Steamboat Springs High School quarterback Austin Hinder has become one of the most sought after recruits in the nation. The senior-to-be holds 16 Division I scholarship offers.

Photo by John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs High School quarterback Austin Hinder has become one of the most sought after recruits in the nation. The senior-to-be holds 16 Division I scholarship offers.

Steamboat Springs' Austin Hinder a 'premier player'

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What the experts are saying about Austin Hinder

At a glance

Austin Hinder scholarship offers:

Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, California-Berkeley, Colorado, Colorado State, Florida State, Kansas, Kansas State, Louisiana State University, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Stanford and UCLA

— It really didn't matter who the opponent was, and, frankly, Steamboat Springs High School football coach Aaron Finch can't remember.

But three years ago, the Sailors coach had just finished a team meeting and film session with his varsity players. Instead of trudging home, Finch went to look at the next generation of Steamboat football players.

As he stepped onto Gardner Field, Finch couldn't believe what he was seeing from the quarterback position.

There, a gawky freshman with shaggy hair that hung just over his eyes was lighting up the field.

"He was seeing the field and finding guys open so quickly when they weren't even there," Finch said. "He was picking guys up that most quarterbacks wouldn't. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this kid is going to be special.'"

That lanky freshman has grown up, and Austin Hinder is now one of the most sought-after quarterbacks in the Class of 2010.

The senior-to-be has racked up 16 offers from top-level football programs across the country. His accolades on a national level rival some of the best prep school quarterbacks in the nation. At the U.S. Army National Combine in early January - one that brings 500 of the top juniors from across the country to San Antonio - Hinder walked away as the No. 1 rated quarterback.

Earlier this month, Rivals.com rated Hinder as the 76th-best prospect regardless of position for the Class of 2010.

"Right now, I've seen the majority of top quarterbacks in the nation," said Tom Lemming, CBS College Sports Network's recruiting expert. "He's one of the premier players in the country. He's definitely one of the nation's top-ranked quarterbacks."

To the elite level

After a successful sophomore season, Hinder attended elite camps and the famed Steve Clarkson Quarterback Academy.

It was there he realized he could play Division I football.

"He reminds me a great deal of a right-handed Matt Leinart," said Clarkson, often considered one of the foremost quarterback coaches in the country. "There's just a certain amount of coolness that resonates from him. He knows what to do and when to do it. I would say, at this point, he has more physical abilities. Austin is probably a little bit ahead of (where Leinart was) at this stage."

Hinder attended the U.S. Army National Combine with half a dozen scholarship offers. When he left the combine, Hinder was a household name.

"Going to San Antonio really set him apart," Lemming said. "It allowed him to throw against the best DBs and throw to some of the best wide receivers. He competed against the best and showed he's a premier player. He's one of the best players in the country."

Small-town effect

The first time Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Barry Every saw the Steamboat quarterback, Hinder was a sophomore.

At the time, Hinder was in Orlando with his grandfather, Jim Hanifan, who was coaching the Under Armour All-American game. Hinder was hanging around throwing when Every took notice.

"I realized then that he was better than most of the quarterbacks at the Under Armour bowl," said Every, who worked in recruiting at North Carolina, Florida State and Georgia before taking a position with Rivals.com.

Every, who helped recruit former North Carolina standout and current NFL star Julius Peppers from a small town, said that when it comes to recruits at the quarterback position, playing in tradition-rich programs or states isn't a huge concern.

"The bottom line is great players come from everywhere," Every said. "I worked in recruiting for 13 years and have been doing this for a year and a half. Freaks can come from anywhere. There is no rhyme or reason where great players come from."

Hinder knows that at this level, everyone is a critic. Maybe more important, he knows he belongs where he's at.

"Honestly, I don't mind that at all," Hinder said. "I know I'm going to get criticized by everyone. Coming out of a small school, they'll say I haven't seen the competition. But that's why I went to the U.S. Army Combine - so that I could show them I can play with these guys. I shut that out and don't listen to that.

"I always believed I could do it. If you work hard enough and believe you can do it, then you can. My grandpa always told me, 'If you're good, they'll find you.'"

Decision time

Mail day at the Hinder residence is never uneventful. Hinder gets as many as 50 letters a day, and last Tuesday, he came home to handwritten letters from the entire Louisiana State University coaching staff.

Although Hinder said earlier this year that he wanted to make his decision before the football season starts, he has had a change of heart. He's going to take his time.

It's been widely speculated that Cal-Berkeley is an early favorite. Hinder's grandfather played and coached there, and it was the first school to make him an offer.

Hinder said he'll take official visits to California and Stanford, mentioning that Florida State University and the University of Alabama also might be stops along the way. Colorado fans shouldn't worry, however, as Hinder said Colorado State University and University of Colorado still are in the thick of things.

"CU has one of the biggest advantages in they're right there in Boulder, and I can go see as many games as I want," Hinder said. "I'll probably take more unofficial visits to CU than any other school. I saw CSU's campus right before basketball season and really liked it."

For now, however, Hinder is trying to put all the hoopla to the side. He's been working out every day and plans to spend the summer working with his Sailors teammates. He insists his recruitment won't be an issue. It's been a dream for him, and adding a state title would complete it.

"It's great. Your hard work pays off," Hinder said. "It's been my dream since I was a middle-schooler. I just wanted to get one offer. To get as many as I have is a dream come true.

"But this senior class has been talking about a state championship since seventh grade. This season is really what I'm looking at."

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