Tyler Lantrip the new face for Nevada

Nobody has to tell Tyler Lantrip about the player he is on the verge of replacing. Lantrip has watched him for years.

Even before Lantrip and Colin Kaepernick ended up at Nevada together, the two worked out during the summers with former California coach Roger Theder, now a quarterbacks guru. It was Theder who told him that Kaepernick was going to Nevada when Lantrip made the same decision.

“Oh, yeah? I’ll take Colin down,” Lantrip jokingly told Theder.

It did not quite work out that way. Lantrip served as the backup to Kaepernick the past three seasons, watching as the dual-threat quarterback smashed school and NCAA records along the way.

Now Lantrip has his opportunity to start in his final season with the Wolf Pack. He, sophomore Mason Magleby and redshirt freshman Cody Fajardo are in the middle of a three-man race for the job headed into the spring game Saturday, but coach Chris Ault has made it clear that Lantrip is the front-runner to replace the face of the program.

“I don’t feel pressure from outside but I put pressure on myself,” Lantrip said in a telephone interview. “I know what we accomplished last season, and I know what it did for this town. That’s something I want to do for this city again. I know what it would mean to put together another season like we had. We can’t be content with winning the WAC championship. We have to focus on doing it again.”

Indeed, Nevada posted the best season in school history in 2010, winning a share of the WAC championship en route to a 13-1 record and No. 11 ranking in the final AP poll. The highlight, of course, was the shocking upset of Boise State. None of that would have been possible without the steely maturity of Kaepernick, who blossomed in his senior season.

Kaepernick learned the Pistol offense on the job, having had the opportunity to start for nearly his entire Nevada career. That allowed him to build toward his incredible 2010 season. Lantrip is headed into his senior season, and has no such luxury. The start to the schedule is also brutal with four straight road games. The Wolf Pack open at Oregon, and also play at Texas Tech and at Boise State.

Lantrip has only thrown 23 passes in his career and carried the ball 24 times. But because he has learned behind Kaepernick and been in this offense for so long, he is best suited for the challenge initially. But he will have to learn how to handle heightened expectations while getting used to a different set of teammates and dealing with questions about Kaepernick.

He deftly answered them during this interview, but there will be more as the season nears. The comparisons are unavoidable when you are replacing a player who did as much for Nevada as Kaepernick did.

As for what he brings to the field, Lantrip is a different style quarterback than Kaepernick. He is more comfortable throwing the ball as opposed to running it, keeping his eyes downfield when he feels pressure in the pocket, as opposed to immediately taking off.

Still, Lantrip has worked on his speed and quickness so he can run a little more. Nevada fans will recall Kaepernick was not a running quarterback when he got to Reno, either. But there will be no mistaking the two in 2011, even if the offense remains relatively similar.

Sitting behind Kaepernick for three years has been a “humbling experience. It has its ups and downs. When you don’t get an opportunity to play in a game, it’s frustrating at times but that’s where my faith comes in. I worked through some of those times knowing my time is coming.”