Quarterback David Fales and his San Jose State teammates are accustomed to being overlooked.
After a 2012 in which Fales threw for 4139 yards, 33 touchdowns, and led the Spartans to a historic 11-2 finish, that’s changing.
National media outlets have put a spotlight on Fales, prompting good-natured ribbing from his teammates.
“I can’t go anywhere without guys razzing me,” he said of his new-found recognition.
“He’s Mister David Fales,” linebacker Keith Smith added with a laugh.
Fales comes off somewhat uncomfortable with the notoriety. He said he avoids reading the glowing praise contained within links sent to him by family and friends.
“I know that it wasn’t just me [behind San Jose State's succcessful 2012],” he said. “It’s just my name behind the stats, but the wide receivers were making great plays and the offensive line was doing a great job blocking.”
With Fales’ success and recognition comes residual attention for the rest of the Spartans. And soon enough, the quarterback is going to have a lot more said and written about him.
Though his SJSU cohorts poke fun, they know their quarterback will stay grounded, as Smith explained.
“One thing I respect about this guy,” the linebacker said of Fales, “is he’s the exact same person. He works just as hard as, if not harder than last year.”
Keeping sight of the goals ahead, while remembering from where they came led SJSU to one of the most improbable seasons in recent memory. The Spartans finished ranked No. 21 in both the AP and Coaches polls, and just eight teams finished the year with more wins. The Spartans played fewer games than all but three (Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oregon) of those teams.
To be included among such elite football company is a tremendous deviation from just a few years ago, when the Spartans went 3-22 over two seasons.
Turning San Jose State football into a winner wasn’t so much a rebuilding project for then-head coach Mike MacIntyre; this effort started from the ground-up. Tradition and recent success are invaluable recruiting tools, but MacIntyre needed to pitch investment on the ground floor.
Finding hidden recruiting gems with both the desire and the necessary talent to develop a winning program from scratch meant searching where other coaches missed on the recruiting trail.
“Within our team, a lot of guys are the ones who got overlooked,” Smith said. “We never got as much hype, so we’ve stayed humble. That’s one of the strengths of our team.”
Among them is Fales, who has grown from hidden gem to rising star. College football pundits as well as NFL scouts have taken notice of his play making ability.
His past slights remain motivation for Fales to accomplish even more — especially in San Jose State’s first year as members of the Mountain West Conference.
“When you play big teams, you get big recognition. Now, we’re in a big-time conference,” Smith said.
For Fales, there is added motivation in playing MWC competition — and two teams in particular.
Nevada initially recruited and signed Fales out of Salinas (Calif.) Palma High. But while Colin Kaepernick was laying the foundation for his outstanding career, Fales was struggling to adjust to the run-heavy Pistol offense as a redshirt.
Searching for a better fit, he enrolled at Monterey Peninsula College. Another future conference counterpart came calling after his first year there.
Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen offered Fales the opportunity to walk on shortly after Austyn Carta-Samuels transferred to Vanderbilt, but Fales said he “didn’t see being successful” in the situation.
Brett Smith, the Cowboys’ current starter, had a semester’s head start in learning the offense and saw his walk-on offer as more of an insurance policy for UW than opportunity to play.
Fales said that being passed over fuels his desire to win.
“This is the perfect schedule. When I was at [junior college], I was like, ‘I want to play Nevada at Nevada.’”
The Spartans travel to Reno on Nov. 16.
“I wanted to play Wyoming at Wyoming too,” he added. The Cowboys visit Spartan Stadium on Oct. 26. “But that’s fine. They can come [to SJSU].”
Spartan Stadium was less than welcoming to visitors last season. SJSU went 5-1 there, which included notching two of its most impressive wins.
The Spartans held off BYU and Louisiana Tech in consecutive weeks to ensure the program’s first bowl bid since 2006.
SJSU then capitalized on its postseason opportunity, out-grinding Bowling Green’s outstanding defense in the Military Bowl.
Each of those three, season-defining victories were decided by single digits.
“Having those wins, the little things that we did, [showed] we learned our lessons in how to succeed,” Smith said.
Mastering details was the lesson SJSU carried over from 2011. The Spartans finished that season 5-7, losing four games by just 10 points or fewer.
The 2012 opener continued that trend. SJSU mounted a fourth quarter rally against a Stanford Cardinal bunch coming off two consecutive BCS bowl appearances, but a late turnover and field goal dropped the Spartans to 0-1.
The near-miss laid the foundation for SJSU’s 11-1 finish, Smith said.
“The confidence to know we could play with a team like Stanford actually helped us,” he explained.
MacIntyre parlayed the Spartans’ 2012 success into a five-year, $10 million gig at Colorado, another program in desparate need of a makeover.
He leaves behind a Spartan team in great shape, which Ron Caragher takes over.
“It’s been a transition. We’re ironing the kinks out,” Fales said of the coaching change. “We have the talent and we have the veterans. It’s about getting everyone on the same page and to buy in.”
In addition to MacIntyre, the Spartans must replace nine starters.
“[Offensive lineman] David Quessenberry, [fullback] Ina [Liaina],[running back] De’Leon [Eskridge]: those are key positions,” Fales said. “You have to fill out your team. But it’s been a good, a really smooth transition.”
Caragher had a successful tenure at the University of San Diego, and looks to continue the recent success Torero football graduates have enjoyed elsewhere. His USD predecessors, David Shaw (Stanford) and Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco 49ers), now lead the two most successful football teams in the Bay Area.
Silicon Valley is riding a sports bubble. The Spartans are battling for attention with the reigning Rose Bowl champion Cardinal; NFC champion 49ers; defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants; and the 2012 MLB Playoff participating Oakland A’s.
Standing out among such company is a chore, but it continues to stoke the Spartans’ collective fire.
“One of the Bay Area [TV network] sports trucks came by and had the Cal logo, and the Stanford logo and the Giants. [SJSU] was nowhere to be found on it,” Smith said. “We’re overlooked, not even thought about. It’s motivation to prove who we are.
“It fuels us because we have something to prove: that we’re one of the top teams in the Bay,” he added.