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Understudy Henigan Enjoys Playing the Lead : Football: Pacific's backup quarterback, from Fountain Valley, filled in nicely when Troy Kopp was injured. He's looking forward to starting in '93.

HOW THEY'RE DOING: One in a series.

November 05, 1992|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A crafty left-handed quarterback in Northern California spends years on the bench because an all-world right-hander is playing in front of him.

The starter gets hurt, the backup steps in and takes full advantage of regular playing time by showing he's just as effective as the starter.

Sound familiar?

While the San Francisco 49er quarterback situation has provided excellent theater for Bay Area football fans, Dave Henigan has been busy playing Steve Young to Troy Kopp's Joe Montana down the road at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

Anyone with even a casual interest in college football has probably heard of Kopp, a senior from Mission Viejo High School who threw for 8,588 yards and 79 touchdowns in his first three college seasons.

Henigan, a junior from Fountain Valley High, has been the behind-the-scenes guy, a no-name backup who works as hard as anyone during auditions, has loads of talent but has had to settle for bit roles.

Until Sept. 25, that is. That's the day Henigan went from supporting cast member to leading man.

Kopp suffered a severely sprained ankle that Friday playing wallyball, a version of volleyball played on a racquetball court.

Why one of the nation's better college quarterbacks was playing wallyball the day before a game is another story, but Henigan didn't have time for questions. The Tigers had a game against Southwest Missouri State that Saturday, and Henigan was going to start.

"As a backup you always prepare for the unexpected, so when I heard Troy got hurt, I was more excited than nervous," Henigan said.

It showed. Henigan completed 25 of 38 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns to lead Pacific to a 48-14 victory and earn Big West Conference offensive player of the week honors.

Henigan, 6 feet and 188 pounds, started four more games--losses to Nevada Las Vegas and Arizona State, a victory over New Mexico State and a loss to Washington--and has proved to be a capable college quarterback. Henigan has completed 96 of 168 passes for 1,230 yards and nine touchdowns entering Saturday's game in Stockton against Cal State Fullerton.

Kopp is healthy again--in fact, he alternated with Henigan in Pacific's last game against Washington Oct. 24--but Henigan has no idea if that arrangement will remain.

"It's kind of up in the air right now," Henigan said. "I feel I've played well enough to keep the job."

But has Kopp played poorly enough to lose it? Probably not, and if Kopp returns to the lineup in a full-time capacity, Henigan will have no quarrel with the decision.

"It has been frustrating, but Troy has played great the last three years and deserved everything he got," Henigan said. "I know I could have played at a lot of other places, but circumstances dictated this, and I think I've handled the situation well.

"There's something about being a quarterback--they usually have to overcome adversity--and I think I did. It shows now that I worked hard the whole time and that hard work is paying off now that I'm getting the chance to play."

Not much separated Kopp and Henigan on the Tiger depth chart in 1989, which was their freshman season. Henigan, who had led Fountain Valley to the 1988 Southern Section Division I championship, started the first two games, which might have gone better had Pacific not opened at Pittsburgh and Auburn.

Lopsided losses--38-3 to Pitt and 55-0 to Auburn--contributed to Henigan losing the job to Kopp, who went on to pass for 1,510 yards and 11 touchdowns. Still, Henigan played often enough to complete 86 of 159 passes for 835 yards that season.

But off-season shoulder surgery forced Henigan to be sidelined as a redshirt in 1990, and, while Henigan sat, Kopp flew, passing for 3,311 yards and 31 touchdowns. Henigan couldn't loosen Kopp's grip on the starting job in 1991, and he isn't sure how much he'll play in Pacific's final three games this season.

But at least he'll go into the off-season knowing he'll be the No. 1 quarterback, the team leader, as a senior in 1993. That's the kind of role Henigan was accustomed to from junior leagues through high school.

"It didn't matter if he was the point guard in basketball, the pitcher in baseball or the quarterback in football, he always had a savvy, a gamemanship about him," said Henigan's father, Mike, athletic director and a former assistant football coach at Fountain Valley. "Seeing us (Fountain Valley) be successful, being around quarterbacks who knew how to get ready for big games, motivated him to emulate those people."

Henigan grew up as a Fountain Valley ballboy and had the benefit of being around one of Orange County's most successful programs and top coaching staffs, headed by Mike Milner. His uncle, Terry Henigan, is the football coach at Irvine High.

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