Kovalcheck, a redshirt sophomore, is penciled in as the starter going into the fall, but is by no means a lock to keep the job. He will have to continue to improve and work to fend off the other passers on the roster.
The San Diego native came off the bench and sparked the Wildcats in their 28-14 loss at Oregon. The Wildcat coaches threw Kovalcheck to the wolves. He took his first snaps with the Wildcats inside their own five. Despite being just feet away from a safety, Kovalcheck showed great poise. He went on to lead the Cats to a pair of touchdowns, including a pretty 21-yarder to tight end Brad Wood. His performance was not perfect but it was enough to earn him the starting job for the rest of the season.
The team won just a single game before Kovalcheck took over, but went 2-3 down the stretch. While that does not sound overly impressive, it must be noted that two of those losses came against USC and Cal, a pair of top-10 teams.
Last season the offense was 116th in the nation in scoring. The team had to play conservative with Kris Heavner at quarterback and that allowed defenses to stack the box against the run. After Richard Kovalcheck won the starting job, things got better.
With Heavner at the helm the team averaged 10.0 points a game, but just 7.8 points a game against D-IA teams. Kovalcheck averaged 15.7 ppg and that includes the shutout at the hands of Cal in his first collegiate start.
All told he was 80-168 for 1,039 yards and six scores.
Heavner transferred to Baylor leaving Kovalcheck as the only scholarship passer at the time.
Things really seemed to be going Richard's way when a back injury cost him all of spring ball. He hurt the back during the season, but tried to fight his way through it before finally succumbing to the pain. He attempted to avoid surgery, but the pain proved to be too much and he went under the knife.
"Right when the surgery was over I felt 100 percent better," Kovalcheck said. "All the pain that was going down my leg, it got to the point when I said ‘I need to fix this.' Right after the surgery I had no pain in my leg at all. It was a relief."
Kovalcheck has a lot of the tools needed to be a successful quarterback in the Pac-10. He's strong, fairly mobile and has a good arm. He may not excel at any one thing, but he doesn't have a ton of deficiencies either. The biggest knock on him is that he is not a strong practice player, but he is a gamer. He does better when the lights come on. He may make the same mistake all week long in practice, but will then turn around and make plays in the game. He's like a student who does poorly on homework then excels on a final exam.
"He seems to be 100%," said offensive coordinator Mike Canales. "He's walking around and has a little bit of that swagger that says ‘I'm the man'."