Fales making a name for himself at San Jose State
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP)
David Fales had been all set to travel to Hawaii for a bowl game in December 2009 when then-Nevada coach Chris Ault called the backup quarterback into his office.
Ault told the freshman what he already had started to suspect - he'd likely never play a meaningful snap for the Wolf Pack, not after Colin Kaepernick transformed the pistol offense into a fast and formidable running scheme. If he really wanted to start someday, Ault recommended Fales transfer.
''I was looking forward to going to Hawaii. So, yeah, that kind of stunk,'' Fales said.
In the nearly four years since, Fales has gone from a castoff to a junior college standout to a rising NFL prospect. He will get a chance to showcase his skills - and his remarkable journey - to a national audience when he leads San Jose State (1-0) against No. 5 Stanford late Saturday night.
Just making it to this stage might be considered a success.
In the summer before his junior year at Palma High School in Salinas, Calif., Fales sat out all of preseason practice with mononucleosis. He returned a few weeks into the season, then the starting quarterback got a concussion and Fales was forced into the leading role, thriving despite little practice time.
Fales parlayed that half-season into visits to San Jose State, Oregon State, Kansas State and Utah before accepting the first Division I scholarship offered to him by Nevada.
At the time, Fales was unsure how many - or if any - other major scholarship offers would come his way. He had no idea how his senior year of high school would play out, and he couldn't risk putting the burden of paying for college on his parents after being afforded such an opportunity.
Peter Goodson, a retired private equity investor and part-time quarterback coach in Monterey, Calif., had worked with Fales since middle school. He advised Fales not to commit to Nevada because he thought Ault's offense favored mobile quarterbacks over pocket passers.
''He doesn't want to be Colin Kaepernick. He wants to be Joe Montana,'' Goodson said.
Goodson traces his confidence in Fales back to the summer before he entered eighth grade. While watching high school players face former college players and grown men in 7-on-7 drills, Fales showed no fear from the sideline.
''I said, `David, come here. You've been watching these pass plays for a while. It's your turn.' His eyes got as big as saucers,'' Goodson said. ''But he took the first step to go to the huddle, and I said, `That's cool.'''
Fales still went against his mentor's advice. He said Ault had convinced him the pistol offense could be tinkered with to suit his skills if he won the job.
But once Kaepernick ran away with the offense and Fales was practicing read-option runs, he knew he'd never be the successor to the future San Francisco 49ers star. So he made the difficult decision to transfer to a junior college.
''Leaving a Division I scholarship, there's no guarantee you're going to get anything else,'' Fales said. ''With my parents, they were like, `Are you sure you want to do this?' It was tough.''
Fales already had a relationship with Monterey Peninsula College coach Mike Rasmussen. Even at the junior college, playing time wasn't guaranteed.
Fales rotated at quarterback for the first five games until taking over. He earned first-team conference honors and led the team to a share of the league title.
Following the season, Fales accepted an invitation to walk-on at Wyoming. The situation seemed ideal at first: a chance to return to a Division I school and play near his father, David, who lives in Torrington, Wyo.
But the Cowboys signed two quarterbacks, including eventual freshman starter Brett Smith, who had enrolled earlier. Fales arrived in the summer and left after about a month. Coaches tried to get him to stay then by offering to forward him a scholarship, which he said felt like an insult at the time.
''I was basically insurance,'' Fales said. ''I was a guy who's played a year and could maybe make it happen if Brett went down. I didn't really want to be there anyway because I was like, `If you really wanted me to be there, you could have had me in the spring. Why now would you forward me a scholarship?'''
For the second time in a year, Fales turned down a Division I scholarship for junior college.
Fales said he ''really learned how to compete and be in the moment and not take anything for granted'' at Monterey, and his consistent play caught the attention of San Jose State, about 75 miles away.
After Michigan transfer Tate Forcier left San Jose State, the school needed another quarterback. Fales caught the eye of then-Spartans offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, now the quarterbacks coach of the Oakland Raiders, and he convinced then-coach Mike MacIntyre to give Fales a look.
Only when former Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz waffled on transferring to San Jose State did the Spartans offer Fales a scholarship, he said, which came on the day after Christmas in 2011. Fales won the starting quarterback job less than a week before an eye-opening 20-17 loss at Stanford last season, when he threw for 217 yards and a touchdown to put a scare into the eventual Rose Bowl champions.
''He's one of the best quarterbacks in the nation,'' Stanford coach David Shaw said this week, touting Fales' accuracy and poise under pressure.
Fales led the nation with a 72.5 percent completion percentage last season. He threw for 4,193 yards and 33 touchdowns to lead the Spartans to a school-record trying 11 wins, including a Military Bowl victory over Bowling Green and a No. 24 ranking in the final Associated Press poll - the school's first ranking since 1975.
If Fales can come anywhere close to duplicating those performances as San Jose State moves into the Mountain West under new coach Ron Caragher this season, some scouts believe he could be among the top five quarterbacks taken in next year's NFL draft, possibly even a late first-round pick.
Fales already made headlines over the summer for beating out Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, among others, in an accuracy contest at the Elite 11 quarterback camp. He also worked on his arm strength and deep throws with renowned quarterbacks coach Terry Shea in Arizona.
Fales is carrying a full load this fall, too. In addition to the football program's hopes of a conference championship, Fales is trying to finish his psychology degree on time.
If he can't make it as an NFL quarterback, Fales said he wants to be a sports psychologist. He spends a lot of time visualizing, including ''creating a highlight tape in my mind before the game.''
Despite all the books he's read on the subject, he still never could've imagined when he first committed to Nevada that his college career would take such a long and circuitous route.
''I always say looking back at the decisions to get here, a lot of things could've gone a different way and who knows where that would've went,'' Fales said. ''It's kind of crazy. It was all a learning experience. I learned a lot about myself. I wouldn't have done it a different way.''
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP