Steamboat Springs Austin Hinder spent most of his redshirt year at the University of California, Berkeley, as an impostor.
The 2009-10 Gatorade Colorado Football Player of the Year and 2010 Steamboat Springs High School graduate saw no game action this season for an underachieving Cal team.
But that didn’t mean Hinder wasn’t busy.
Hinder spent a good portion of the season impersonating opposing offenses on the Bears scout team. The dual-threat quarterback was the main scout team quarterback when his Cal team played against spread option attacks such as Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Arizona State.
“You just go back there and play backyard football,” Hinder said.
But now, as Hinder basks in a little break from football — the Bears missed a bowl game for the first time in eight seasons — he’s prepping for possibly the biggest spring of his football life.
The Bears struggled at the quarterback position this season after fifth-year senior Kevin Riley went down with a season-ending injury.
Replacement Brock Mansion proved ineffective, and Cal head coach Jeff Tedford has declared the position an open battle. Hinder is expected to be in a mix of five quarterbacks vying for the job.
“Next spring, it’s on,” Hinder said. “It’s an open competition. It’s learn the playbook and be ready to go. I’m the better runner of the quarterbacks. That’s what I have on them. I just got to make sure I take advantage of my reps. The older guys will get a lot more, but when I get mine, I have to take advantage of those.”
Just a year ago, Hinder was a man among boys. He was faster than any player he played against and picked apart defenses at will.
But there is a big difference between dominating the Class 3A Western Slope League and playing in the Pac-10 Conference.
“It’s way faster,” Hinder said. “It’s a whole new level. Now you’re playing with men. It’s a different league.”
Slowly, however, Hinder said he started to pick up the speed of the game. With limited reps in practice, he focused on learning the playbook and getting mental reps.
Wide receivers and defenses are faster, and those lanes that were wide as semis in high school close quickly.
“You adjust to it,” Hinder said. “You have to.”
He has added 10 pounds to his frame and said he would like to add another 10 next semester.
Hinder plans to return to Cal on Jan. 14 and start with offseason conditioning. Although Cal hasn’t released a depth chart yet, all signs point to spring being an open audition at the most important position on the field.
“Austin made excellent strides in his redshirt season,” Cal offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. “He ran the scout team and several times was Scout Team Player of the Week. He has done a nice job studying and learning the offense. He has gained 20 pounds and will be in a position to compete for the starting (quarterback) spot in spring practice.”
Should Hinder outlast the competition, he could be in line for a homecoming of sorts.
It’s been rumored that Cal will play at the University of Colorado on Sept. 10, though neither school has confirmed.
If that’s the case, Hinder said it will be a dream come true.
“I’m going to do everything I can to win it,” he said. “I’ve thought about (the possible game in Boulder). It would be really crazy. I would love to do that, to play in front of all my friends and family. That’s a once in a lifetime experience.”