In defense of Matt Kegel

SEATTLE -- Barely visible through the horde of cameramen and reporters, Matt Kegel sat slumped in a chair next to a wall and watched Mike Price field questions after Saturday's victory over Nevada. The backup quarterback was a picture of dejection.

This wasn't the same young guy I talked with after the 2001 spring game in Spokane. That Matt Kegel was excited and confident. The kid I chatted with Saturday afternoon in the bowels of Seahawks Stadium bore no resemblance to him.

If body language could write a thousand words, then Kegel was a magnum opus titled "Down in the Dumps."

He missed badly on two passes, but this long face was way too long to attribute to a 2-for-4, 19-yard afternoon.

Given the opponent as well as Price's recent praise that everything seems to be clicking with the strong-armed Montanan, Kegel was diplomatic when asked if he expected more than the half-dozen snaps he took against the Wolf Pack.

"Sure, I would have liked to play more, but that's for the coaches to decide. And when the guy in front of you is a Heisman candidate, what are you gonna do?" he says matter-of-factly.

And what about the crowd?

"It was an awesome atmosphere," he said.


This from the guy whom a small, but very vocal, group of so-called fans had the temerity to boo in the third quarter after he misfired on a screen pass and then overthrew Mike Bush.

What was awesome was the fact Kegel was gracious enough to chat afterward.

What was awesome was the fact he was able to see the bigger picture despite the noise pollution.

Think, for just a second, how ludicrous that third quarter episode really was.

Booing a kid who's barely old enough to have a drink without being cited?

Heckling a guy who has lifted weights, run sprints and studied film nonstop for four years, all on behalf of your beloved Cougar Nation?

Jeering a player who was thrust into a starting role as a redshirt freshman on the road at USC and responded with 242 passing yards and a victory --- a VICTORY at USC?! Besides Ryan Leaf, there's not another Cougar QB in the last 45 years who can lay claim to that feat.

Not even Drew Bledsoe or Mark Rypien -- two other notables who were booed once upon a time in Pullman. So perhaps Kegel ought to take it as a complement.

Like them, the expectations that were placed on Kegel when he came to WSU were immense. He was All-Everything coming out of Havre High. Leaf, our Rose Bowl hero, is his first cousin. And in 1999 Coach Price declared that Kegel was farther along as a true freshman than Leaf was at the same stage.

Now here we are four years later and he's guaranteed three snaps a game and no more because Jason Gesser is just too darn good.

That alone would be enough to wear on a guy.

But to get booed by your own fans? In a game your team is winning? At the start of the most anticipated season this side of the Palouse Posse?

So what if Kegel's productivity waned at times last year? And so what if he was errant on two throws in the third?

He's trying, by God. Trying hard. And based on everything Price and QB coach Aaron Price have said this season, it's only a matter of time before he lights it up. Heck, one national pundit opined a week ago that Kegel was good enough to start for half the teams in Division I.

But that was no consolation for the 6-foot-5, 235-pound junior on Saturday as news media fawned over Will Derting.

Kegel was bummed out.

He had been booed. On a day of sunshine and victory, he was labeled the odd man out by a bunch of clowns in the stands.

Worse, though, is that the Cougars should have blown the doors off Nevada and they didn't. The same thing happened against Idaho and Montana State a year ago. In other words, the games where Kegel rightly expects he'll get a chance to play -- really play, like three or four series in a row -- just never materialize.

So he's left with the three snaps he took in the third quarter and the handful more he took during late fourth quarter mop up.

That's not anybody's fault. It's just the way it is.

So the next time some arm-chair miscreants decide to boo Matt Kegel -- or any player for that matter -- let 'em know you don't appreciate it.

Tell 'em to handle themselves with some class and diplomacy. Tell them to start acting like Matt Kegel.

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