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Who’ll be the next BYU QB? Debate’s up in the air

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Robbie Bosco has experienced "The Great BYU Quarterback Debate" from both sides - as a competitor and as a coach.

A junior in 1984, he vied with Blaine Fowler, Steve Lindsley and Mike Young to replace All-America quarterback Steve Young. Bosco won the job, and BYU won the national championship.Nowadays, Bosco is part of the BYU braintrust tutoring the three 1997 hopefuls - Kevin Feterik, Riley Jensen and Paul Shoemaker - who look to add their names to the legendary list of Cougar QBs. One job hazard for Bosco, in his seventh season as the quarterbacks coach, is finding himself bombarded with the obvious question.

"Everybody asks who's going to be the next quarterback," he says. "That seems to be the big deal every year."

It's a bigger deal this year, as the Cougars conclude spring drills with three equally talented prospects. There's no official"air apparent" named as the starter yet - at least not until practice resumes in August. The spring's wide-open race will remain wide open through the summer.

"It's better than having no race at all," says coach LaVell Edwards, who adds that the delayed decision "will give the talk show people something to talk about."

The quarterback challenge will draw considerable conversation today as BYU concludes spring drills with its annual Blue & White intrasquad game. The noon scrimmage at Cougar Stadium is open to the public ($6 for adults, $4 for students, children under 12 free), and most focus will be on the QB trio.

The three share similarities: size, build, relatively strong arms and little - if any - Division I game experience. Combine the NCAA stats for Feterik and Shoemaker (Jensen is a JC transfer), and you've got 14-of-21 passing, 122 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. In seasons past, that's about three quarters' work for a BYU quarterback.

No problem, says Edwards. "I honestly believe that if we have problems this year, it won't be at quarterback."

Looks and limited experience - that's where the differences end. Here's background on each of the three contenders:

- Kevin Feterik - a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore from Los Alamitos, Calif. - is participating in his first spring drills as a Cougar. "You want to be the next quarterback here. You go all out, and every rep counts."

The lefty earned all-state honors his junior and senior years at Los Alamitos High and All-America recognition his final season. He threw for more than 3,200 yards and 29 touchdowns his final year and was named Orange County Register Player of the Year. Offered a scholarship by BYU after his junior season, he was also recruited by Kansas State, Cal, Texas, UCLA and Arizona State.

In sharing '96 mop-up duty with Shoemaker behind Steve Sarkisian, Feterik appeared in six games and completed 5-of-8 passes for 26 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

Feterik is an accurate passer with a strong pocket presence and considerable composure for a sophomore. Not as fleet of foot as his two counterparts, he counters by continuing to look to complete passes downfield when he scrambles.

- Riley Jensen - a 6-foot, 200-pound junior - prepped at Cottonwood High and played two years at Snow College. The two-way player earned 1992 Deseret News all-state honors as a defensive back and was a back-up QB his freshman season at Snow.

Following an LDS mission, Jensen returned to Snow, won the starting spot and proceeded to throw for more than 3,400 yards and 33 touchdowns while leading the Badgers to a 10-1 season and a No. 4 JC national ranking. He also received first-team NJCAA All-America honors last season.

He was offered full-ride scholarships to Utah State, Boise State and South Florida, with late attention coming from Arizona State and Kansas State. However, he opted to join BYU as a walk-on.

Jensen's forte is his game experience at Snow, running an offense very similar to that of BYU's. He boasts a strong arm and overall athletic ability.

"I'm the eternal optimist," he says. "I really feel good about the situation, I don't know why . . . . Any piece of the pie I get is a positive. But if I can't be the guy, then my job is to make the guy better and stronger."

- Paul Shoemaker - a 6-foot, 195-pound junior from Longmont, Colo. - is the senior citizen of the threesome, with the married and soon-to-23-year-old taking part in his third BYU spring practice. "This is what I came here for - to show it's my turn to go."

His three-year prep accomplishments were well-chronicled: Shoemaker led Longmont High to a perfect 41-0 record and three 5A state championships in as many seasons. He was named the state's player of the year in 1990 and 1991 and the Colorado High School Athlete of the Year in '91.

Washington, Colorado and BYU courted Shoemaker. When the Cougars landed him, the Buffaloes countered by signing Koy Detmer, younger brother of BYU Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer.

Shoemaker entered seven games last season, completing 7-of-10 passes for 73 yards and two TDs. He began his Cougar career by redshirting in 1992, and after a two-year LDS mission, he logged all of his 1995 freshman passing totals - 2-of-3 for 32 yards - against Hawaii.

Because of his tenure at BYU, Shoemaker has the most understanding of and experience with the complex offense. A scrambler who moves well in the backfield, he likes to make things happen both on the ground and in the air.

Feterik, Jensen and Shoemaker combine to provide BYU's most hotly contested quarterback competition since the fall of 1992, when the Cougar signal callers included Jon Walsh, Steve Clements, Ryan Hancock and Tom Young. Of course, all four saw action during the season, as the first three suffered injuries and Young finished up as the last one standing.

Edwards is against alternating or rotating quarterbacks, but he adds that the depth and talent may allow coaches to more readily make changes during a game or during the season.

Some may call the three-man campaign a quarterback controversy, but the players refer it as a healthy, helpful competition.

Cougar coaches have tried to foster that competition, having Feterik and Shoemaker split back-up opportunities last year, penciling them in as co-equals on the spring's first spring depth charts and evenly dividing up practice and scrimmage opportunities this month. Jensen, the newcomer to the program, is getting ample time and attention - but generally with the second units.