AGOSTINI: Life brings former Hilmar High star Costa back to football

June 15, 2013 

Nate Costa heeded the advice over the years from parents, teachers and coaches: Define the goal and achieve it.

No one followed through on his goals better than Costa. You remember him from his outstanding years as quarterback for the Hilmar High Yellowjackets and, later, as the injury-saddled QB for the University of Oregon.

Funny how that sometimes mean-spirited linebacker named Life deals the harshest blows. By now, Costa was supposed to be two years into his long-planned career as a policeman, a vocation people said fit him better than hand into glove.

Instead, two career changes later, he's a graduate assistant coach for the Ducks. "Go figure" doesn't explain it. He aimed for Plan A and he's hip-deep into Plan D. He's been spun dizzy yet, somehow, I can't imagine a better young man to handle the day-to-day uncertainties better than the intensely grounded Costa.

"Maybe it was fate," he conceded. "To me, abnormal is my normal."

Costa, 25, resurfaced this month when he announced his first Sting Football Camp, a no-contact non-padded football seminar June 24-26 at Hilmar High. He promises a spirited clinic featuring Jordan Holmes (who's wrapping up his master's studies at Cal State Stanislaus) and Blake Thompson, two of his former Oregon teammates.

Learning from Costa, one of the best quarterbacks this area has produced, is a no-brainer. His response to life's curveballs, however, might afford even greater lessons.

Costa had begun his work as a policeman in training two years ago in Springfield, Ore., not far from Eugene. Two months in, he enrolled in a 16-week training program at the Oregon Public Safety Academy.

Then he felt that dreadfully familiar pain in his right knee as he leaped over an obstacle-course barrier. His right knee was his good one — only one football-induced surgery compared to the three absorbed by his left.

But patrolling the streets as a policeman requires physical fitness. His latest knee injury resulted in a review of his condition with his doctor. Their conclusion: Costa's time as a policeman was over.

The decision hurt him. He had shaped his life around seeking that badge.

"Unstable knees would not be the safest thing for me," Costa admitted, "and deskwork was not why I got into law enforcement."

It's here, however, where the goodwill and popularity Costa built through his football years at Oregon kicked in for him. If he was snake-bitten and unfortunate on the field, he was respected off of it. Teammates were inspired by him and the media told his story of plucky resistance.

Not long after his police academy injury, Costa received a call from Comcast Northwest. For two years, Costa rebounded from policeman to TV sports announcer. He became a network expert on college football — a perfect role for him — and also covered high school football and the Portland Trail Blazers.

"I liked it. It was a rush to be on TV and feel the pressure again, even though it was different from football," Costa said. "There was a lot of competition, but you didn't get the same feel for it like in football. You didn't feel the other guy staring into your eyes."

More important, Costa was back in football and, in a sense, back into a familiar arena. He discovered that he missed it.

And then came another break, in the form of Chip Kelly leaving as Oregon's football coach. He took his graduate assistants with him to the Philadelphia Eagles, which meant that new Ducks coach Mark Helfrich needed some manpower help.

Helfrich soon called Costa, who was not far removed from his QB years, though to him it seemed like a decade ago. Incredibly, he's back on campus and coaching players he used to call teammates.

"It's like I'm back on scholarship," he said. "I'll complete my master's degree (in Educational Leadership) while I'm coaching. It's a step above an internship, but not full-time."

Costa will serve an invaluable role. He knows the personnel, the offense — he ran it — and is familiar with all things Oregon.

Only now, he believes he's been pulled by some irresistible force back onto the field, to the football field, where it all started. Was this where he always belonged?

"I knew I would always be a coach in some way, maybe in youth football," he said. "Now I know I want to be in this world. You just can't stop. I have too many people back at home and at Oregon pulling for me."

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter @modbeesports.

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