It shouldn’t be any surprise that even when San Jose State’s David Fales is in the pocket and under pressure, it’s hard to rattle him.
There aren’t many college quarterbacks as capable of handling stress as the Salinas, Calif., native, a psychology major who exploded onto the scene a year ago after an extensive journey brought him to San Jose State — the Gophers’ opponent on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Arguably the best quarterback the Gophers will face this season, Fales went from nearly anonymous to the most accurate passer in the nation for 2012. He helped take San Jose State from three consecutive losing seasons to a 11-2 campaign and its first ever BCS ranking.
What came before, the senior QB says, shaped his ability and his outlook.
“He embraces challenges,” San Jose State coach Ron Caragher said. “I think that’s the difference. He likes challenges — he embraces that, and he uses that as an opportunity to grow and develop.”
That attitude has made the difference across a career that may lead Fales to being a first-round selection in next year’s NFL draft. Fales’ pilgrimage began in 2009 at Nevada, the only school to offer him a scholarship out of high school. He redshirted his freshman season, but after it was clear that eventual NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick would be the face of the future, Fales transferred to Monterey Peninsula College. More than anything, he thought, the ability to play and be happy in a program was important.
But at the junior college, playing time was still something to be earned. At one point, while rotating the first five games, Fales couldn’t help but wonder if his longtime dream was something of the past.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it back to Division I college football, and I knew that was something I might have to accept,” Fales said. “I learned a lot about myself and just making tough decisions like that, and in the process, I think I matured a lot. … I wouldn’t change anything — my whole journey.”
Fales accepted an invitation to walk on at Wyoming after his first year at MPC. After he took summer classes, however, the Cowboys signed a pair of quarterbacks, and Fales returned to junior college. The 6-3 Fales became close with his MPC coach, Mike Rasmussen, who he said taught him to stay in the moment, to filter out the “outside stuff” and to take advantage of every opportunity to improve.
While briefly at Wyoming, Fales met a sports psychologist who fostered both a new post-football career focus and a new interest in sports psychology in his own game, which he credits for his success.
By the time Fales landed at San Jose State, already a victory in his mind, he probably appreciated it more than most quarterbacks in his position. The journey has taught him to take nothing for granted and stay hungry. At Trent Dilfer’s Elite 11 camp this summer, invited as a college counselor for top high school quarterbacks, Fales emphasized the honor as a chance to pick the brains of other college quarterbacks and coaches who were there.
When former San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre left to take the head job at Colorado, leading to many staff changes, Fales embraced it, even if it meant the new system called for a more balanced attack featuring a greater emphasis on the Spartans’ running backs. Never satisfied, Fales has continued to improve this offseason, working on his strength and the mechanics of his deep passes to expand his range.
For a few nights before any game, Fales goes through offensive coordinator Jimmie Dougherty’s script, play-by-play, creating a mental highlight reel and using previous tape viewing to anticipate how the defense will react.
“So when I do see that in a game, it’s not like the first time I’ve ever seen it,” Fales said. “It’s pretty weird, after the game, sometimes I’ll stop and I’ll be like, ‘Wow — I visualized what happened before the game even started.’ ”
Gophers coach Jerry Kill is hoping he doesn’t see Fales passing all over his squad.
“He throws the back-shoulder throw as good as anybody in the country,” Kill said, adding later: “Frankly I think we’ll know even more about our football team than we know now, so it’s a great challenge for our kids and players.”