Lopina finds expert advice on trip home

BACKUP WASHINGTON STATE quarterback Kevin Lopina made a quick trip home to California for the Memorial Day weekend, but even during this one break from school he had football on his mind. Lopina spent part of the time in the Bay Area working out under the watchful eye of nationally renown quarterback tutor Roger Theder. And he brought a future Cougar along with him.

Lopina has been working with Theder since his freshman year in high school.

Theder, a former head coach at Cal and offensive coordinator with the New York Giants, and also a friend of the Lopina family, has tutored such signal calling notables as Dennis Dixon, Drew Olson, T.C. Ostrander, Trent Edwards, Ken Dorsey, Sam Keller and Willie Tuitama.

Washington State quarterback Kevin Lopina throws a dart over Memorial Day Weekend at a Roger Theder workout.

When Lopina went home to celebrate his great great aunt's 100th birthday, he called up another Bay Area local, Chantz Staden, and invited him to come along. Staden is the incoming Cougar running back out of De Anza College, where Lopina's dad went to school for a year.

It's exactly the kind of leadership example Paul Wulff and his staff have talked about wanting to see from Cougar players. Lopina and Staden hit it off, and with Staden thinking about coming up Wazzu early, prior to fall camp, Lopina offered him a place to stay.

"I've read about him and heard about him but that was the first time in person we've met. He couldn't stop talking about how excited he was to come up here and start working out. I think he's going to stay with me for a month in the summer. He needs a place and I've got extra room," said Lopina.

BECAUSE OF PRACTICE limitations in place by the NCAA, it's difficult for any backup player to get as many reps as they want. So offseason workouts, like Theder's where a QB runs through coverage reads and throwing against various coverages, are important for both physical and mental acuity.

Lopina had a very good spring in Wulff's offense under offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy, solidifying himself as the clear No. 2 behind starter Gary Rogers.

The new no-huddle offense doesn't require a running quarterback, but it also doesn't hurt if the QB is mobile. Lopina ran the triple option with aplomb at De La Salle, and was rated one of the top 25 prep QB prospects in the nation in the 2005 class. After transferring to WSU in the summer of '06, he was the scout team's offensive player of the year that same season. Last year, he battled injuries.

Healthy again this spring, Lopina, according to CF.C's Byron Dike who saw every WSU practice this spring, showed excellent mobility and an aptitude for throwing on the run. And Wulff took notice.

"He told me he was happy with what I'd done and he was relieved to know that we have two quarterbacks who can run this offense right now," said Lopina.

If the Cougars were to start a game tomorrow, Rogers would start with Lopina backing him up. And Lopina and Rogers are good friends, having been roommates last season. But all that doesn't mean Lopina won't have a starter's mentality heading into fall camp in August.

"Hopefully I can push Gary in the fall," said Lopina. "You never know. If I get the No. 1 spot I get it, if not, then I'll be the No. 2 guy if that's my role. But I'm going to push Gary as long and hard as I can."

THERE WAS A DECIDEDLY different feel in the air during Wulff's first spring camp, said Lopina. Previous springs emphasized the Cougs' plays, running them over and over to get them right. This spring camp instead saw more one-on-one instruction and the staff was more apt to go off the script at any given time.

"I feel like our practices have been more up-tempo. A lot more people are competing in practice. Things aren't as set in stone...You could tell at the end of the spring all the individual work helped -- the offense looked good, the defense looked good. You could tell we were more comfortable with where we were at," said Lopina.

Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy is Lopina's fourth quarterbacks coach since his college career began at Kansas State three years ago. The new Cougars' offense is a reflection of the man himself, said Lopina.

"He's awesome. He's really up tempo and gets us going. He'll yell when he has to, but if we make a mistake, it's also more about 'Forget about it. Move on. Next play.' And I like that about him. You're not always getting down on yourself. If you throw an interception, yeah, that's bad. But he'll also be the first one to tell you 'Get over it. We've got a game to win.'"

The Cougar offense is designed to keep defenses on their heels, limiting their ability to sub in and also to dictate a faster tempo than a defense would like to play.

"I'm excited about it, having four weeks this spring to run it. I love it," said Lopina.

LOPINA IS ONE of those Cougs who opted to stay in Pullman for the entire summer.

Virtually every scholarship player and key walk-on is typically back on the Palouse by the time the second summer session begins for voluntary offseason workouts but Lopina was one of those eschewing the chance to go home in the weeks between the end of the spring semester and the start of June.

"There was probably 10-15 of us," said Lopina of the group taking summer classes in the first session. "Me and Gary are throwing and I've been throwing with Michael Willis, he's here too. Dan Rowlands, Ah-ee Ahmu, I can't think of them all right now but there's more. Those are the guys I've seen around the most."

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