Cal Athletic Department/Courtesy
Former Steamboat Springs High School quarterback Austin Hinder prepares to throw a pass during practice at the University of California. Hinder is battling for the No. 3 quarterback spot.
Steamboat Springs Each year has been another part of a long learning cycle for Austin Hinder.
As the most ballyhooed football prospect ever to come out of Steamboat Springs, Hinder left for the University of California, Berkeley in 2010 as the Gatorade Colorado Football Player of the Year.
He led the Sailors to the Class 3A state championship game and had his pick of colleges.
Fast forward three years, and Hinder hasn’t played a snap and is fighting for the No. 3 quarterback job.
He is competing with redshirt freshman Kyle Boehm and true freshman Zach Kline.
Senior Zach Maynard is entrenched as the starter, and redshirt junior Allan Bridgford is the backup.
“I’m going into my third year,” Hinder said Thursday between summer classes. “You’d love to think you’re going to come in and play right away. But with an offense like ours, it takes time. When you’re a quarterback at the Division I level, it’s not physically picking things up. It’s mental. It’s different going from high school. Here, you’re coming into a team where everybody was the best. It takes time to get reps.”
Hinder admitted that when he got to Cal he was out of his comfort zone. With a big play book and a newfound respect for what it took to compete at the Division I level, Hinder said, his head was spinning.
Going from dominating the Western Slope League to the bottom of the depth chart was eye opening.
“I didn’t understand it my freshman year,” he said. “I was worried about outside things. I’ve gotten over that. I’m focusing on myself, and the offense has become a lot easier.”
Last year, his redshirt freshman year, Hinder was the scout team quarterback.
He earned Scout Team Player of the Week honors several times but still found himself buried down the depth chart.
With Maynard returning and the highly ranked Kline enrolling early, the competition kept getting better.
Hinder said the toughest part has been trying to get reps in practice. Because he wasn’t the starter or the backup, Hinder would get maybe one or two reps each practice.
Still, he has shown well in scrimmages.
In the annual Gold-Blue Cal Spring Game in April, Hinder made the most of his opportunity. Serving as Maynard’s backup for the blue team, Hinder completed 4 of 5 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown pass came as time ran out in the fourth quarter, a 75-yard strike to Stephen Anderson.
Cal coach Jeff Tedford said before the spring game that the No. 3 quarterback position hadn’t been settled and probably wouldn’t be until sometime in the summer or fall.
Hinder said he can’t worry about that.
He said his goal is to secure the No. 3 spot in the fall. He’ll be signaling in plays this year for Cal and said his goal still is to play.
With Maynard graduating, Hinder could have a chance of starting in the 2013 season.
“When the starter leaves, you’re going to have favorites,” Hinder said. “But that’s when the competition starts. It will be fair playing ground for the No. 1 spot.”
Regardless, Hinder said he doesn’t regret his decision. He’s pursuing a degree in business, and in between football — which he called “an all-day, everyday thing” — he’ll intern with a commercial realty group.
“You look back on things like” going somewhere to play early, he said. “You got to just focus on where you’re at right now. I’m happy with the choice I made. Football won’t last forever. That’s why I came here is to get the degree. I’ve wanted to play more. It’s much different from high school ball. But I’m very pleased with California.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com