It’s been more than a year since Boise State sophomore quarterback Ryan Finley — the projected starter — was made available to the local media.
The three players chasing him — sophomore Tommy Stuart, redshirt freshman Alex Ogle and true freshman Brett Rypien — have been off-limits since the day each arrived on campus.
And a week into fall camp, the Broncos haven’t run a single offensive play in the media’s presence.
That creates a shroud of secrecy over the program’s latest quarterback competition, just the second open battle since Kellen Moore won the job in 2008.
Finley is the favorite, no doubt. Rypien was the highest rated out of high school. Stuart is the only one who has started a college game (it was junior college, but still ...). Ogle gets the least outside attention.
But what would these guys bring to the Broncos’ offense? Perhaps their previous coaches can shed some light.
Former Paradise Valley High coach Donnie Yantis called Finley a “once-in-a-lifetime” quarterback. Finley led Paradise Valley (Phoenix) to the playoffs for the first time in three years as a senior, tossing 35 touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
He threw game-winning touchdown passes on fourth down in back-to-back games.
“He’s a ridiculous competitor,” said Yantis, now the coach at Arizona Christian University. “He can’t stand losing. ... His intelligence and leadership and competitiveness will help him battle in that position.”
Finley didn’t play tackle football until his freshman year of high school but became the starter as a sophomore. He’s an exceptional athlete, competing in football, basketball, tennis and track and field during high school and hockey and flag football before that.
His athleticism often goes unnoticed because he’s 6-foot-4 and he wasn’t a running quarterback in high school.
“He played point guard on a state championship basketball team,” Yantis said. “We didn’t want to showcase his running skills because he was all we had. We didn’t want to get him hurt.”
Yantis, who keeps in touch with Finley, expects him to win the starting job but likes the Broncos’ approach of keeping the competition open into fall camp.
Finley needed shoulder surgery shortly after he arrived in 2013 but returned at less than full strength for spring ball in 2014 and won the backup job. He tossed two TD passes in relief in the loss at Air Force.
“He’s not going to let up,” Yantis said. “He’s going to battle every single day. I don’t think it matters that he’s not the guy. When he becomes the guy, the confidence will pour out of his veins.”
Yantis spoke to Finley the day after his April arrest on alcohol and resisting charges. The coach reminded him that the response to a mistake is more important than the actual event; Finley, he said, already understood.
“Integrity and character are very important to him,” Yantis said. “I have no doubt he’ll never let something like that happen again.”
Butte College coach Jeff Jordan thought he was being pranked when ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. called him with a QB suggestion.
“Do you have the next Aaron Rodgers for me?” Jordan asked, referring to the Green Bay Packers star who played at Butte.
“No,” Kiper told him, “I have the next Drew Brees.”
That’s how Stuart (5-11, 196 pounds), who is from Baltimore, ended up at a junior college near Chico, Calif.
Stuart attended classes but didn’t join the football team in 2012, the JC version of grayshirting. He was named the Nor-Cal Conference Offensive Player of the Year and MVP of the state championship game as a freshman in 2013.
Stuart completed 64.7 percent of his passes with 29 TDs and three interceptions.
“He’s undersized, but man he can play,” Jordan said. “He really did a good job of managing our offense and making other people around him better.”
Stuart could have played another year at Butte, but then-Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford recruited him to fill a huge experience void in the quarterback room. Stuart arrived in January 2014 and served as third-stringer. He didn’t play, maintaining his three seasons of eligibility.
Stuart led Calvert Hall College High to its first state championship as a junior. That’s where Kiper went to high school, which is why he helped Stuart land at Butte.
Stuart could have accepted a Division II scholarship offer out of high school, Jordan said, but he wanted to aim higher.
“He’s such a great kid,” Jordan said. “I miss him because he’s fun to have around and he loves the game. ... We’ve probably had eight or nine Division I quarterbacks in the last 16 years. He ranks up there with the best of them. He doesn’t have the arm strength or size of an Aaron Rodgers, but he can really make plays.”
Ogle was Sanford’s hand-picked recruit as he dashed across the country during the coaching changeover in January 2014. Ogle impressed Sanford with his arm strength and personality during a visit to Florida, where the 6-foot-3 QB tossed 22 touchdown passes for Jensen Beach High.
“I trust him,” Jensen Beach coach Tim Caffey told the Vero Beach Press Journal during the 2013 season. “I know the kid can play and he has more physical tools than just his arm. He has sneaky athleticism.”
Ogle joined the Broncos last summer and redshirted during the 2014 season.
Rypien (6-foot-2) was the centerpiece of a two-year group of boys who transformed Shadle Park High (Spokane) into a winner. He graduated early to join the Broncos in January.
“The big thing was kids that might not have played football traditionally at that school could see the things that we were going to be able to do with him, even his freshman year throwing the ball,” said former Shadle Park coach Alan Stanfield, now the offensive coordinator at Whitworth. “It helped get some basketball kids. By the end of their careers, they were loving football just as much as, if not more than, basketball because they got to catch so many balls.”
Rypien threw for 13,044 career yards and amassed 50 TDs and a state record 4,552 yards as a senior. He was a consensus four-star recruit and the Washington State Player of the Year.
He made his varsity debut late in his freshman season after posting a 6-0 record with the junior varsity. Shadle Park didn’t win any of his starts that year, but the experience contributed to the player Rypien became, Stanfield said.
“He was basically, by his junior year, a coach on the field,” Stanfield said. “We ran a very fast no-huddle — faster than most. You can’t do that with a lot of high school kids. He just had a knack for that kind of ‘field general’ mentality. He seemed to be more comfortable the faster we would go.”