Zac Cunha is accustomed to earning his spot.
Playing under his father, Larry Cunha, at Roseville High School (Calif.), Zac didn't start at quarterback until his senior season, when he earned all-conference and all-metro honors.
"He definitely didn't play any favorites," Zac Cunha said.
Minot State University freshman Zac Cunha drops back to pass during an August practice at Herb Parker Stadium. Cunha made his first career start against Wayne State College (Neb.) on Saturday.
Cunha got the starting nod quite a bit sooner at Minot State University. The true freshman was under center for the Beavers' second game of the season Saturday at Wayne State College (Neb.), completing 17-of-36 passes for 209 yards, one touchdown and one interception in MSU's 20-6 loss.
While the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder possesses the most size and arm strength of the Beavers' signal-callers, his poise and understanding of the game convinced the MSU coaches to give him a chance. Assistant coach Joe Ford described Cunha, who graduated high school with a 3.98 GPA and scored a 27 on the ACT, as a "football nerd."
"Growing up with my dad as my high school coach, I was always around it," Cunha said. "Even when I'm not at the office, I'm always watching football on TV or my laptop."
MSU's coaches openly regarded Cunha as the Beavers' quarterback of the future, but they didn't expect him to start this soon. Sophomores Bryce Jorgenson and C.J. Evans split snaps last season and battled Cunha for the spot throughout fall camp.
"We gave those other guys a chance," MSU head coach Paul Rudolph said, "but (assistant) coach (Andy) Heitkamp said, 'It's gonna be his first game sooner or later.' He was gonna have those first-game deals sooner or later, it was just when do you wanna have it - this year or next?"
Larry Cunha, who played offensive line at Carrol College in Helena, Mont., said growing up a coach's son helped Zac's development.
"When you're the head coach's son, you're held to a higher standard and need to carry yourself with more integrity," Larry Cunha said. "I think I started trying to preach that into him at a youth soccer game when he was about four or five and my wife (Penny) said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I'm getting him ready for high school.' It wasn't an overnight process."
Rudolph said Zac Cunha has a solid skill set.
"He's got a good arm action, he gets good spin on the ball, he's got a strong arm," he said. "(He has) above-average accuracy, especially on the deep ball. ... And then he's got the right demeanor. He doesn't get flustered a lot, stands in there, maintains his composure."
Cunha was also recruited by Southern Oregon University, California Lutheran University and the University of Redlands (Calif.) before settling on MSU.
"I felt kind of welcomed here," he said. "It was a good situation to come into. They got great facilities and it sounded like a really great program when I was getting recruited. It sounded like an easy choice."
Ford said he saw Cunha make two throws on film before calling Rudolph and suggesting they recruit him. After watching beyond those two plays, Rudolph was convinced.
"We watched a lot of film and thought he had a chance to be a pretty good one," Rudolph said. "That and being a coach's kid, you know he's been around the game. You just hope that you got exactly what you were hoping for, and it appears we did."
Cunha will make his second career start against the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Herb Parker Stadium.