Once again, Lopina takes it all head on

KEVIN LOPINA

PULLMAN -- Washington State quarterback Kevin Lopina displayed a maturity missing in many athletes last season when he refused to dodge reporters after a series of lopsided defeats. The fifth-year senior from Concord, Calif., is still taking questions head on. He's quick to own his mistakes from a year ago. He's also seeing a big difference between this year's Cougs and last year's.

Lopina readily admits to miscues he made on the field, even though he played hurt virtually all last season. He wound up passing for just 841 yards in nine games, including eight starts, and he's constantly reminded that he threw 11 interceptions and no touchdown passes.

"It happened," Lopina said after the first of two Friday practices. "It's not like I didn't complete any passes (87 of 153 for 57 percent). I completed a lot of passes, we just couldn't get it in the end zone. Even in the run game, we struggled."

Lopina started every game the second half of the season after Marshall Lobbestael went down with a knee injury. Now the two are battling for the starting job, and Lopina was typically brunt when he acknowledged, "I know there's a lot of guys (fans) doubting me."

Lopina, who came to WSU after redshirting at Kansas State as a freshman, never took a snap in a college game until last year. He ran the veer offense at perennial prep powerhouse De La Salle, where he was rated one of the top 25 prep QB prospects in the nation as a senior.

"I've had competition my whole life at this position," Lopina said. "Even in high school and back to Pop Warner, I've had competition. I've never been ‘The Guy' until the coaches have decided."

Lopina said the Cougars have far more camaraderie this season. Last November, he ripped into teammates after a 58-0 drubbing at Stanford, saying "it's not really a big deal" to some players to lose. Coincidentally or not, the Cougars played harder and better in their remaining four games.

"When I come out to practice this year, I feel like everyone's focused," Lopina said. "No one has any issues off the field."

DESPITE THE COUGARS' HEATED competition at quarterback and running back, those involved seem to be getting along quite well.

"We have each other's back," said Lopina, referring to himself and Lobbestael. "Whoever that guy is who is going to start against Stanford (Sept. 5), I'll support him or he'll support me.

"It's kind of good to know there's two guys that can get it done from a team perspective."

Dwight Tardy has started at running back for three straight years, but the man believed to be his chief rival for the starting job, California transfer James Montgomery, is a highly talented addition to the mix.

"We hang out a lot," Tardy said. "That's my buddy. Great minds think alike. We help each other out."

Still, Tardy stressed, "When we come out here (to the practice field), we're not friends. We're competing. But off the field, we're best friends."

FOR A SUMMARY OF BOTH OF THE COUGARS' FRIDAY PRACTICES, CLICK TO THE CF.C FRONT-PAGE STORIES "FALL CAMP DAY 6: Morning rundown" and "Wulff nearing decisions; defense rises up."

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