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Local talent fuels Vikings' anticipated improvement
College football has turned into a big-money business. With wins translating into huge paydays for coaches and schools, programs have extended their recruiting efforts throughout the country.
Portland State is an exception. The Vikings rely heavily on in-state players, many of whom Division-I schools did not want.
'This has always been an overlooked state in terms of talent,' Vikings coach Nigel Burton. 'Those guys play with a chip on their shoulder, and I kind of enjoy that.'
Bringing in local players has its advantages for Portland State.
'It's enormous,' Burton says, 'just because guys that are from here take pride in this place. They take pride in where they're from.'
When thinking of local players, Vikings quarterback Connor Kavanaugh comes immediately to mind. The former Lincoln High star's photo has been plastered on billboards throughout the city.
Here is a little about some of the other players from around the Portland area, and why the city should remember their names:
• Senior defensive tackle Myles Wade spent his high school years at Benson and Central Catholic high schools. He has taken a long journey just to come back home.
Wade began his collegiate career at Arizona Western Junior College. He played one season there before moving on to Texas Tech.
'I take different pieces from every place I've been,' Wade says. 'I just try to look at all the positives and outweigh the negatives.'
Now that he is back in Portland, the 6-1, 300-pound graduate student has ambitions of making enough of an impression to get a shot at the NFL. His No. 1 goal, though, is to make his last season of college football fun.
'Fun is something I haven't really had, even though I should've been having fun over the past five years of my college career,' he says. 'I just really want to have fun, because this could be the last time I play.'
• Senior Adam Kleffner will start for the second consecutive year at center for the Vikings. With long hair and a crazy beard, the 6-3, 310-pounder from Jesuit High looks every bit the part of a rugged offensive lineman.
Kleffner wants to improve his game in every way this season.
'You can never really reach that peak,' he says. 'You've just got to continue to get better. Fix the small things that you mess up on and really work to improve as much as you can week by week.'
Kleffner's last snap of football is fast approaching. He wants to enjoy moment he can on the gridiron before he has to enter the 'real world.'
'You see everything in your life in football coming to a peak of sorts,' he says. 'You're looking at a few more months, and then kind of question marks after that. So I'm trying to soak it all in and have fun while I can.'
• Wide receiver Justin Monahan transferred to Portland State last season after redshirting for a year at Whitworth. Starting all 11 games for the Viks, the 6-2, 195- pound junior from West Linn caught 30 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns.
Monahan has only vague goals for himself, other than helping the Vikings win.
'It's not about me or an individual on this team,' he says. 'We just want to win games and achieve our ultimate goal.'
Monahan's goals for the Vikings are ambitious.
'As a team, this year our goal is to win the Big Sky championship and give ourselves a chance to go to the playoffs and win a national championship,' he says. 'That's always going to be a goal here.'
• Sophomore Mitch Gaulke seized his opportunity last season, when a teammate's injury put him into the starting lineup four games into the campaign. The 6-2, 265-pound right guard from West Linn has the perfect attitude for a lineman.
'This is a team sport,' he says, 'so whatever we can do to get the whole team going is what I'm looking to do.'
When the game is on the line, Gaulke wants the Vikings to have enough confidence in him to run the ball behind his blocking.
'Hopefully I'm a guy that they can trust and who they can call on whenever they need someone to step up,' he says.
• After transferring from Boise State as a redshirt freshman, Ricky Cookman had a hard time fitting in with the Vikings' passing attack. In two seasons, he went without a catch.
Last season, Cookman finally became a target in the PSU passing attack. He had 13 catches for 143 yards and one touchdown in 11 games (four starts).
Going into his senior season, the 5-11, 195 pounder from Clackamas says he wants to get high marks from the coaches in each game and practice.
'I want to be an 'A plus' at my position in every game,' he says. 'We get graded for practice, and I want to be an 'A.' Do everything right and just do my job.'
Cookman says stats mean very little to him. He would like the Vikings to look for him in critical situations, though.
'I don't have any number goals,' he says. 'But if I get third-down catches for a first (down), then I'm happy.'
• Aloha product Kyle Ritt has started 21 of the 22 games he has played as a Viking. The 6-2, 290 right tackle was honorable mention all-Big Sky.
Ritt hopes to be an all-conference player this season as a junior. That could happen if the Vikings reach his ultimate statistical goal.
Last season, the Viks led the Big Sky in rushing with 2,236 yards, just 19 yards short of the school record of 2,255.
'Basically I want to break that school record,' Ritt says.
Like with the others, Ritt takes great pride in playing for his hometown team.
'The logo is 'Our Town, Your Team,' and it's really great that we have a lot of local guys from around here and a lot of local guys who are stepping up, especially this year,' Ritt says. 'It really brings this city together, because people can relate to these guys.'