Eventually they'll compete for the same job, but Roper, Costa and Kempt have bonded
EUGENE - It doesn't intimidate him, but Nathan Costa says living here this summer has been somewhat overwhelming. It is certainly not the place where everybody knows everybody else.
'This is huge,' says Costa, a native of Hilmar, Calif., located in rural country east of San Jose. 'I'm from a town of 5,000; what do you have here, 180,000?
'But I've been out of my hometown before, I've traveled all over the place, I'm not awestruck.'
It isn't quite the same for Cody Kempt, who hails from suburban Portland, and Justin Roper, who grew up in suburban Atlanta. But they also have spent the summer getting used to certain things in Eugene and at the University of Oregon.
'It's a lot cooler here. It's a lot less humid,' Roper says. 'And the workouts have been a lot harder, everything's more intense.'
Kempt, from Westview High, says getting to college for the summer term - a new NCAA rule allows freshmen early entry - has been invaluable. A four-week summer session was available, worth 10 credits, and several freshmen have taken advantage of it.
'This is a huge, huge head start,' Kempt says. 'First of all, we're getting 10 credits toward school and we'll already know how college classes are set up and what to expect.
'We've been going through college workouts, we know what coaches expect, we get to know players better. We're getting our equipment and our locker - our locker room is amazing, it feels like another home to me.'
When training camp starts Aug. 7, the three will battle to be Oregon's No. 3 quarterback - and you never know what could happen with Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf, injury-wise. Kempt, Costa or Roper could factor into the Ducks' plans for 2006, and walk-on Kyle Bennett also could be part of the equation.
During the summer, the three freshmen got to know one another. They call each other good friends - Roper and Kempt have been roommates at Carson Hall, and Costa has lived with offensive lineman Jordan Holmes.
'We hang out all the time, we eat our meals together,' Costa says. 'Right when we met, we clicked. They're cool guys. It'll stay the same, even though it's a competition.'
Kempt brought Roper and running backs Remene Alston and Andre Crenshaw to Portland to see the sights and work out with QB guru Greg Barton.
'It'll be a friendly competition on the field, and we'll be really good friends off it,' Kempt says. 'I won't say there won't be tension. There will definitely be competition. I know we'll stay close, tight friends.'
No one wants to be backup
Then again, some UO quarterbacks have had bitter pills to swallow, such as when A.J. Feeley sat behind Joey Harrington and Jason Fife backed up Kellen Clemens. Costa says a quarterback has a good-size ego, because he wants to be the guy in charge.
'Hopefully (in the future), we'll have a friendship established, where the other two guys are watching and we'll help each other out,' Roper says.
The QBs took classes such as international studies, study habits, weight lifting and … dance. They are taking up where USC's Matt Leinart left off. 'It was different, more the study of movement,' says Costa, who doesn't envision trying out for 'Dancing with the Stars.'
Workouts have been hard, they say, but veterans have not treated them like newbies. Dixon and Leaf have helped each with the offense, workouts and 7-on-7 drills.
'They see us working hard in the summer with them,' Costa says.
'At first I kind of felt like I had to prove myself,' Roper says. 'But it's about how hard I work.'
The three have explored off campus. Costa likes to eat at The Jail (teriyaki chicken) and Muchas Gracias (24-hour Mexican), Kempt at Track Town Pizza, and Roper has been introduced to seafood.
Costa says it has been interesting talking with students from the Far East - China, Taiwan and Japan. He also cruises around in Holmes' truck, and he went floating on the Umpqua River outside Roseburg with relatives - 'got sunburned.'
Kempt observes that 'there aren't too many girls around, yet.'
Roper cuts to the chase when describing his summer, outside of class and workouts: 'Eat, watch film and hang out with everybody.'
'Trying to suck everything in'
The three say they have not measured themselves against one another.
'Right now, it doesn't matter how well we throw, we're still trying to learn everything,' Roper says. 'We don't know much about the offense yet. We're trying to suck everything in.'
Performance on the field will matter in camp. So will the ability to understand the offense and flash in signs to the quarterback on the field. In time, maybe Kempt switches to defense - a long speculated move - but coach Mike Bellotti and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton want to give each of them the shot at being quarterback.
Kempt, on each of their talents:
'Justin, he's a really smart player, he knows the game really well, seems like he's been around the game his whole life. He's really strong, and for a 6-6 player, he really has good feet. I can see him getting out of jams.
'Nathan has a strong, good arm, with good zip on the ball, and he's a run threat, too. I have more similarities with him.'
Kempt and Costa played in spread offenses in high school, but, obviously, nothing as complex as Oregon's.
Kempt speaks for all three of them on the subject of being an Oregon football player.
'I'm very thankful for this opportunity,' he says. 'I've worked really hard to get to this point. But I'm going to stay humble and have a level head, and give something back to the University of Oregon, because they have given me a scholarship.'