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BACK IN AUGUST, as the Cougar offense went through its paces at Seahawks Stadium before the Nevada game, <b>Jack Thompson</b> was on the sideline talking about WSU's post-<b>Jason Gesser</b> future at quarterback.

Thompson, a guy who knows a thing or two about playing quarterback, marveled at the size, arm strength and agility of the three guys backing up Gesser.

As Matt Kegel (6-5, 239), Chris Hurd (6-2, 219) and Josh Swogger (6-5, 242) took turns firing bullets to sideline-toeing receivers, the legendary Throwin' Samoan gushed that WSU's reputation as "Quarterback U" is in great hands.

He likes all three guys and said the Hurd vs. Swogger battle for the helm after Kegel departs could be one of the most heated contests ever on the Palouse.

What's exciting, he said, is that both are fierce competitors and film-room junkies -- attributes that no amount of physical talent, as Gesser illustrated so well, can make up for in the building of a standout signal caller.

The youngsters --- Hurd will be a redshirt sophomore in 2003 and Swogger and second-year freshman -- are so gifted, that some observers close to the program think either could supplant Kegel as the 2003 starter.

And that, regardless of Kegel's Apple Cup showing, will be no easy feat because the fifth-year senior comes to the party with more than 1,000 career passing yards --- plus that Y2K victory over USC in Los Angeles --- under his belt.

ERIK COLEMAN, WSU'S leading tackler for 2002, goes under the knife this week to tighten and staple his left shoulder, injured since the middle of the season. He separated the wing yet again in the first quarter against Oklahoma --- but talk about tough, he played the entire rest of the game anyway. With the surgery he'll miss spring workouts, so look for Hamza Abdullah (6-2, 200), Aaron Joseph (6-2, 213) and Jeremey Bohannon (5-10, 188) to get some big-time reps with Erik on the sideline. Coleman should be 100 percent by May.

WHOEVER SAID coaches lead a nomadic existence wasn't kidding. The splitting up of WSU's staff between Pullman and Tuscaloosa has set off a chain reaction of movement involving old Cougars. Foremost, of course, are Ken Greene and Timm Rosenbach --- two star performers for WSU in the mid-70s and late-80s, respectively -- who are headed back to the ol' alma mater. Greene, most recently at Purdue and before that at Fresno State, will be Bill Doba's secondary coach and Rosenbach, soon to be Mike Levenseller's QB coach, has been offensive coordinator at Eastern Washington.

In addition, former early-70s Cougar assistant Leon Burtnett, the head man at Purdue in the mid-1980s, is coming back to Pullman as linebackers coach. And a pair of record-breaking Cougar running backs now coaching in the prep and JC ranks in California --- Tim Harris and Steve Broussard are believed to be on the short list to take over for Kasey Dunn as running backs coach.

Over Bama way, former Cougar assistants Eric Price and Andre Patterson are both leaving the NFL to join Mike Price in Tuscaloosa. Eric comes from the Jets, where he's received rave reviews as quarterbacks coach for his work with Chad Pennington, and Patterson comes from Dallas, where he was part of Dave Campo's staff that Jerry Jones swept out last week.

ON THE RECRUITING front, the Cougars may have lost grayshirt QB Carl Bonnell to Washington, but there appears to be no chance of a defection by a pair of standout JC offensive lineman from Orange Coast CC. Keola Loo and Patrick Afif each sent in their signed papers a week. Another JC youngster believed headed to WSU -- Dwayne Wright, the highly touted running back who signed with WSU out of high school before SAT scores detoured him to West Hills JC -- is also WSU bound. We think. Two separate reports in the last week had him going to both WSU and Fresno State, but the rumor mill in San Diego, where Wright is from, points to Pullman.

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