CLICK TO ENLARGE
CLICK TO ENLARGE
It has been 16 years since the Colorado football program had two quarterbacks on the roster at the same time who came out of high school rated among the very best in the nation at their position.

Sixteen years.

Say it in the right tone of voice and it sounds like a prison sentence. You can almost hear the judge hammering the gavel and the cell door slamming shut. Plenty of loyal followers of the black, silver and gold believe it's no coincidence the Buffs have been inconsistent and the program has declined over that period.

Coaches have managed to recruit a few highly rated quarterbacks here and there, but depth always seems to be an issue and it often has been the case in Boulder that the underrated signal-callers have out-shined the rated recruits.

Robert Hodge, Joel Klatt and Tyler Hansen for examples.

In just over a year on the job, coach Jon Embree has struggled to overcome many of the problems the program faced when he was hired. He went 3-10 in his first season and many of the same old problems persisted. But he has conquered two of CU's most agonizing droughts.

In November, the Buffs ended their 23-game road losing streak with a victory at Utah. And on national signing day this Wednesday, Embree will celebrate the signature of Shane Dillon, a 6-foot-5 bluechip blond California QB who emerged from last summer's Elite 11 quarterback camp rated the seventh best in a field of 24.

"I think it sends a message because the quarterback is your leader most of the time," Embree said speaking in general about recruiting top quarterbacks and not about any specific player. "It sends a message to other great players out there, Hey, you know what? If I'm a receiver or a tight end or even a running back, you want to go be around that because it makes it easier to run the ball because they're going to play some form of two safeties. If you're a receiver, you know you've got a guy who can get you the ball.

A trigger man. And then up front, to have a chance to play and protect, if you have a very good quarterback, he's going to be evaluated by NFL scouts and that's giving you more opportunities to be evaluated, too.

"I think it's a snowball effect."

A year ago on national signing day with just three quarterbacks on his roster, Embree vowed to upgrade the talent there and create competition. He has succeeded with five quarterbacks set to compete in spring practices and Dillon adding a sixth to the mix when he arrives in the summer.

"All the guys on this team, they know I'm bringing in guys to beat them out," Embree said on his first signing day as CU's coach in 2011. "If they can't beat 'em out, then they're handling their business. That's how it has to be."

Dillon led his team to the CIF San Diego Section D5 championship to cap his senior season. He chose Colorado over offers from Ohio State, Arizona and Vanderbilt among others. He also was in communication with programs such as Oregon, USC, Florida State and Miami at the time he decided to play in Boulder.

"Coach Embree just made us feel so at home," Dillon said last summer when he committed. "He was totally cool and just awesome."

Dillon's enthusiasm for being a Buff never waned throughout CU's first season in the Pac-12 Conference. In fact, he said he did his best to help recruit other good players to play with him in Folsom Field. He is one of at least nine recruits from California expected to sign with CU Wednesday.

Dillon is officially joining the program six months after sophomore-to-be Connor Wood transferred from Texas. Rivals.com rated Wood as the third best pro-style quarterback in the nation in the 2010 class. Rivals ranks Dillon as the 13th best pro-style quarterback in the nation this year, giving the Buffs two top-flight quarterbacks on the same roster for the first time since Koy Detmer and Jeremy Weisinger played for coach Rick Neuheisel in 1996.

Detmer was finishing a stellar career and Weisinger was fresh out of a Texas high school hoping to prove himself worthy of the lofty praise he received in recruiting.

His stay in Boulder was forgettable and may have been the start of the downward spiral in recruiting quarterbacks to CU. 

Weisinger and others such Adam Bledsoe, Craig Ochs and even Cody Hawkins proved that just because you're highly rated by recruiting services or summer passing academies, doesn't always translate to touchdown passes and victories on autumn Saturdays.

But both Dillon and Wood are known for being very competitive, which is a trait Embree said he prizes in recruiting at every position, but especially quarterback.

"At that position, you have to compete for it every day cause you are a play away," Embree said. "You can't hide it like you can at other positions if a guy goes down. So you have to have that mindset that you're going to be the guy. I expect all our guys to be like that, to come in here and compete for it."

Wood is considered the frontrunner to earn the starting job next fall because he has spent a season in the program as a redshirt and knows the offense and the system. It's also a boost to his candidacy that fellow sophomore-to-be Nick Hirschman will miss at least half of spring ball recovering from foot surgery.

Wood is as motivated as they come. He could have stayed at Texas after finishing third in the quarterback competition in fall camp last season and waited for his chance to lead a nationally renowned program, but his drive to play was too great and he spotted opportunity in Boulder in a pro-style offense taught by coaches with plenty of NFL ties and experience.

He paid his way -- flight, rental car, hotel, meals -- to three CU road games last fall because as a transfer, NCAA rules did not allow the program to bring him along. Wood wanted to get a look at how CU operated on road trips and see some of the Pac-12 venues once to prepare for the future when he hopes to return to them as the Buffs' starter.

"It was a conviction of mine to go help support the team on their away games and to look at different college environments that I would be playing in in the future," Wood said. "It was a good thing for me to get to experience, seeing how the environments are in the Pac-12 and seeing how the teams we're going to next year play in person."

Wood seemed surprised when told during a recent interview that Colorado hadn't landed a quarterback recruit with his credentials in more than a decade. He repeated the word "decade?"

"It's tough to get those great quarterbacks when you're not doing as well in terms of your record," Wood said. "You can't get those really sought-after guys. But with coach Embree here, and coach (Eric) Bieniemy and really the whole coaching staff really knows how to recruit well. They've brought in some guys on visits that are playmakers. I don't know what to say about other quarterbacks. I'm just looking at it from where we are now and building a new culture and a new standard here at Colorado. It's not going to be the same old losing seasons as some people are used to here. It's going to be different."