SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Much like the Cal State Sacramento football program that he plays for, Kevin Thomson has learned to endure tough times before tasting some success.

After a standout high school career as a quarterback in Auburn, Wash., Thomson did not take a snap for another three years. He redshirted his first season at Nevada-Las Vegas but did not play the next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to correct an elbow injury in his throwing arm.

He eventually left UNLV before getting a call from some assistant coaches at Cal State Sacramento. All the intensive rehabilitation therapy and workouts have paid off. Thomson has been the starting quarterback for Sacramento for the last three seasons.

“That was a tough surgery to go through,” Thomson said. “At times, I questioned whether football was in the cards or not. But my parents kept reminding me to work hard and good things will happen.”

Well, good things have happened not only for Thomson, but for Sacramento’s football team as well. After struggling through a 2-8 season last year, the Hornets boast a 4-2 record and are ranked in the FCS Top 25 for the first time since 2011.

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The games keep getting bigger. Cal State Sacramento, ranked No. 17 in the coaches poll and 15 in the media poll, will host a homecoming game Saturday against No. 5-ranked Montana.

Montana is coached by Bobby Hauck — the same coach at UNLV who recruited Thomson. Thomson also practiced one season at UNLV with Dalton Sneed — who has since left UNLV to join Hauck at Montana as the starting quarterback.

“Lots of story lines,” Thomson said. “It’s always good seeing coach Hauck.”

Thomson and his teammates are hoping for a better outcome against Hauck and Montana on Saturday. Last year, Montana handed Sacramento a 41-34 loss.

“This is a big game, but we are preparing the same way we have every week,” Thomson said. “We just want to continue to improve on the little things. We want to continue to be a mature and disciplined team.”

That mindset has been instilled by a new coaching staff, led by first-year head coach Troy Taylor — who just seven years ago was a high school head coach in California. After serving as a co-offensive coordinator at Eastern Washington in 2016 and as the offensive coordinator at Utah from 2017-18, Taylor was named Cal State Sacramento’s new head coach last December.

“Everything changed, really,” Thomson said. “But the players were ready to embrace the change and put their trust in the new coaching staff. It’s a bit of a different mentality with a new offense and a new defense. But we really trust our coaching staff. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Even a 19-7 loss at Arizona State was fun, Thomson said. Sacramento trailed only 12-7 midway through the second half.

“Defensively, we played amazing,” Thomson said. “We just couldn’t finish offensively when got on their end of the field. We were just trying to figure out our identity on offense.”

The offense improved, even in a 34-20 loss at Fresno State that Thomson said prepared them for the Big Sky Conference season. Sacramento opened conference play with a 48-29 win over Eastern Washington — the team that lost to North Dakota State in last year’s FCS championship game. The Hornets followed that with a 34-21 win at Montana State last week.

“We just executed well offensively,” Thomson said of the Montana State game. “The offensive line didn’t allow any sacks. That allowed me to sit back there and go through all my reads.”

As a result, Thomson was named the Big Sky offensive player of the week. He completed 23 of 30 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns. He was also the Hornets' leading rusher with 74 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns.

For the season, Thomson leads the FCS with 24.3 points responsible per game. His 19 passing touchdowns are already the sixth most in school single-season history. His 44 career touchdowns are the third most in program history.

Thomson looks back to those two losses to Arizona State and Fresno.

“Those were good games for us,” said Thomson, who has thrown for 1,735 yards this season with only four interceptions. “Even before those games started, everyone pretty much ruled us out. But we all believed we could win those games. Obviously we wanted to come out with wins, but we took some positives from those games.”