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Cal has two choices at quarterback

Longshore lost his job to sophomore Riley, then gained it back. No starter has been named for UCLA game today.

October 25, 2008|Diane Pucin | Pucin is a Times staff writer.

In and out. Nate Longshore feels a little as if he is at the quarterback drive-thru, starting, not starting; in the game, out of the game.

He was once a budding national star for the California Bears. Now he bites his lip and says what's proper. He wants to start, but only if it's best for the team.

Longshore, 6 feet 5, 233 pounds, married and a fifth-year senior who was a standout at Canyon Country Canyon High, started last week in California's upset loss at Arizona. And he was pulled in the fourth quarter after a costly interception.

In his place came Kevin Riley, a 6-foot-2, 224-pound sophomore from Portland, Ore. Bears Coach Jeff Tedford has not named a starter for today's game against UCLA in Berkeley and isn't expected to until game time.

Riley has been seriously in the starting picture since his dramatic entry into last year's Armed Forces Bowl game, when the Bears trailed Air Force by 21 points after the first quarter. Riley led Cal to a 42-36 win by completing 16 of 19 passes for 269 yards.

After preseason practice this year, Riley won the starting job, but Longshore got it back for the Arizona State game, a 24-14 win. He had it for Arizona but may have lost it again.

So far this season, Riley has thrown 128 passes and completed 69 for 832 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions. Longshore has completed 54 of 91 passes for 631 yards and seven touchdowns with four interceptions.

Both Riley and Longshore were made available for telephone interviews this week, something that doesn't often happen for college teams who have a quarterback uncertainty.

Riley was the more assertive about how he wanted the situation to resolve itself today. "I want to start," Riley said. "Of course it's a little bit hard."

Longshore was more circumspect.

"I play football, I try to improve. I study, I watch film. I practice," he said. "There is so much more to football than just Saturdays. So I just do all the stuff you do from Sunday to Saturday and we'll see what happens Saturday."

Harry Welch, who coached Longshore at Canyon and now is at St. Margaret's, stills talks to Longshore most weeks and works with him over the summers. He said Longshore has been emotionally affected by all the football uncertainty this year.

"Ten days before the season and Coach Tedford decided to go with Riley," Welch said. "I know for a fact that hurt Nate an awful lot. His resolve was to continue to be ready, to support his teammates and school, but the decision hurt him a lot and I think it hurts him every week."

Welch argues that Longshore is still suffering bad perceptions that came from situations not his fault and that he has thrown 12 fourth-quarter interceptions over the last three seasons shouldn't be a significant mark against him.

After becoming only the second Cal quarterback in history to throw for more than 3,000 yards and leading California to a 10-3 record in 2006, Longshore struggled with an ankle injury early last season.

"He hurt his leg, he played through it," Welch said. "That injury impeded his mobility and his performance and as the season unfolded I think Nate became an unfair scapegoat for a [7-6] season that had started with so much promise.

"And in that bowl game, several key players had some discipline issues, and what it amounted to was some of the more skilled offensive players were suspended from starting the game.

"There was Nate on national television and without the resources of many of his most skilled teammates. Cal wasn't quite into the game at first. They switch quarterbacks, some of the skilled players returned to the field, Cal wins. It was a perfect storm working against Nate and he became an unfair scapegoat again."

Welch's stirring defense wasn't a surprise to Longshore. It was Welch who approached Longshore when he was a high school sophomore and suggested his skills and body were suited to playing quarterback.

"If it weren't for Harry Welch I would never have been a quarterback," Longshore said. "Whatever success I have at this job, I give credit to Coach Welch. Whatever else happens this year, it's been a great ride."

And maybe not a final ride. As Welch said, the NFL is always interested in 6-foot-5 quarterbacks.

Even ones who don't start.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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