Nick Hirschman isn't making any predictions when it comes to how the looming quarterback battle at Colorado will play out, but he is willing to say he believes he has an advantage in the competition.
The third-year sophomore is the only quarterback on the roster with any playing experience at the college level now that senior Brent Burnette has decided not to return to the program after his May graduation.
Hirschman played for the first time in his career last fall, mostly at the end of blowout losses when he replaced starter Tyler Hansen. He started one game at Arizona State but was pulled after nearly throwing two first-quarter interceptions.
He finished the season with appearances in five games. He completed 18 of 35 passes for 192 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
"I think it gives me an incredible advantage," Hirschman said of his limited experience. "Things don't look the same in practice. When I was younger playing on the scout team, it was a huge step to be playing in the real offense. Then going from playing in the real offense in practice to playing in the game is a whole other giant step. I think that on-field knowledge and that on-field experience and the roar of the crowd and seeing all those guys out there who are Division I athletes ..."
Hirschman also feels like CU fans haven't seen what he truly has to offer because he played on one good foot last fall.
He suffered a fractured fifth metatarsal in his left foot late in August practices and underwent surgery. He rushed to come back and coaches believe he never was healthy again the rest of the season. Hirschman admitted in an interview this week that his coaches are right.
He underwent a repeat surgery this offseason and says he is nearly fully recovered, though doctors are still requiring him to wear a walking boot.
He participates in only some parts of coaches weekly workouts with his teammates this week. His portion consists of walking up the stadium steps in Folsom Field on his hands while a teammate holds his legs like a wheelbarrow.
"It's a real good time," Hirschman joked.
Coach Jon Embree met with beat writers who cover his program on Thursday and said he still doesn't know whether Hirschman will be ready to fully participate in spring ball when practices begin in eight days.
Embree said if Hirschman is not 100 percent healthy, he will likely hold him out of most of the work until the second half of spring following spring break.
That would provide an additional three weeks of healing.
"I'm sure he'll be able to do some drills and things, 7-on-7 and maybe some of the team stuff," Embree said. "I want to make sure he's 100 percent."
Embree said he sees the competition for the starting job as a two-man race entering spring practices between Hirschman and fellow third-year sophomore Connor Wood, though redshirt freshmen John Schrock and Stevie Joe Dorman could certainly perform well and broaden the field. So could true freshman Shane Dillon when he arrives this summer.
Embree doesn't plan on naming a starter until August unless one player completely dominates the action.
Perception outside the program is that it's Wood's job to lose because he was so highly rated in recruiting in 2010 when he initially chose Texas.
He left Texas last August and transferred to CU after finishing third in the Longhorns fall camp quarterback battle.
Embree offered this when asked about the perception that Wood is the favorite.
"If I was Nick Hirschman, I'd be ecstatic because all the pressure is on Connor Wood and not me," Embree said. "... I don't have any preconceived notions and I know none of the coaches do either, which is the beauty of being able to be in this situation."
Hirschman said he is nearing 100 percent and is certain that he will be fully healed and cleared to play at some point this spring, if not for the very first session.
Quarterback coach Rip Scherer said in an interview last month that there were times last spring and summer when Hirschman looked very good. He is hoping to see that player return.
Hirschman said the injury caused him the most problems in his drop and not when planting and throwing. He said it made him appear slower and more methodical than he normally is.
"I'm sure that during the season it was always nagging me," he said. "It was always a problem. I wasn't able to do certain things that I'm so used to being able to do, that I've been able to do my whole career playing quarterback. It was a different perspective not being able to accomplish certain things. I think it definitely affected the way I played, but like I said, it's not like I had a choice. I had to be out there for the team."
Despite two surgeries and a few lost opportunities because of the injury, Hirschman says there were some positive developments that came from his injury.
He said it allowed him to focus on the mental side of the game and he now has a better understanding of what coaches want from the quarterback in this offense.
Like Embree, Hirschman doesn't put much stock in the notion that Wood is the favorite to win the job simply because recruiting services rated him higher coming out of high school.
"I've been talking with some of the guys just reminiscing about high school days," Hirschman said. "We all came from winning high school programs. We all came from huge high school programs. We all put up huge numbers in high school, but again, this was a huge wake up call for me, you learn when you get into the college game, nobody cares. Nobody cares how good you were in high school. It's all about what you can produce now. It's a whole different game out there."