The Herald of Everett, Washington
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Published: Wednesday, March 30, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Price, Montana kick off Huskies QB battle

Pair vying to replace Jake Locker at helm of Washington's offense

  • Washington's Keith Price in last season's Stanford game. Price and Nick Montana will battle to replace Jake Locker as the Huskies' starting quarterbac...

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Washington's Keith Price in last season's Stanford game. Price and Nick Montana will battle to replace Jake Locker as the Huskies' starting quarterback.

SEATTLE -- They grew up just 52 miles from each other while attending prestigious private schools in Southern California, and yet the backgrounds of University of Washington quarterback hopefuls Keith Price and Nick Montana couldn't be more different.
Price grew up in Compton, Calif., born a couple years after a local band called N.W.A. immortalized the crime-ridden area with songs like "Gangsta Gangsta" and "(Expletive) tha Police." His family and community had to scrape the money together to help him pay tuition to St. John Bosco Prep School in Bellflower, just so he could garner some attention from college football programs.
Montana finished his high school years in the affluent Orange County city of Thousand Oaks, where his famous father, Joe, retired after 16 Hall of Fame seasons as an NFL quarterback. It's safe to assume that tuition at Oaks Christian High School wasn't a problem for the Montana family.
Coming from the same part of the country, Price and Montana may as well have grown up in different parts of the world. And yet they're not as dissimilar as one might expect.
"They're actually pretty similar," UW wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said Tuesday, as the UW quarterback battle officially began with the start of spring practice. "They're both real goofy. Real goofy. They both like to joke around all the time, and it's fun to have them around."
The co-frontrunners for the Huskies' starting job barely knew of each other before they arrived at UW, but they've forged a quick and close friendship over the past year. So close that their five-month-long battle isn't likely to tear them apart.
"We don't talk about the quarterback situation at all," Price said Tuesday, when the Huskies opened spring practice with their first full-blown quarterback competition in six years. "We know what's on our hands, and we're different, but we're close friends."
What has all the makings of a stressful situation hasn't broken up the happy-go-lucky duo that's battling for the right to replace Jake Locker as UW starter. Price and Montana remain as close as ever, even though one of them will probably earn the starting quarterback job at the expense of the other.
"It's a healthy competition," Montana said Tuesday. "It's not what some people try to make it out to be. We're lifting buddies, we do a lot of stuff together."
This isn't the first time Price and Montana have engaged in battle on the field. This time last year, when Price was coming off a redshirt season and Montana was entering college for the first time after an early high school graduation, they each entered the spring hoping to earn the job as Locker's primary backup. Price, who is a year older than Montana, won out in the end and saw action in eight games -- mostly in mop-up duty -- during the 2010 season.
As they kick off another offseason-long battle, the coaching staff claims to put both Price and Montana on even ground. But it's hard to believe that Price's 2010 experience, including his lone start in a road game against No. 1-ranked Oregon, won't be a factor.
Price said his playing time has helped turn him into a much more polished quarterback than he was last spring, but he knows there are still steps to be taken.
"I'm playing a little bit faster," he said Tuesday. "I can still speed up some decisions, but I think that will come."
After one day of spring practice, head coach Steve Sarkisian was jokingly asked whether he'd made a decision on his starting quarterback.
"No," he said without cracking a smile.
At this point in the competition, Sarkisian prefers to talk about his two young quarterbacks as a tandem.
"I thought they did a great job," Sarkisian said after Tuesday's practice, which was relatively clean from the quarterback position except for a Justin Glenn interception of a Montana pass.
"Today was the first practice, and I think they had one turnover, they didn't fumble any snaps, and I thought we were efficient. So all in all, I liked their command, and it was a good first day."
It's certainly a different situation from last spring, when the pair dueled for a backup spot while the Huskies had one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the country preparing for his senior year. Now Locker is gone, and UW has no choice but to move on.
"Obviously, Jake's a phenomenal football player," offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said Tuesday. "The thing is, Keith and Nick just have to be themselves. That's what we have to focus on is their development and how they get better and how we develop as an offensive football team."
This marks the first time that the Huskies have opened up the quarterback competition since the spring of 2005, when junior Isaiah Stanback and incoming transfer Johnny DuRocher were set to do battle before the latter was ruled ineligible by way of a transfer technicality. It's certainly the first time Sarkisian and Nussmeier have had an unsettled quarterback situation in their three years at UW.
"Competition always is great," Nussmeier said Tuesday. "It's fun to watch the development of young players. Both guys have worked extremely hard, and it's going to be fun to watch them play every day."
The eternal smile of Price and the coy prankster in Montana have made for a fun relationship -- even in battle -- over the past year.
They'll continue to push each other well into the fall camp, and then only one of them will earn the right to replace Locker as starting quarterback when the season begins Sept. 3.
No one really knows who that will be. All that's certain is that it won't be Jake Locker.
"My whole career here so far has been with Jake," said Kearse, who will be a senior in the fall. "It's just a change of pace, and we've just got to go with it."
To the happy-go-lucky Price, just going with it is all he knows.
"I'll just handle it like I did last year," he said. "I just try to gain everybody's respect and do what I can. I'm not Jake; I'm myself. So I just try to be myself."

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