We anticipated terms like "ordeal" or "unlucky" or "snakebit" from Hilmar's Nate Costa.
Instead, he described his calamity-filled career so far at the University of Oregon as a "whirlwind adventure."
Which says something special about the quarterback still hoping for any favorable nod from, well, anyone.
Costa, a redshirt sophomore, has undergone three surgeries on his left knee for a torn anterior cruciate ligament. So far, the procedures outnumber his games played in 2½ seasons for the Ducks (2). The first operation took place after his junior year at Hilmar, the second in September of 2007 and the third two months ago.
It was accident No. 3 that should have driven Costa to a psychiatrist's coach. He earned the quarterback job until a thankless accident during the final days of fall practice. Two linemen fell on his extended left leg as he delivered a pass.
"I finished the practice but it (the knee) felt loose, not right," he said. "I kind of knew what happened."
How about "Does Anyone Up There Like Me?"
Before the season, we tabbed Saturday's game at Cal as an unofficial tribute to Costa's pluck. The game surely would have been fueled by his strong arm, resolute running and peerless leadership.
Only now, he won't even make the trip to Berkeley. Pacific-10 Conference rules prohibit visiting teams from dressing more than 64 players, and Costa would count against the number.
At this point, a few questions must be asked. Does Costa believe football, his passion, has spurned him? Has he encountered too many black cats? Should he inspect the tea leaves and just call it a career?
If you think he's answered "yes" to any of the above, you don't know Nate Costa.
"That's not the way I was raised," he said. I've got to take things head-on and keep pushing and staying positive. You take it for what it is. Football is a violent game. It's a game I love. It's taken away some things from me, but it's given more than it's taken. There is nothing else to do but to move on."
Costa's rehab -- he knows the drill by now -- has gone well. He runs underwater and jumps over boxes and bags. You name it, he does it -- plyometrics, weightlifting and even Pilates ("kind of girly but it helps with flexibility and strength").
His latest comeback clearly is a make-or-break thing. The first two surgeries, which hinged on a replaced ligament from a cadaver, were deemed to be unsuccessful. This time, the part came from Costa himself. His new ACL was shaped from his own patellar tendon.
"It's your own flesh. There's no way your body will reject it," he said. "It felt great before, but obviously it wasn't. I've always brought my knee back to strength. I'm confident."
When Costa returns to the field next year, he'll be greeted by rush-hour type traffic at quarterback. Oregon football, like everyone else, waits for no one. Costa's injury triggered a chorus line of rotating quarterbacks, four in all, that would have buckled most programs.
Sophomore Justin Roper, true freshmen Chris Harper and Darron Thomas and sophomore Jeremiah Masoli have taken turns at QB while injuries or ineffectiveness complicated matters. Masoli, a former San Francisco City College star, will start against Cal. Amazingly, the 23rd-ranked Ducks (6-2, 4-1) have bypassed their quarterback roulette with the nation's fifth-best rushing attack (6.0 yards per carry).
Costa responds to his immediate future with pure pragmatism. Oregon no doubt will sign another quarterback during the offseason. It's possible his window of opportunity already has been shut.
Here's Costa's game plan: Bring it on.
"I definitely know my battle will be uphill. I'll be ready for it," he said. "Competition is the best way, and the best guy who comes out of it gets the job. That's the way it should be."
Bet against his "whirlwind adventure" at your own risk.
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached
at www.modbee.com or 578-2302.