BOISE — No one can question the resilience of the San Diego State football team.
The Aztecs are the only team in the nation to start 0-3 and reach a bowl this year. They've played eight games decided by seven points or less - and won six.
San Diego State won three of four overtime games this season, five games with fourth-quarter comebacks and three games when trailing by 14 points or more.
"Things may not go great all the time, but our team does a good job of hanging in there and waiting for an opportunity," junior quarterback Quinn Kaehler said.
That is an apt description of Kaehler's experience as well on the eve of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. He tried to walk on to the team in 2010, but was told no thanks. He played two seasons at Diablo Valley College, throwing for 4,044 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2012. But he still didn't have a scholarship offer. Through a relative, he got his film in front of San Diego State offensive coordinator Bob Toledo.
"We needed somebody. We ended up giving him a call," Toledo said.
Kaehler joined the team as a walk-on this spring - at No. 6 on the depth chart.
He did more than hang in there and wait for an opportunity. Kaehler climbed to second on the depth chart by the start of fall camp. Still it was a distant second, behind starter Adam Dingwell.
But Dingwell, battling a back injury, threw five interceptions in the Aztecs' season-opening loss to Eastern Illinois. He went 0-for-5 with an interception to open the second game against Ohio State.
In came the baby-faced Kaehler.
At Ohio State.
In front of 104,984.
"The other QB (Dingwell) was not giving us a chance to win. We put him in just to see how he'd do," coach Rocky Long said. "He exceeded our expectations from the start."
It was a decision that may have saved the Aztecs' season, even if Ohio State won 42-7. Kaehler completed 22-of-36 passes for 216 yards and one touchdown in his debut and was named the starter the next week.
"It was pretty nerve-wracking playing in front of 100,000 fans and the type of atmosphere they have," Kaehler said. "It was really fun at the same time."
He immediately impressed with his demeanor, poise and comfort with the offense. Kaehler is 7-3 as the Aztecs' starter, helping the program extend its bowl streak to a school-record four appearances.
It was Kaehler under center for all those fourth-quarter comebacks and three overtime wins. It was Kaehler who led the Aztecs past Boise State.
He threw three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Aztecs' overtime victory against Nevada. He had three TDs in a narrow win against Air Force. He completed a season-high 76.2 percent of his passes and had two touchdowns in another narrow win against New Mexico.
"He was able to not only manage the game, but make plays and do things to help us win," Toledo said.
Kaehler, 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, has thrown for 2,796 yards and 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season.
And he quickly won credit from coaches and teammates for how he handled the position and his new role.
"The thing that really impresss me about him is he never loses his cool," Toledo said. "He's got great poise. He comes off the field and he knows exactly what's happening to him. He knows what he sees. He knows what the problems are. If he does something poorly, he says, 'Hey, I threw a bad ball.' He knows."
That calmness has impressed his more experienced teammates - even if he Kaehler is not a screamer.
"He's not a very loud quarterback. He lets you know his presence is there," senior left tackle Bryce Quigley said.
Said senior wide receiver Colin Lockett: "Actions speak louder than words. He puts us in a position to make plays. We go out and execute. We're following him."
Dingwell will undergo back surgery in the offseason, and it's uncertain if he will be able to resume his career, Long said. Kaehler has done more than enough to secure the starting job entering the offseason.
And he's definitely earned something else.
"We won't have to say he's a walk-on anymore in January," Long said. "I'm not real smart, but I know you better put your starting quarterback on scholarship."
As is his style, Kaehler responded to the news in low-key fashion.
"It's been a goal of mine," he said. "I'm really happy for my parents that now they don't have to pay for my school."
A resilient team found the determined leader it needed. And a quarterback found a home at last.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph