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NCAA Football ACC FootballNC State Wolfpack

Transfer Pete Thomas Gunning for NC State Quarterback Job

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback Pete Thomas started 21 straight games for the Colorado State Rams as a freshman and sophomore, but he hasn’t appeared in a game since November 2011. He’s hoping to get back on the field this fall as the new NC State quarterback, but his path to the starting role isn’t completely cleared yet.

Thomas transferred to become part of the Pack after former CSU coach Steve Fairchild, who recruited him, was fired at the end of the 2011 football season. At the time, Thomas said he needed a change, but in reality, it was unwanted changes that spurred him to seek a home elsewhere.

Thomas graduated early from Valhalla High School in California and jumped into the starting role for the Rams as a true freshman in 2010, throwing for 2,662 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. His sophomore season was cut short by an ankle injury, and rather than compete with his reliever, Garrett Grayson, to impress new head coach Jim McElwain, Thomas elected to transfer.

He sat out last season, per NCAA transfer guidelines, likely expecting to slide into the starting role after Mike Glennon left for the NFL. But even the best-laid plans can go awry, and after a 7-6 season, NC State fired head coach Tom O’Brien.

Suddenly, rather than shaking the dust off his throwing shoulder and taking over, Thomas faced another unexpected coaching change and another unplanned audition for the starting job.

The Wolfpack’s new head coach, Dave Doeren, told ESPN’s Andrea Adelson on the first day of practice that the QB race was on between Thomas and sophomore Manny Stocker.

“From a coaching standpoint, it’d be great to know by the end of the spring, but I’m not sure that’s realistic yet,” Doeren said.

Thomas has to be seen as the frontrunner at this point based on his experience as a starting quarterback in Division I. In some ways, the coaching change may have helped his chances, because both quarterbacks will be learning new terminology and a new playbook.

Thomas’ 4,269 career yards certainly trump Stocker’s numbers: the true sophomore is 0-for-2 passing in his career, with 18 net rushing yards.

Thomas’ accuracy and decision-making, as well as his ability to fit into the new Wolfpack offense, could be concerns. Thomas has more career interceptions (21) than touchdowns (18) — but he was also sacked 71 times in fewer than two full seasons (on average, more than three sacks per game), so those numbers could improve if he has any semblance of an offensive line protecting him.

Whoever wins the NC State quarterback battle will have a big arm to follow. Before this season, the most uncertainty the team had at quarterback in the last five years was whether former ACC Rookie of the Year Russell Wilson would stick with the program (he didn’t) or Glennon would finally get to run the show.

Even then, the coaching staff was completely confident in both options, with good reason. Wilson went on to a successful stint at Wisconsin and now starts for the Seattle Seahawks, while Glennon threw for 7,411 yards and 63 touchdowns and is expected to be among the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft.

NC State isn’t one of the higher profile gigs in the nation, but the Pack has produced some excellent quarterbacks. Will Thomas be next? Or has a second surprise coaching change, at a second university, thrown another roadblock in his way back into the starting lineup?