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Donahue Finally Decides: Cook Will Start : College football: Junior quarterback is nursing a muscle pull, but he wins job over sophomore Fien.

September 03, 1993|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the end, Wayne Cook was right. He had said all along that the job was his to lose.

Cook will start at quarterback for UCLA against California on Saturday, Coach Terry Donahue said Thursday, ending the three-way competition that had dominated the three weeks of preseason preparation.

Donahue rendered the decision at practice, telling Cook, a junior, and sophomore Ryan Fien, the first runner-up, separately. Then he had Fien handle most of the practice work, because Cook still is recovering from a muscle pull in his left leg.

Rob Walker was told Monday that he would not be the starter.

The announcement Thursday came as no real surprise, although Cook said he had not slept well while waiting for it.

"I think I kind of knew they were looking toward me," he said. "The only doubt was to see whether I was going to be able to go with my (injury). . . . They've been kind of hinting about it the last couple of days."

The reasons for the decision, as outlined by Donahue, were perhaps best exemplified in the final scrimmage of two-a-day practices. Fien threw a 55-yard touchdown pass--and two interceptions.

"I think Wayne did a better job this fall of not turning the ball over," Donahue said.

Fien, who played in two games last season as a freshman, took the news stoically, reminding that he was only a play away from being back under center.

"I kind of felt this is the way things were going to go," he said. "Wayne's a good quarterback and he's a little older. I just think he deserves a shot. Neither one of us stepped out over each other to run away with the decision. . . .

"Hey, I'm happy. I'm only 19 years old and backing up at UCLA. Now, I have nothing to lose."

Fien added that he was not considering transferring to another school and that redshirting this season to save a year of eligibility was a possibility.

Donahue said he had not talked with Fien recently about that.

When Cook steps onto the field at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night, his right leg will be wrapped in four leather straps, with hinged supports running vertically along either side of the knee, a reminder of the first game last season, when a sack against Cal State Fullerton cost him his sophomore season after less than two quarters.

Since then, he has rehabilitated the knee, dealt with the setback of the muscle pull in what he calls "the other leg" and planned for Saturday night.

"I really won't have time to think about (the injury) when I step into the pocket for my first pass against Cal," he said recently. "I'll be too busy."

One of the reasons is the Cal defense, which promises the severest pass rush it can mount against a quarterback with questionable mobility. But offensive coordinator Homer Smith said there would be no limitations placed on Cook.

"He's ready and he's worked hard to take on this leadership," Smith said. "The trainer thinks he'll be fine. . . . We're not thinking in terms of any limitations. The option, the sprint-out--we do things that require legs, and we expect him to have legs on Saturday night."

It remains to be seen how much latitude Cook will be given to shake off the rust of a season on the sidelines. Apparently he will not be on a short leash.

"Wayne is clearly our starting quarterback," Donahue said. "But at the same time, we're very prepared to put Ryan in the game, and if it goes that far, to put Rob in the game.

"The first time Wayne has a misfire, he's not going to get yanked. Like any quarterback, if he's having a real rough day, we might pull him out for a while and have him sit. But we don't make a habit of that."

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