Aug. 6, 1999
PULLMAN, Wash. - With the return of a pair of veteran quarterbacks and the addition of one redshirt freshman and another highly touted incoming freshman, the Washington State Cougars should be much better prepared to start the upcoming football season than they were a year ago.
The veterans are senior Steve Birnbaum and junior Paul Mencke, while second year freshman Jason Gesser showed considerable talent in the spring. Joining the trio when fall camp opens will be Matt Kegel, a freshman and cousin to San Diego's Ryan Leaf, who led WSU to the Pacific-10 Conference title two years ago.
Last year as the season approached the Cougars were coming off back-to-back seasons of Leaf-led teams. The result was no action proven-signal caller ready to step up for the 1998 season. In the end, WSU's inexperience showed in the form of 25 interceptions, 11 by Birnbaum and 14 by Mencke.
Last spring's four weeks of workouts alone gave rise to optimism among the Cougar coaching staff and the quarterbacks. In three scrimmages, none of the three threw an interception, which, according to Price, was just what the coaching staff was hoping for when spring drills began.
"The quarterback position is vastly improved from a year ago," offers head coach Mike Price. "We are much better. I think we have elevated it to where we thought it was last year. Steve Birnbaum and Paul Mencke needed the year of experience last season more than we anticipated. Now they are taking care of the football (cutting down turnovers). That's all we needed to do last year - take care of the football."
Price and his staff did not designate a starter of three spring scrimmages, but the 10-year WSU head coach has promised to name a starter for the Utah opener no later than one week into fall camp. Price noted he wanted to settle on a starter so that whoever wins the position could get the practice time needed before the season starts.
NOTES: Former Cougars currently toiling in the NFL are Drew Bledsoe (New England) and Ryan Leaf (San Diego).
PRICE ON QUARTERBACKS: "The quarterback position is vastly improved from a year ago. We are much better. I think we have elevated it to where we thought it was last year. Steve Birnbaum and Paul Mencke needed the year of experience last season more than we anticipated. Now they are taking care of the football (cutting down turnovers). That's all we needed to do last year - take care of the football. Mix in (freshman) Jason Gesser and we have three guys on campus right now who I think can do the job. For Gesser to compete with a fifth year senior like Birnbaum is outstanding. Those are the three and in the fall we will let one of them earn his way into the starting lineup. The decision of who will be the starter will be made in the first week of fall camp. I don't want to come up with a top two. A starter will be just fine. We also have two freshman quarterbacks, Kjell Nesen, who was with us in the spring, and Matt Kegel, who joins us in the fall."
THE FACTS - QUARTERBACKS
LETTERWINNERS RETURNING (2): Steve Birnbaum, 2V, RS-Sr., Paul Mencke, 1V, RS-Jr.
NON-LETTERWINNERS RETURNING (1): Jason Gesser, RS-Fr.
TRANSFERS (0): None.
IMPACT NEWCOMERS (2): RS-Fr. Jason Gesser, Fr. Matt Kegel, Fr., Kjell Nesen, Fr.
STARTER RETURNING (1): QB Steve Birnbaum, Sr.
BACKUP RETURNING (1): QB Paul Mencke, Jr.
STARTERS LOST (0): None.
EXPECTED STARTER: Steve Birnbaum, Sr., Paul Mencke, Jr., or Jason Gesser, RS-Fr.