By Jason Shoot
Current Washington State University quarterback and former Havre superstud Matt Kegel has not spent much of his life sitting idly on the sidelines.
That may change when the Cougars open up Pac-10 Conference play in the fall, and Kegel is none too happy about it.
With spring practices currently in session, WSU coach Mike Price has already named last year's starter, Jason Gesser, as the top man to take snaps from center next season.
"It kind of bugged me a little bit," Kegel said of Price's decision. "I just thought I deserved and provided myself a chance to fight and compete for the starting spot.
"Jason had some real good numbers (128-for-246 for 1,967 yards and 16 touchdowns). I guess Coach Price likes what he sees. But if there isn't a quarterback controversy, I'm about to make one."
Kegel's numbers 40-for-91 for 535 yards and one touchdown weren't as impressive as Gesser's, but he didn't exactly have the same number of opportunities to perform, either.
But Kegel did get a chance to compete against the University of Washington in the Apple Cup last year a game that is arguably the pinnacle of any sporting event in the state during the year.
In hindsight, that may have been a game Kegel would have liked to have been no part of.
Kegel was making just his second start of the season, a tough situation when considering the Huskies finished last season ranked fourth in the country.
Washington slammed WSU 5-13 on the Cougars' home turf and battered Kegel for four quarters, sacking him twice. He finished the game just 12-for-28 for 122 yards with an interception.
"That put a (expletive) taste in all of our mouths," Kegel said. "I can't wait until we get back on the field. Idaho (the Cougars' first opponent of 2001) is our number one concern, but when we go to Husky Stadium ... yeah, it motivates us."
The rivalry between Gesser and Kegel hasn't done anything to tarnish the relationship between the two, who are designated roommates on road trips.
"We're both big-time competitors, and we both have the ability to play in the Pac-10," Kegel said. "I don't have a problem with him; he's a good friend of mine. The best person should get the job."
Kegel believes he is likely to see about 40 percent of the playing time next season, but he is hopeful that number increases.
"I know if I perform well I'm going to open (Price's eyes) and he's going to increase my playing time," Kegel said. "I'm concentrating on getting him comfortable putting me in."
Price has long been known for opening up his offense with a lot of five-receiver and empty-backfield sets, but this year the makeup of the Cougars' roster impedes that idea.
WSU has nine returning starters on offense, but the two who are missing are Milton Wynn and Marcus Williams, the team's two top receivers last year.
"We've switched up some things," Kegel said. "The personnel is different, and we don't have five receivers. That's our weak spot because we're all so young in that area. We're trying to work in three-receiver sets.
"It may not be a spread offense, but we've still got the ability to air it out and go downtown."
Another wrinkle in the Cougar playbook may involve Kegel and his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame running the ball more.
"I'm 230 pounds, so I'm as big as most people," Kegel said. "Most of the time I'm dealing the blows to the DBs anyway. I've never been hurt on the football field. We'll just see what happens, but I feel comfortable with doing it."
Kegel is also getting guidance from a new quarterback coach, Aaron Price. Price is taking over for his brother, Eric, who took a job with the NHL's New York Jets.
"Aaron's a little more intense, a kind of get-in-your-face kind of guy," Kegel said. "He knows his stuff. He's a real cool, genuine guy and easy to get along with."
Price is helping the Cougar quarterback remain fundamentally sound, Kegel said.
"Spring ball is the time to be real critical because there's nothing else he can do," Kegel said. "He doesn't have to prepare oforother teams, so we're getting the fundamentals and follow-through right. We're working hard to get better in every aspect of the game."
Kegel has yet to set any major goals for himself. That is, he's waiting to become the team's every-day starter before that happens.
"My goal is to get on the field and prepare myself as a starter, then go in there to put the offense in situations to score points," he said. "Right now my main goal is just to win and get on the field."