Nate Ketteringham figured his first season on the Sacramento State football team would be pretty uneventful.
As a true freshman expected to redshirt, Ketteringham would have time to get acclimated to the offense while watching the four quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart perform in practice and on game days.
That was before the unexpected happened.
Six games into the season, starter Daniel Kniffin, backup Kolney Cassel and third stringer Nolan Merker were done for the season because of injuries. Cassel, an SMU transfer, was the last to go down, suffering a shoulder injury in the third quarter at Montana State on Oct. 10.
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Before a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 20,000 in football-crazed Bozeman, Mont., the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Ketteringham entered when coach Jody Sears went with the San Diego native over Alexis Robinson, a raw transfer who redshirted at Baylor the previous season.
He got valuable experience last year. And now we are about to find out the growth he has made. Nate’s put on 10 to 15 pounds, and he’s looking stronger and sharper.
Sac State coach Jody Sears, on quarterback Nate Ketteringham
“It was loud, it was cold and I was nervous,” said Ketteringham, who threw for 40 yards and rushed for 18 in the Hornets’ 35-13 loss. “I got thrown into the fire, but it was fun, too.”
It wasn’t Ketteringham’s first go-around on a big stage. He played in the 2014 CIF State Bowl Open Division championship game for Centennial of Corona against vaunted De La Salle of Concord, throwing and rushing for a touchdown in Centennial’s 63-42 loss in front of 12,000 fans at StubHub Center in Carson.
“That atmosphere was incredible, a great experience,” said Ketteringham, who passed for 1,890 yards and 16 touchdowns while sharing quarterback duties that season with Anthony Catalano.
Ketteringham survived his college debut in Bozeman and started the final five games, gaining experience with a large group of young Hornets. Sears played 34 underclassmen as Sac State went 2-9 overall and 1-7 in the Big Sky Conference.
With Ketteringham resuming his starting role, the Hornets open the 2016 season Saturday against visiting Western Oregon.
Ketteringham put up respectable numbers last year. He completed 20 of 26 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-13 homecoming win over Idaho State, and he threw for 335 yards and 339 yards in losses to Cal Poly and Northern Arizona. He finished with 1,410 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, three interceptions and 136 rushing yards. Ketteringham’s .615 completion percentage (128 of 208) tied for fifth best in a Hornets season.
Most importantly, Ketteringham ended the year healthy, more seasoned and very confident.
“The team around you helps build that confidence,” he said. “These guys had the confidence in me, so that definitely helped.”
Ketteringham carries that confidence into this season for a team that still is youthful – only eight seniors – but is more experienced.
That youth and last year’s record are why Sac State was picked by the coaches (11th) and media (13th) to remain near the bottom of the 13-team conference.
Ketteringham thinks the prognosticators have it wrong.
“We’re going to be a lot better,” he said. “We’re going to win some games. We’ll see (about the polls). We’re going to keep doing our thing, so we’ll see.”
Quarterback now is one of the Hornets’ deepest positions. Cassel, a junior, and Merker, a sophomore, also have had good fall camps. Kniffin, a junior, is still dealing with a slow-healing shoulder. Robinson is now a wide receiver, while promising Roman Ale is the new true freshman quarterback on the block.
“Nate has some competition,” Sears said. “We’ve got to keep executing and keep the competitive fire hot.”
Still, Sears likes how Ketteringham is developing and calls him “a steal” for the Hornets. He was listed as a three-star quarterback by Rivals.com while in high school, but Ketteringham said his only Division I scholarship offer came from Sac State.
Sears said Ketteringham flew under the radar during his two varsity seasons at Westview High in San Diego before his transfer to Centennial for his senior season.
We’re going to be a lot better. We’re going to win some games. We’ll see (about the polls). We’re going to keep doing our thing, so we’ll see.
Sac State quarterback Nate Ketteringham
“He didn’t have a lot of junior film. He was a little bit of an unknown,” Sears said. “At that spot, there are so many schools that get their quarterbacks early.”
Ketteringham said he liked his visit to Sac State and was impressed with its criminal justice program, since he aspires to work for the FBI. “I liked everything about the atmosphere. It felt like a family,” he said.
Since arriving in Sacramento, Ketteringham has heard a lot about another Sac State quarterback who hailed from Southern California – Garrett Safron, who set most of the program’s passing records as a walk-on.
“They call him G-money, one of the greatest quarterbacks in school history who broke all the records,” Ketteringham said. “I’ve watched highlights of him. My teammates keep telling me I’ve got a lot to live up to. He established a name and body of work to go after.”
Sears sees some of Safron’s attributes in Ketteringham, especially an ability to stay cool under pressure.
“He got valuable experience last year,” Sears said. “And now we are about to find out the growth he has made. Nate’s put on 10 to 15 pounds, and he’s looking stronger and sharper. I’m excited to watch him. I’m excited to watch all the guys play.”
College football previews
- Sunday: The national scene
- Monday: Cal
- Tuesday: Stanford
- Today: Sacramento State
- Thursday: UC Davis
Three Sac State players to watch
CODY DEMPS, WIDE RECEIVER, SENIOR
The 6-foot-4, four-year Hornets basketball standout has quickly worked his way up the depth chart in his first go-around with college football. Demps last played football at Pleasant Grove High School, where as a quarterback he led the Eagles to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship in 2010 and a runner-up finish in 2011. The Hornets need an impact wideout after the departures of Shane Harrison and Nnamdi Agude. They combined for 1,439 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last season.
MANOAH PEARSON, LINEBACKER, SOPHOMORE
The 6-foot, 225-pound sophomore looks to follow in the footsteps of former inside linebacker standouts Todd Davis and Darnell Sankey. Davis is with the Denver Broncos, and Sankey was released Monday by Denver. Even though Pearson started only six games last season as a true freshman, he finished with 77 tackles, second to Sankey. The Carson native is the only Sac State player to receive All-Big Sky Conference preseason recognition.
JORDAN ROBINSON, RUNNING BACK, SENIOR
New assistant head coach Paul Wulff will look to Robinson as he tries to revamp a Hornets rushing attack that ranked last in the Big Sky last season. . Robinson ran for 808 yards and had 978 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns last year but was slowed by a gimpy foot in the final month of the season. His 1,830 all-purpose yards rank eighth in Hornets history.
Sac State football schedule
vs. Western Oregon
at Fresno State
at Weber State
at Idaho State
vs. Montana State
vs. North Dakota
at Northern Colorado
vs. Cal Poly
vs. Portland State
at UC Davis