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Home for the holidays: Bowl game highlights holiday for Buford grad
1230Roper
University of Oregon quarterback Justin Roper looks downfield during a Pac-10 game against Washington on Aug. 30. - photo by For The Times
Justin Roper

University of Oregon

High school:
Buford, Class of 2006

Age: 21

Position: 6-foot-6, 205 pounds

Notable: Scout.com’s No. 33-ranked quarterback in the country for Class of 2006...Passed for 1,423 yards and 18 touchdowns his senior year...Threw for over 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior...Won four Region 8-AA titles and two Class AA state titles at Buford.

University of Oregon quarterback Justin Roper, a 2006 Buford High graduate, saw that his football bowl plans and Christmas vacation made for the perfect opportunity: a road trip down the Pacific Coast.

This trip was a little bit of fun followed by today’s work in the Ducks Holiday Bowl game in San Diego.

Instead of traveling with the rest of the Ducks football team, Roper and a few of his teammates drove down the west coast on Interstate 5 from Eugene, Ore. 975 miles south to San Diego for two days, along the way taking in sights, including Hollywood, Beverly Hills and then the San Diego Zoo.

"I had never been to Los Angeles or San Diego before," Roper said. "It’s been a little bit of a vacation before we get to work."

That work is the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, which has the No. 17-ranked Ducks matched up against No. 13-ranked Oklahoma State today at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

In order to make the trip, the 6-foot-6, 205-pound redshirt sophomore and his teammates left school on Dec. 23 and arrived in San Diego the next day, which gave them a day to relax and mentally prepare for today’s game against Oklahoma State.

"We’re not too high-strung about the bowl game," Roper said. "It’s very exciting, but we’re very business-like in our approach to it."

The following four days were devoted to heavy practices that included hitting drills, game plan preparation and "polishing things up," according to Roper.

As a result, the former Buford QB was unable to visit his family during the holidays, but was still able to call them and catch up. He will finally get to return home to Georgia on Wednesday for time with his family.

"It was unfortunate that I couldn’t go home," he said. "But I’ll get five or six days after the bowl game."

His time back in Georgia will give him a chance to see his family and some friends from his days at Buford, where he was four-sport letterman in football, basketball, swimming and track and field. As a senior, Roper passed for 1,423 yards and 18 touchdowns and was part of a 12-1 Wolves team that won the Region 8-AA title and was a Class AA state quarterfinalist.

"The most fun for me was getting to play with my friends and obviously I miss my family a lot too," Roper said. "I haven’t had a chance to go back to any games, but my dad keeps me filled in, and they’re obviously doing very well."

But until he comes home, Roper only has today’s game on his mind, because an appearance in it isn’t ruled out. Although he is the current backup quarterback, he has enjoyed stints as a starter the past two seasons, even as an inexperienced redshirt freshman in 2007, where he made his debut as a starter in a 38-31 overtime loss to Oregon State last season.

He then entered the 2007 Sun Bowl as the team’s primary signal caller and flourished, passing for four touchdowns and 180 yards as the Ducks rolled past South Florida 56-21.

After the successful finish to his rookie year, he was once again slated as Oregon’s starter at the beginning of the 2008 season.

He was impressive, completing 40 of 77 passes for 484 yards and two touchdowns in the Ducks’ first three games of the season, all wins. He set career highs in completions (20) and passing yards (197) in a 32-26 overtime win against Purdue on Sept. 13.

But it was during that overtime win that Roper partially tore his MCL in his left knee, and the spent the four weeks healing before making two short appearances against Arizona on Oct. 25 and California on Nov. 1.

"I did a lot of rehab," Roper said. "We have underwater treadmills in our treatment center that helped me run without stress.

"It helped me get my range of motion and strength back."

Now that he has fully healed, Roper hopes to pick up where he left off and earn his starting spot back. Luckily, he has two years ahead of him to do that, but it won’t be easy. Current starter Jeremiah Masoli, also a junior, and two other backups will also battle for the coveted position.

"The offseason will be crucial," Roper said. "It’s kind of what I’ve had to deal with my whole time here. I came in with two other quarterbacks since day one, so it’s not really anything new."

But Roper is no hurry to be the starter. He’s willing to pay his dues as a backup in today’s game before he prepares for the offseason, which could map out the rest of the career.

"I would like to play, but not too much," Roper said. "If I see the playing field early, that means someone got hurt or we’re not doing well."

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