BERKELEY — Nate Longshore greets a reporter for an interview, and the discussion immediately turns to the competition to become Cal's starting quarterback.

Such discourse would have seemed laughable six months ago.

Much has changed for Longshore since the first half of last football season. He went from the returning All-Pac-10 undisputed leader of the Bears offense to a senior-to-be fighting for his job and his future.

Spring practice for the 2008 season kicks off Monday at Memorial Stadium, and coach Jeff Tedford has opened up the quarterback position. Longshore will battle Kevin Riley for the right to lead Cal's offense next season.

There was never a question who would be the Bears starting quarterback heading into last season. Longshore was a returning starter, and no other signal-callers in the program had ever taken a snap in a game. Longshore was rated as the No. 1 junior quarterback in the country by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.

Longshore was not spectacular during the first half of 2007, but he still led the Bears to a 5-0 start and the No. 2 spot in the national polls. But a sprained ankle knocked him out of sync, and Cal dropped six of its final seven regular season games.

And when Riley replaced Longshore in the season-ending Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force and was named the game's most valuable player, it set up a position battle that will be followed with great intensity by Cal fans.

"It's going to be competitive at the quarterback position," Tedford said.


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"They're both team players, and they want us to win. They're training real hard, and I think competition makes everybody their best, so it's great to have competition at that position."

Longshore was victimized by inconsistency during the second half of last season, even after his ankle had fully healed. It left a faction of fans clamoring for Tedford to give Riley a chance.

The sprained ankle forced Longshore to miss the Bears' game against Oregon State. Armed with Cal's 5-0 record and lofty ranking, Riley got his first college start. He had a predictably uneven performance, but he did lead Cal on an inspired fourth-quarter comeback effort. It fell short when Riley failed to throw the ball away with time running out on a now-notorious play that left the Bears 31-28 losers.

Even before the Armed Forces Bowl, Tedford announced he was opening up all positions, including quarterback. It was predetermined that Riley would see some playing time, and after he came off the bench, Cal's offense immediately came alive.

Riley ended up going the rest of the way, completing 16 of 19 passes for 269 yards and three scores and leading the team on six straight touchdown drives.

So while Riley may be short on experience, he's armed with the confidence he derived from his Armed Forces Bowl performance, and to a lesser extent, his play against Oregon State.

"I'm going to have the attitude that I'm going to be the man," Riley said. "I want to be the guy. I want everybody on the team to want me to be the guy, and not leave any doubt. I want to make sure they want me in the game and they trust me."

There's no question the second half of last season took its toll on Longshore, who endured hefty criticism from fans. He said he took time to reflect on the season for about a month afterward, and then moved on.

Longshore downplayed the competitive aspect of the spring, instead choosing to simply focus on improving his play. Longshore said his goal is to play even better than he did in 2006, when he became just the second Cal quarterback to throw for over 3,000 yards in a season.

"To me, it's about improving and doing the best job that I can do," Longshore said. "I'm just trying to get better. I'm not worried about beating any other quarterback. I'm out there to beat the defense. I'm not out there to beat anybody else on our team."

There's probably more at stake for Longshore, given that this is his last season in college. Last season did some damage to his NFL stock, and standing on the sideline with a clipboard won't exactly give him a boost.

Longshore said he hasn't thought about the implications of possibly losing his job to Riley. 

"If I put everything I have forward and I improve, no matter what happens I'll be happy with myself," Longshore said. "I'll be able to look myself in the mirror and know I did everything I could. If you're really satisfied with everything you've put into it and how hard you worked, you don't care about playing time. You can look yourself in the mirror."

Riley said it was a little awkward last season hearing some of the support for his playing time. He admitted that he would have loved to have gotten a chance earlier, but he also tried to support Longshore as much as he could.

"It was a little strange. People would come up to me and ask why I'm not playing," Riley said. "Obviously, I wanted to be out there. Seeing what was going on (with Longshore), it was tough. It was bad break after bad break. You just have to go up to him, try to say something to him to pick him up.

"We're teammates. We're not mad at each other. We go in there, and we still help each other. But we both understand what's going on. It's just part of the game. Nate has played two years of college football and has done some great things. He's a great quarterback. If I want to win this job, I have to outplay him. That's why you play college football, for competition — to be that guy."

This is a decision that won't be made anytime soon. Tedford said he likely won't decide on a starter until the week before the season starts at the end of August. That means Longshore and Riley will have numerous practices in which to state their case.

Tedford also said he will take a look at redshirt freshman Brock Mansion, who should push the other two candidates but really isn't a viable player in the race for the 2008 job.

And what is Tedford looking for in his 2008 starter?

"Running the offense, being smart with the football, putting us in position to move the football and scoring on offense," he said. "There's a lot more to it than just throwing the football. The mental part of the game at that position is critical. You're asking them to do a lot. Whoever puts us in the best position to win, that's what we are looking for."

Contact Jonathan Okanes at jokanes@bayareanewsgroup.com.