Oregon State junior looks to expand his game into the pros
CORVALLIS Ñ On the desk of Oregon State receivers coach Eric Yarber is a rock with an inscription credited to Vince Lombardi: 'The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.'
Every time James Newson pays Yarber a visit, he takes time to read the saying. It has become his motto.
'That is kind of how I see things,' the Beavers' star receiver says. 'If I work hard, I won't surrender to anything. Hard work takes care of a lot of things.'
Newson has a little natural talent to throw into the equation, too, of course. The mix of work ethic and ability has produced a package that, barring injury, should make the 6-1, 205-pound junior from Stockton, Calif., the greatest receiver in OSU history.
'I have been blessed,' Newson says. Blessed with attributes such as:
Five years ago, when he was 17, Newson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds. Now he weighs 35 more pounds and can still get from point A to point B in warp speed.
'He's not a burner,' coach Dennis Erickson says, 'but when he gets a gear on, James is probably as fast as anybody in the league.'
Newson bench-presses 330 pounds and shrugs off defensive backs like gnats.
'The most physical receiver I have ever coached as far as getting off the bump (from the cornerback),' Erickson says.
With a vertical jump of 34 inches and superb timing, Newson attacks a thrown pass like an offensive rebounder.
'He is one of the best I have seen at going up and getting the ball with a couple of defenders around,' says Jonathan Smith, his quarterback last season and now a graduate assistant coach.
'That's just the basketball player in me,' Newson says. 'I love playing basketball almost as much as football.'
'James is in a groove right now,' Yarber says. 'He feels very comfortable with our offense and, the way he is playing, feels nobody can stop him. If a receiver feels that way, a lot of times nobody can stop him.'
Last season, Newson was Smith's only real receiving threat. He led the Beavers with 58 receptions for 968 yards and five touchdowns. He was third in the Pacific-10 Conference in receiving, and the yardage was second only to Vern Burke (1,007 yards in 1962) in OSU single-season history. Yet Newson gained only honorable mention in Pac-10 all-star voting, a reflection of the Beavers' 5-6 record more than anything.
'That was kind of shocking,' Newson says, 'but it gave me a lot of motivation. I just figure I will go out and prove last year wasn't a fluke. Work hard and something good is going to happen.'
Going into Saturday's home game against Fresno State, Newson ranks second in the Pac-10 with 19 catches in three games for 317 yards and four TDs. He was at his best last Saturday against Nevada-Las Vegas, with all but one of his seven receptions (for 167 yards) coming in the first half. He played sparingly after intermission.
If he stays healthy, Newson almost surely will break school career records held by Phil Ross (153 receptions) and Reggie Bynum (2,231 receiving yards).
Newson also is positioning himself to become a prime prospect for the 2003 NFL draft.
Two years ago, as a redshirt freshman, Newson mostly sat and learned from the Beavers' trio of senior wideouts Ñ Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Robert Prescott.
'Prescott took me under his wing and showed me the offense,' says Newson, whose only catch that year came during garbage time in the Fiesta Bowl rout of Notre Dame.
Johnson and Houshmandzadeh have graduated to the NFL. Newson will, too, Erickson says.
'James has all the skills, and he is what I call a point-maker. He is going to find a way to get it done,' Erickson says.
Yarber, who spent four seasons as an NFL receiver, considers Newson and Houshmandzadeh the most coachable players he has worked with. He says Newson is the best receiver he has ever coached.
'He is even better than T.J. and Chad, and that is saying something,' Yarber says. 'James is an NFL talent.'
Smith smiles when asked to compare Newson with Johnson, Houshmandzadeh and Prescott, his primary targets in 1999 and 2000.
'James is better than any of them,' Smith says. 'Out of those four guys, if it came down to needing to get somebody open for one play, I would take J-New.'
Newson, 22, was recruited by Mike Riley's staff, which beat out Nebraska, California, Southern Cal and Washington State, among other schools, for his services. Newson signed but did not enroll at OSU until the following spring term. By that time, Erickson's staff was in place.
Last season, Newson was the top target of Smith, listed at 5-11 but closer to 5-10. While he has healthy respect for Smith, Newson says it is easier to catch a pass from 6-6 Derek Anderson, the new Beaver QB.
'You can see the ball release out of his hand,' Newson says. 'It's a better picture (for a receiver). Jon was a real good quarterback, but it matters if you are tall. His (Anderson's) balls are easier to catch.'
Newson is amazed at Anderson's command this early in his career.
'It's like he is a person who was born to be a quarterback,' Newson says. 'How he reads the defense, how he throws the ball É when he comes into the huddle, he has a quiet confidence. I like that.'
A solid student
Newson credits several people as major influences in his life. His mother, Helen Brooks, is a welfare worker who raised three boys in a one-parent household.
'Mom has been the biggest influence,' Newson says. 'She is a church lady, a spiritual, lovable woman. She came to my games, supported me immeasurably.'
His older brothers are Casey and Steven, the latter a senior outfielder for the Chico State baseball team.
'We competed in everything,' Newson says. 'If we had a Nerf basketball and a garbage can, we would see who could make the most shots.'
Ray Harris, his basketball coach at Edison High School, 'made sure I focused on class and stayed respectful,' he says. And the school's principal, Pat Hague, who thinks so much of Newson, flew up to watch him play against Nevada-Las Vegas. 'She was like my second mother,' says Newson, who adds, 'I have a powerful group of people on my side.'
Now he is trying to add more religion to his life.
'I am working on it,' Newson says. 'Mom is already there. I am trying to get where she is at. It is something, just seeing the happiness it brings, how humble you can be in spiritual ways. I grew up in church. It has been with me; I just need to apply it more.'
A communications major, Newson thinks he might want to be a broadcaster. Or an attorney.
'I like arguing Ñ how 'bout that?' he says, fingering linebacker Richard Seigler as his most frequent verbal opponent. 'It could be a conversation about anything, and Seig and I pick different sides and debate.'
For now, football occupies much of Newson's attention. Yarber says Newson studies more game tape than any player he has coached. Newson sometimes will watch opposing defenders, looking for clues on how to beat them. Sometimes, he views one-on-one highlight tapes of his favorite receiver, Jerry Rice.
Newson's dream: Someday, aspiring NFL players will be watching tapes of him.