QB Costa's career over at Oregon

We already know that most college football players don't get a storybook ending. But each time we're reminded of that, it stings anew.

Nate Costa, Oregon's senior backup quarterback, who lost a tight race this preseason with Darron Thomas to become the Ducks starter, has suffered a knee injury that will end his season and his career.

Costa will always have his win last year at UCLA -- a gutty performance that coach Chip Kelly goes to great lengths to praise -- and his strong work coming off the bench when Thomas got hurt at Washington State.

This is not how Costa wanted it to end. This is not how anyone wanted it to end for him. But so it goes. He was hurt on a freak play when he mishandled a snap on a field goal against Washington last Saturday.

Costa's value to the Ducks is mostly unseen. A team captain, he was a leader in word and example. Thomas is surely a better quarterback today due to the tight competition with Costa. And Costa gave the Ducks a security blanket that most teams don't have.

If the Ducks had needed Costa to replace Thomas -- for whatever reason -- my feeling is confidence in the locker room wouldn't have slipped. I'm not sure that the Ducks wouldn't be where they are right now if Costa had been the starter and not Thomas.

Costa's message to his teammates today when the news broke? Don't worry. Keep winning.

"He told them not to feel sorry for him that he'll be with us," Kelly said. "He's just a classy, classy, classy kid. A real unfortunate loss for us."

Kelly also said the offense wouldn't change now that Thomas' backup is freshman Bryan Bennett, who will only play if Thomas gets hurt because the Ducks would rather redshirt him than get him some mop-up duty experience.

We'll see. It's likely that some awareness of not tempting fate with Thomas will be there for Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. There's too much at stake.

When a team has a special season, as it appears the Ducks are doing, there are always stars out front who win awards. But the foundation of special seasons is almost always built on the consistent dedication of lunch-pail guys who don't get the spotlight. And that includes guys who aren't often among the 11 on the field during games.

If Costa had been blessed with healthy knees, he may have become a star on the field. More than a few folks would rate it a near-certainty.

But he wasn't and he didn't. Yet if you listen to what his coaches and teammates say about him, you realize that Costa became a star in the locker room.

If you really think about it -- and we're not even being sentimental, Hallmark-cardy about this -- that actually is more important.