's youngest starting quarterback since Mark Miller on Sept. 26, 1981. On Sept. 4, Thomas (18 years, 10 months, 24 days) will be only four days older than Miller (18 years, 10 months, 20 days) was 29 years ago as a true freshman at West Virginia, the third game of the '81 campaign. Colorado's top prep quarterback in 1980, incidentally Fairchild's senior year as the CSU signal-caller, Miller hailed from Grand Junction, Colo. He started one other game that season, the following week at Air Force.
The youngest starting quarterback in program annals was Bob Hainlen, a 17-year-old true freshman from Trinidad, Colo. He led the Aggie-Rams to a 33-0 home triumph over Northern Colorado on Sept. 29, 1945, the team's first game in three years due to World War II. Hainlen went on to start at quarterback in the Raisin Bowl, on Jan. 1, 1949, with Fum McGraw and Eddie Hanna, the only two players to have their numbers retired in program history.
After Sept. 4, Hainlen and Thomas will be the only two freshmen to have ever started a season opener in the rich history of the CSU football program.
The Rams, who started fifth-year seniors Billy Farris in 2008 and Grant Stucker in 2009, are one of only six programs in the nation that will open a third consecutive season with a first-year starter. CSU joins Auburn, North Texas, Mississippi State, Buffalo and Purdue in that category. Kentucky also may join the list later this month. The last time a CSU passer returned to claim the starting quarterback role was Hanie in 2007, just before he signed with the Chicago Bears, where he now backs up Jay Cutler.
Thomas won't be the first, or the last, true freshman to start a major college football game. The long list includes John Elway (Stanford), Peyton Manning (Tennessee), Kevin Kolb (Houston), Jamelle Holieway (Oklahoma), Chad Henne (Michigan), Jimmy Claussen (Notre Dame), Brady Quinn (Notre Dame), Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State) and Matthew Stafford (Georgia). In 2009 alone, Matt Barkley (USC), Jordan Wynn (Utah) and Tate Forcier (Michigan) joined the list.