Steamboat Springs There was a lack of suspense at Steamboat Springs High School on Wednesday.
As other prep football stars from across the nation had hats in front of them, choosing the school they’ll play at for the next four years, appeasing fan bases and causing heartbreak for others, Steamboat’s Austin Hinder did what most had known he’d do for a while.
The senior quarterback made it official, signing his letter of intent to play football at the University of California, Berkeley.
Of course, the suspense of national signing day aside, it’s really only been a one-team race for Hinder’s signature. The signal caller’s grandfather, Jim Hanifan, played at Cal and is in the school’s Hall of Fame.
“When my grandpa got inducted into the Hall of Fame when I was a freshman, I went to Cal, and I loved it,” said Hinder, who plans to major in business. “They were playing UCLA, and it was louder than any NFL game I’ve been to. When I was a freshman, I made that as a goal. As long as I got a scholarship offer from Cal, I was going to be happy. That was the very first scholarship I got.”
But Hinder knew if he was to garner a scholarship offer from Cal — a perennial contender in the Pac-10 Conference — he’d have to work.
He spent the summer after his sophomore year at camps across the nation. He capped it with a throwing session at a camp with Cal head coach Jeff Tedford and received his first scholarship offer. Tedford has coached six quarterbacks who became first-round NFL draft picks, most notably Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“Austin can do it all,” Tedford said at his signing day news conference. “He’s a guy who can throw all the balls on the field. He has very good arm strength, he can throw the deep ball, he throws on the run, and when he pulls it down, he can make a lot happen with his legs. He’s a guy who needs to develop more physically. He’s still very thin.”
Most detractors of Hinder say he grips the ball too tightly at times and has to get bigger. Because of that, Hinder looks like a prime candidate for a redshirt year.
Current Cal quarterback Kevin Riley started 13 games, throwing for 2,850 yards and 18 touchdowns against seven interceptions last season. Riley will be a senior in the fall, and backup Beau Sweeney will be a redshirt sophomore. Cal also has redshirt freshman Allan Bridgford — a four-star recruit from the 2009 class — and got University of Buffalo starting quarterback Zach Maynard as a transfer Wednesday.
Hinder said he knows he’ll probably redshirt, acknowledging that he has to get bigger and learn the playbook.
“But I’m not going with that mind-set, though,” he said. “I’m going with the mind-set of trying to get as high on the depth chart as I can.”
Hinder certainly brings the credentials.
He threw for 2,205 yards his senior season to go with 25 touchdowns against six interceptions. He also rushed for 889 yards and 14 touchdowns. In his high school career, Hinder threw 55 touchdown passes.
In addition to being named to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, he was named The Denver Post’s All-Colorado Offensive Player of the Year, named Class 3A Player of the Year and named to the Class 3A All-State team as a quarterback. He was also the Gatorade Colorado Football Player of the Year.
“He’s highly competitive,” Tedford said. “He comes from great bloodlines. He’s been around football his whole life and been around a lot of NFL training camps and things like that, so he really soaks it up. He’s a guy who can roll left and make some great throws. He can pull the ball down and run 60 or 70 yards with the ball. He’s a very talented guy.”
— To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail email@example.com
Jonathan Okanes from the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times contributed to this story.