Football is back

QB competition will be key for Martin's Mavericks

New Colorado Mesa head coach Russ Martin acts like a defensive lineman during a play Thursday at the first practice for the Mavericks at Bergman Field. Martin was pleased with his first practice, noting that many of the players remembered the offense and defense from spring practices.

Energy and excitement usually accompany a new football coach.

An opportunity to win a starting position does as well.

Competition for starting jobs, including quarterback, got under way Thursday morning on the first day of practice at Bergman Field.

“Overall I felt very good,” CMU coach Russ Martin said. “I think there was pretty good retention from the spring into the fall for the first workout. There was a lot of excitement, energy and enthusiasm.”

Four quarterbacks are competing for the starting job, including transfer Austen Fales.

“I love it here,” Fales said, “from the facilities to the coaching staff. They are all from good schools. I really like Coach Martin. We get along really good. I’m not afraid to go up and talk to him. I like the offense we’re running.”

The junior from Salinas, Calif., is going against returning players Jason Haferman, Chris Henderson and Deke Cisco. Henderson started two games last season.

“I think the quarterbacks are understanding stuff,” Martin said. “We have the receivers getting in the right places. That’s what we want. We’ll refine some things as we go. It’s very basic what we teach. We have to be extremely good with the basic fundamentals with our offense.”

Fales (6-foot, 207 pounds) played two years at Hartnell (Calif.) Junior College, leading the team to a win in the Living Breath Foundation Bowl. He was the game MVP, an all-conference pick and completed 158 of 262 passes for 1,774 yards with 16 touchdowns.

Fales was recruited by the former Colorado Mesa coaching staff, but he chose to go to Central Connecticut State, where he was offered a full-ride scholarship, Fales said.

He finished his associate’s degree early and started taking classes at Central Connecticut in the spring of 2012 and participated in spring ball.

“I didn’t like the offense, it was more of a triple option,” Fales said. “I felt like if I stayed there, I’d be an average Joe there.”

He called Martin in May and was told he could compete for the starting job.

Fales didn’t wait to come to campus this week. He’s been in Grand Junction all summer, he said, learning the playbook and working out with the team.

“Today was a learning period,” Fales said. “It was fast when it needed to be fast, but we definitely slowed it down to teach a lot of the new guys what we’re doing.”

The quarterbacks will have to know the offense inside and out to be successful.

Whoever wins the job will have the opportunity to change the play sent in from the sideline at the line of scrimmage if the quarterback feels the play won’t work against the defensive alignment.

“It gives a lot of power to the quarterback,” Haferman said. “Coach trusts us with that. We have to earn it, but the more and more he gets comfortable with us running the offense, he’ll give us power to change the call at the line. The quarterbacks have to be on top of this playbook.”

The junior from Fort Collins is confident he knows the playbook and that the Mavericks will be ready for the season, which starts Aug. 30 at Humboldt State (Calif.) University.

“It was a great summer,” Haferman said. “We got a lot of good things done chemistry-wise. We got a lot stronger and a lot quicker. We really came together as a team. From the spring, I felt we made good strides and we’re already getting better this first day, I feel like.”

About a dozen players didn’t participate in the first practice. Running back Zach Adair and offensive lineman Isaac Valentine are out for the season with knee injuries. Several more were awaiting results of an NCAA required sickle-cell test and are expected to be cleared in the next few days.

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark has the sickle-cell trait and can’t play at a high altitude.

Coaching change: Colorado Mesa defensive backs coach Miles Kochevar took a graduate assistant position with his alma mater, Colorado State University. Tell Hammerstrom and former Mesa player Tanner Whaley will coach the defensive backs now. Donnie Holmes will return next week from his NFL internship with the Philadelphia Eagles. He will coach the wide receivers.


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