At the start of last season, San Jose State quarterback David Fales had never completed a pass in Division I college football.
This season, Fales is his team’s unquestioned starter and has potential to be an early round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Gophers will play Fales and SJSU at 11 a.m. Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
The senior, a Salinas, Calif., native, was the most accurate passer in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season and led SJSU to an 11-2 record.
”He’s got a good, level head on his shoulders,” SJSU head coach Ron Caragher said after practice Tuesday. “He sees the field well, and he makes good decisions with the football.”
Fales’ dramatic ascent came after a slow start to his college career.
He initially signed with the University of Nevada but transferred to Monterey Peninsula College in Monterey, Calif., after just one season.
Then, after a successful 2010 campaign with Monterey, Fales accepted an invitation to walk on at the University of Wyoming. But that team already had two quarterbacks on the roster, and Fales ultimately returned to Monterey for the 2011 season.
He led Monterey to a Coast Conference co-championship that season and earned conference offensive player of the year honors.
Fales found another Division I suitor in SJSU in December 2011 and enrolled there that spring.
After winning the starting job at SJSU, he morphed into a star.
He threw for 4,193 yards, 33 touchdowns and just 9 interceptions in his first year on campus and earned second-team All-Western Athletic conference honors.
Fales spent part of his summer as a counselor at the Elite 11 high school quarterback camp. There, he worked out with reigning Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, among others.
“It was really just a great experience to go on the field and compete with them,” he said.
This season, Fales returns three of his top receivers, including Noel Grigsby, who had 1,307 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last season.
The Spartans are 1-1 this season. They beat Sacramento State 24-0 in week one but lost to No. 5 Stanford 34-13 on Sept. 7.
After watching film on the Gophers, Fales called the front seven “energetic.”
“They’re big, strong, fast, high-energy guys,” he said.
The Gophers praised Fales’ abilities, but head coach Jerry Kill said his team is excited for the challenge Fales provides.
“We’re going to play a quarterback that most people [see] in the NFL,” Kill said. “I’m anxious to see how the kids respond.”
Senior safety Brock Vereen echoed that sentiment.
“This is our first true, big test,” he said, “and we’re ready for it.”