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November 3, 2010

Oregon fans already laying welcome mat for Husky quarterback

Not long after the news broke that Jake Locker would miss the University of Washington's game against No. 1 ranked Oregon, the messages started lighting up Keith Price's cell phone.

His family back home in Compton, Calif., was thrilled that Price would be making his first collegiate start at quarterback for the Huskies this Saturday in Eugene, Ore. (12:30 p.m. Pacific time on ABC).

"I almost thought they heard the news before me," Price said. "Everybody is excited."

But his family members weren't the only ones sending him messages on his cell phone and attempting to do so on Facebook.

Price, a redshirt freshman who picked Washington as his college over Oregon and Arizona State, also received some interesting text messages from Oregon Duck fans.

Not exactly the same sort of well wishes he was getting from family.

Price, who said he has no idea how they got his cell number, considered it a taste of the reception he'll receive at Autzen Stadium.

"I can already see it coming, but I'm going to try and tune all that stuff out," Price said.

Price, who's 6-foot-1, 192 pounds, has played sparingly in five games for the Huskies (3-5) this season, attempting only nine passes.

His biggest highlight so far was a 1-yard touchdown pass in the Huskies' 32-31 victory over then No. 18-ranked USC in his lone snap of the game before a large gathering of family and friends who came to watch him in Los Angeles.

"You know, I don't know, I just couldn't sleep USC week," said Price. "Something told me - God told me, 'Hey, you're going to play, you got to be ready.' I've been preparing like that ever since."

Price got the opportunity to start when Huskies medical staff learned that the hairline fracture in Locker's rib had deteriorated to a crack from hits he took in the Huskies' 41-0 loss to Stanford Saturday.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian announced Monday that Locker would be out till at least the Huskies' final home game of the season, Nov. 18 against UCLA.

That opened the door for Price to make his first start and moved true freshman Nick Montana to the No. 2 spot with wide receiver Cody Bruns as the emergency quarterback.

"It's unfortunate what happened to Jake and I'm just trying to go out there and do the best I can," Price said. "I know a lot of people are not giving us a shot in the world. I'm just going out there to try and prove them wrong."

Price couldn't stop smiling as he spoke with a gathering of media after practice Wednesday night.

Coach Steve Sarkisian said that one of Price's strength is his eternally positive attitude, laid back approach and ability to not let distractions get the best of him.

Sarkisian knows that mindset will come in handy at Autzen Stadium, where rabid Oregon fans are notorious for trying to get inside Huskies' players heads.

"Making his first career start, obviously on the road in an environment like Autzen is a challenging one, but one I've been in before with Mark Sanchez (at USC) making his first career road start in Autzen Stadium in a tough ball game," Sarkisian said.

"It's going to be exciting to watch Keith Price play; he's made great strides in development under (offensive coordinator) Doug Nussmeier. He's got a real confidence about himself right now, and I think we all saw that in some of the moments that he's been in, especially at USC in a critical juncture of that ball game, stepping up and throwing a touchdown pass. It'll be a great challenge for him, and a great challenge for us."

Price, who's known for his mobility, also showed his passing strength at St. John Bosco High School, near Long Beach, where he completed 143 of 200 passes for 2,260 yards and 24 touchdowns with six interceptions his senior year.

He moved in with his grandmother in Long Beach after his parents didn't like the crowd he was hanging around with in Compton.

"I was able to attend private school and kind of change my life and play sports," he said.

Price has been dreaming for an opportunity like Saturday for a long time.

"I'm prepared," he said. "I'm ready."

Nussmeier said that Price has developed even faster than he'd hoped.

"I think he had a wonderful summer," Nussmeier said. "He came out of spring and did a nice job. But he really did a good job in the summer in his workout program. And then with the stuff the players do in the offseason of getting them ready to come into camp. Mentally, he took some big, big strides through camp."

Nussmeier was asked if Price knows what he's getting into at Autzen Stadium.

"It's not like he hasn't played in big games," Nussmeier said. "He's never played in a big game as a starter in the Pac-10. He went into the USC game on the road and played. But that high school football league he plays down there in California is big time high school football, about as good of high school football you're going to see anywhere.

"Having done that, he's played in big environments from that standpoint. Obviously, this is totally different."

Price's cell phone reminds him of that.


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