BOULDER - Nick Hirschman chooses his friends wisely . . . most of them, anyway.
Well into his third month of college life at the University of Colorado, Hirschman has gravitated toward the big men on campus - offensive and defensive linemen.
Hirschman, of Los Gatos, Calif., is a quarterback, so as he says about hanging with O-linemen, "But, of course, that makes sense."
As for his affinity for D-linemen, the guys who daily paste an imaginary bulls-eye on his back, he's not sure other than offering, "I like to think I'm a football player-kind of guy. I've always identified well with everyone - especially linemen for some reason."
Currently running No. 3 behind junior Tyler Hansen and senior Cody Hawkins, Hirschman's unofficial "fave five" includes redshirt freshmen David Bakhtiari and Gus Handler, both offensive linemen; sophomores Nick Kasa and Forrest West, both defensive linemen; and tight end Alex Wood, a redshirt freshman of whom Hirschman says, "He does a good job blocking, so you've got to love him up."
A January enrollee, Hirschman has developed well enough through spring drills to allow offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Eric Kiesau and passing game coordinator/receivers coach Robert Prince to experiment with redshirt freshman Seth Lobato at receiver. Lobato, a 2009 walk-on from Eaton, spent last season at quarterback and still is getting work at that position.
But whether Hirschman is ticketed for a redshirt this fall remains to be seen. He's willing - if that's what the coaching staff wants - and he admits that he's not ready to challenge either Hansen or Hawkins for the starting job.
"I'm an athlete and I want to go out and play," he said. "But if the team needs me to redshirt, I will do that 100 percent. If they need me to come out and play, or be a role player, I'll do that.
"I just think I need to learn a little more before I step in there with guys who are little more talented. I need to earn that spot; that's not mine, that's not going to be given to me. I need to go out there and work for it. When I'm ready, I'm sure it'll be available."
At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and excluding the 6-5 Lobato, Hirschman is the tallest QB on CU's roster. He moves well enough but is not as elusive as Hansen, although Kiesau noted early in spring drills that Hirschman can get himself out of harm's way.
In last week's second spring scrimmage, Hirschman completed three of 11 passes for 30 yards, with one interception. Two weeks earlier, in Scrimmage No. 1, he was six of 11 for 39 yards and had one run for two yards.
"I've finally been able to pick up a little of the offense and the wheels are beginning to turn up there," he said. "It's been real fun and everybody is helpful. It's great."
A major challenge, he said, is mastering "reads, the basic reads on pass plays. My high school was a little different. We had numbered routes instead of concept routes. That's been a little different for me . . .
"(But) the hardest part definitely has been protections, audibles, all that - just all the terminology and things you have to know. It's a lot of hours with the playbook, just sitting there and reading it over."
With 11 of 15 spring practices behind the Buffs, Kiesau has zeroed in on two corrections he wants to make in Hirschman's throwing motion: "A big windup, like a pitcher, and he dips his head, his head goes forward . . . I have to get him to be a little more straight up when he separates and delivers the ball. He'll do it."
Continued Kiesau: "Mechanics are always a touchy deal. They don't change overnight. When he's thinking about it, he does a good job. Sometimes he's got so much on his mind, thinking about the play, the formation or the defense, he'll sometimes go back to his old mechanics.
"I'm kind of letting that slide a little bit because I know he's got a lot on his mind . . . we'll have time to work on that."
Hirschman's introduction to the increased speed of the game has gone as he expected. He's discovered that the best way to apply the brakes is to learn as much as he can about the offense and every player's role in it.
"It's what I thought, but I don't think anybody can gauge actually how fast some of these guys are and how much quicker decisions have to be made," he said. "It's very difficult to get used to it.
"Now that we're in our (fourth) week and I know a little bit more, it's becoming easier. The way you slow the game down is by your knowledge of it. That's what I'm working on."
As much as evaluating Hirschman on his mechanics and grasp of the playbook, Kiesau is gauging his new QB's presence in the huddle - as big a factor as there is at his position.
"It's how you operate, how you do in the huddle, how you command when a guy makes a mistake or when he does something well," Kiesau said. "That's what I'm looking for from him. If that guy can jump in the huddle, call a play, go to the line of scrimmage and get us in the play, I'll be pleased.
"The execution part will come with more film, more studying the playbook - and he's done that. The guy has stepped in."
BUFF BITS: The format for Saturday's spring game (1:30 p.m., Folsom Field) will differ from formats of seasons past. After coaches select two captains for each of two squads at mid-week, a player draft will be conducted to stock their two teams. The coaching staff also will be divided, with running backs coach Darian Hagan heading up one staff and offensive line coach Denver Johnson leading the other. The game will feature 10-minute quarters and a halftime. Coach Dan Hawkins said this format offers a break in the spring routine of having the first offense face the second defense, or vice versa. "It's a way to get some competition going . . . there should be a lot more intensity and excitement" for the players, Hawkins said, adding, "It's the first time we've had enough guys to do this." . . . . The spring game captains won't necessarily be the Buffs' 2010 captains. Players usually vote on captains in August camp, and Hawkins said that would be the case this season . . . . Also scheduled Saturday is Healthy Kids Day, which begins at 11 a.m. at Folsom Field. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit CUBuffs.com/springgame . . . . A number of players were held out of Monday's practice, but Hawkins expects the majority to play in the spring game - among them linebacker B.J. Beatty, receivers Will Jefferson and Markques Simas and running back Brian Lockridge. Running back Rodney "Speedy" Stewart will participate in individual work but is not likely to play, Hawkins said. Also expected to be held out for academic reasons are offensive linemen Bryce Givens and Max Tuioti-Mariner. Players previously injured and definitely out include receiver Scotty McKnight, offensive linemen Ryan Miller and Matt Bahr and defensive lineman Nate Bonsu . . . . In Givens' absence for most of the past week, Hawkins said sophomore Ryan Dannewitz has proved a versatile and able substitute who can play guard or tackle . . . . With tailback numbers low this spring, walk-on Quentin Hildreth, a redshirt freshman, has taken advantage by improving in pass protection as well as running the ball. Hildreth, a 5-foot-8, 180-pounder from Denver East, has had "a great camp . . . he's got tremendous vision and is very quick," Hawkins said. "He's very 'Speedy-like,' hard to track down. He's one guy who has stood out." With only three able backs for Saturday, one might be pressed to play for both teams, Hawkins said . . . . Nick Bernal, the graduate assistant in the athletic media relations department, flew to Green Bay Monday to interview for a full-time internship position with the Packers. The NFL team's assistant public relations director is Adam Woullard, a CU graduate who also worked in sports information.