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Costa ready to lead Ducks, hate on the Huskies

7/9/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller 

Most preseason publications insist there's an enduring quarterback competition at Oregon. Don't believe it. The job, as nearly everyone close to the program knows, is sophomore Nate Costa's to lose.

Costa is among "everyone," by the way.

In fact, on Oregon's long list of injuries last season, Costa blowing out his knee in October might rank second only to quarterback Dennis Dixon's knee injury in terms of ruining what up to the 10th game looked like a special -- perhaps even national championship -- season.

See, many at Oregon believe the Ducks spread offense, which foundered without Dixon, would have continued to hum with the athletic Costa at the controls.

Costa, solidly built at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, said his knee injury hurt just a bit more when Dixon crumpled to the ground.

"When I saw Dennis go down, I guess you could say the frustration level rose," he said. "It was harder to handle. I knew I could come back, but then it was like me wanting to be out there. But that's the game of football right there. It gives you a lot of things but it also takes things away."

That's the past, though. Costa said this week he'll be 100 percent by the start of fall camp and raring to take a shot at the Ducks' hated rival Washington in the season opener in Autzen Stadium on Aug. 30.

I caught up with Costa this week.

How is the knee?

Nate Costa: I feel good. The knee is real solid. My focus this summer is to get back to the level I was at and I'm getting back to that point right now. I'm almost there. I'm 95 percent right now and by fall camp, I'll definitely be 100 percent.

What type of quarterback are you -- what do you do best and what are working on the most?

NC: I'm probably a duel-threat quarterback. I can run and I can throw equally well. I'm always working on getting stronger and faster and the mental part of the game -- reading coverages and stuff like that. Right now the biggest thing I'm working on is being a leader. Being a quarterback in the Pac-10, you need to lead the team.

How do you see the quarterback competition stacking up? Even though you weren't full-go in the spring, the general feeling was the job was yours to lose.

NC: Yeah. That's the way I feel, too. And not just because of the way people are talking. That's the way the coaches have made me feel as well. That's the way I'm going into fall camp, and I feel like I'm going to come out of fall camp as the man and I'm going to be the man the rest of the year.

How will the offense change with you this year as compared to Dennis Dixon in 2007?

NC: I don't think it's going to change too much. I think Dennis and me are very similar in our athletic abilities. He probably has a little more top-end speed than I do, but I definitely have as much quickness as he does. I think we're going to use me like we did Dennis. I'll be able to escape the pocket, and we'll have some designed run plays when I'll be carrying the ball myself.

Did Dennis leave you with any advice about taking charge of the team?

NC: I was actually lucky to have two older guys ahead of me last year in Dennis and Brady Leaf, who was awesome. Everything they knew, they made sure I knew it. The biggest thing Dennis and Brady told me is to keep a level head. If you look at Dennis' junior year, it kind of fell apart toward the end and everyone was trashing him. Then look at his senior year when he was in the running for the Heisman and everyone was on his side -- saying, "Dennis, you're the best," and stuff like that. So they told me there's lows and there's highs and you just need to keep a level head through all that stuff.

You weren't full-go during spring practices so you didn't get to face your defense at full speed, but it sounds like they are going to be pretty salty this year -- what was your impression of the defense during spring practice?

NC: Our defense is going to be great. Our defensive backfield looks awesome -- linebackers and D-line look great too. I'm pretty excited about that because facing them throughout fall camp is going to really prepare us for Pac-10 play.

In view of that, some folks are going to write that while the Ducks are breaking in a new quarterback and new running backs, the defense is going to have to carry the offense early in the season -- do you think that's the case?

NC: No, I don't think so. People are going to write that because of maybe past experiences. But I don't feel like that at all. We've got a great offensive coordinator [Chip Kelly] and our offense is really deep and stacked. Our offensive line is great and our receiving corps looks awesome, and our running backs look just as good [as last year]. All it's going to take is consistent play from the quarterback. We're going to score a lot of points this year.

Which offensive weapons that maybe folks don't know about have stood out during offseason workouts?

NC: Well, [receiver] Jaison Williams is a big-time guy with size and a lot of speed. Drew Davis is another receiver that looks great. Our running back, Jeremiah Johnson, is coming off a knee injury just like me but he looks really good right now and is making great cuts in 7-on-7s. We even have great weapons on our offensive line with Max Unger, our center, and [Fenuki] Tupou, our left tackle.

You're a California guy. So, have you had enough time to digest the fact that you're supposed to hate the University of Washington [the Ducks opening opponent on Aug. 30]?

NC: [Laughs] It was kind of weird to me that a team from Oregon would hate the University of Washington even more than they hate Oregon State. But it's something I'm coming to know and it's something that's been drilled into my head since the first day I got here my freshman year of football camp. So I have a hatred for U-Dub and that's just how it goes.

So you guys don't feel sorry for them? You've kind of pounded them the last couple of years.

NC: No. There's no feeling sorry for teams in the Pac-10.