Passing Grade: Why David Fales Is College Football's Most Intriguing Quarterback
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If you’re the type of college football fan who loves watching athletic dual-threat quarterbacks, then you’re in for a real treat in 2013. The sport is absolutely loaded with exciting dual-threat signal-callers such as Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller.
All four of those big-name stars will surely receive plenty of recognition and publicity this offseason, and rightfully so. But actually the most intriguing quarterback in college football isn’t a part of the new wave of spread offensive signal-callers. Instead, it’s an old-school pro-style pocket-passer.
That quarterback is San Jose State’s David Fales.
It’s clear that Fales is certainly no running threat in the mold of Manziel, Mariota or Miller. All you need to do is look at his -139 total net rushing yards from last year to figure that out. What he is, though, is one of the most gifted passers that we’ve seen in the college ranks in years.
He’s also one of the most hard-working and determined players in the country, and the type of young man you can't help but root for.
Before 2012, Fales was a relative unknown to most college football fans. The former 2-star-rated recruit wasn't showered with scholarship offers from prominent powerhouse programs back when he played for Palma High School, an all-boys catholic school in Salinas, California.
The University of Nevada was the only FBS school to offer the under-the-radar signal-caller a scholarship. Fales was grateful for the opportunity and signed with the Wolf Pack.
Since running the ball obviously isn’t Fales’ forte, he was a bit of an odd fit for Chris Ault’s innovative pistol offensive attack. After spending just one year in Reno and watching how Ault used Colin Kaepernick, Fales came to the realization that even though the Wolf Pack had taken a chance on him when no other team did, it just wasn’t the right system for his skill set.
In an article that appeared in the Mercury News last September, Fales addressed why he left Nevada, saying “I realized what they wanted me to do wasn’t a good fit for me. They wanted me to be more of a runner. I looked at everything, saw where it was going and didn’t want to waste my time.”
Since he was still an unproven commodity at that point, transferring to an FBS school was not an option, so Fales instead decided to head to the JUCO ranks to prove himself to major college recruiters. Ultimately, he ended up back in his home state of California at Monterey Peninsula College.
It was there where he started to develop and grow as both a player and a person.
After two years of flaunting his skills at Monterey, there were still no big BCS programs who came calling for the signal-caller’s services. But there was a scholarship offer from San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre.
The Spartans were coming off a mediocre yet still somewhat encouraging 5-7 campaign (it was a step in the right direction after a dreadful 1-12 season in 2010), and they had a hole to fill at quarterback following the departure of starter Matt Faulkner.
Fales finally saw the opportunity that he had been waiting for.
After impressing MacIntyre and the rest of the coaching staff with his quick grasp of the offense during the offseason, Fales was named the starter and given the chance once and for all to prove himself as the offensive leader of an FBS team.
He immediately made the most of the long-awaited opportunity. In his debut performance, Fales nearly led the Spartans to a huge upset win on the road over a Stanford team that came into the season ranked No. 21 in the country. But unfortunately, they couldn’t seal the deal, losing to the eventual Pac-12 champions 20-17.
Fales’ first defeat may have hurt a bit, but luckily, it was a feeling that he only had to endure once more during his inaugural season. The first-year starter quickly transformed from an unknown afterthought into one of the most productive and efficient passers in the country.
The breakout star signal-caller led San Jose State—a team which had put together just two winning seasons since moving to the WAC in 1996—to a surprisingly successful 11-win season that not even the most optimistic Spartan fan could have expected. It was the perennial doormat program’s first double-digit win campaign in 25 years.
His individual numbers weren’t just impressive; they were sensational. Fales led the nation with a 72 percent completion percentage, ranked sixth in the country with 4,193 passing yards, ranked third with a 170 passer rating and finished with an outstanding 33-9 touchdown-interception ratio.
As strange as it may sound, I first took notice of Fales after seeing highlights of his second loss of the season, a 49-27 defeat at Utah State. When I checked the box score to see how Aggies QB Chuckie Keeton performed in the game, Fales’ numbers jumped out at me.
I thought to myself: forget about Keeton, who is this quarterback who just completed 38 passes for 467 yards?
After digging deeper and discovering what he had accomplished in helping to turn around a struggling Spartans program, I knew that this was a player that I had to see. I made it a point to watch the team’s final three nationally televised games against BYU, Louisiana Tech and Bowling Green.
I liked what I saw in a win over the Cougars. I became a believer after witnessing the upset of the Bulldogs. Then, I became a full-fledged Fales fanboy after watching what he did against the Falcons in the Military Bowl.
While watching his MVP performance in the 29-20 victory, I remember witnessing throws that only maybe three or four other quarterbacks in college football could have made.
The perfect ball placement, the incredible velocity, the pinpoint accuracy, the flawless mechanics, the natural pocket awareness and the instinctive feel for the game he displayed was incredible to see. The strong-armed senior signal-caller is truly a special quarterback, who possesses rare physical gifts and passing skills.
In this current era when we’re now starting to see more dual-threat quarterbacks become the biggest stars in college football (notice how the last three Heisman winners were all of the dual-threat variety), it’s really refreshing to see an elite pocket-passer emerge on the national scene.
That’s why David Fales is truly college football’s most intriguing quarterback, and that’s why he’ll be one of the most fascinating players to watch in 2013. While he may not produce the awe-inspiring explosive highlight-reel runs that more athletic quarterbacks like Manziel, Mariota or Miller will, Fales is fully capable of dropping just as many jaws with the unbelievable throws he can make.
It’s been a long journey to get to this point. Besides Chris Ault and Mike MacIntyre, there really weren’t many coaches who believed in his ability. It didn't matter, though. Fales always believed he had it in him, and he persevered and kept fighting until he finally got that one chance to prove himself.
Just making it out of the JUCO ranks and getting a shot to play for an FBS program was a huge victory in itself. For every Cam Newton, or Colt Brennan, or Zach Mettenberger, there have been hundreds of JUCO quarterbacks in recent years who simply faded into obscurity and never made an impact at college football’s top level.
Fales comes from a similar situation as Packers star signal-caller Aaron Rodgers. Like Rodgers, he was a California kid who wasn’t the biggest or the flashiest quarterback in high school, and thus he didn’t receive much attention from the high-profile west coast programs.
But like Rodgers, he clearly has that desire and determination to succeed that burns deep within his soul.
It also helps that he seems to be one of the most level-headed players that you’re going to find in college football. Judging from some of the interviews he’s done so far, Fales hasn’t let the attention and success get to his head at all.
Now, as he heads into his senior season in 2013, Fales has set himself up to be one of the most talked-about quarterbacks in the country following his tremendous debut campaign. Everything that we’ve seen from him so far has been encouraging.
However, there’s still much more that we need to find out and learn about David Fales.
With San Jose State now moving to the Mountain West, it will be very interesting to see how Fales and the Spartans handle the step up in competition and the bigger stage this fall.
A non-conference rematch against Stanford on Sept. 7 will be the first big test of the season. But it will be just as important to see how he performs in quarterback duels with talented fellow conference counterparts such as Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton, Nevada’s Cody Fajardo and Wyoming’s Brett Smith.
Fales has created a big buzz with his spectacular showing in 2012. Now it’s time for him to capitalize on the momentum and show fans and NFL scouts alike that he’s truly one of the sport’s elite players.
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