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OSU almost had Seneca Wallace

Iowa State quarterback Seneca Wallace, who has emerged as a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy, began his college career at Oregon State Ñ sort of.

The Sacramento, Calif., native, a high school QB who wasn't heavily recruited, signed with the Beavers in 1998 and spent the summer in Corvallis conditioning with the OSU athletes. When camp opened in August, it was clear to coach Mike Riley that Wallace was special.

'The players would have all these competitions Ñ races, punting, throwing for distance,' Riley says. 'Seneca would win them all. He was just a tremendous athlete.'

Riley had the 5-10, 185-pound Wallace ticketed as his starting cornerback, but there was a discrepancy on one high school credit.

'We appealed it three times, hoping we could get him eligible,' Riley says.

It never happened. Wallace left before OSU's first game and attended Sacramento City College. 'But he was around a lot that fall,' Riley says. 'He came back for home games. We were hoping he would be back with us the next spring.'

Then Riley left for the San Diego Chargers, Wallace wound up at Iowa State, and the rest is history.

• You might recognize No. 2 on the Portland bench tonight as the Blazers open exhibition action against Utah in the Rose Garden.

He is Billy Owens, the third pick in the 1991 draft, a 6-9 forward from Syracuse with unfulfilled promise. Strong and athletic, Owens averaged 14.3 points and 8.0 rebounds as a rookie with Golden State but suffered a knee injury his second season that has plagued him since. He has averaged 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds in 10 years, but many projected him to be a perennial all-star.

'I am grateful for my career, and it has been able to provide for my family, but I am not satisfied,' says Owens, 33. 'I had bigger dreams. I wanted to be one of the top players in the league. My knees started bothering me, and I couldn't play up to my capabilities.'

Owens is on his seventh team since the Warriors. He hasn't played since 2000-01, when he averaged 4.4 points and 4.6 rebounds for Detroit. He spent last season rehabilitating after surgery on his right knee.

Now he is fighting odds, trying to make a Blazer team deep at every position. Why Portland?

'It was the only team that gave me a chance and invited me to training camp,' says Owens, who lives in Philadelphia. 'I thank Mo (Cheeks) for bringing me in here. I still want to compete.'

Owens has had to sit out part of early training camp because of the knee.

'Getting past the two-a-days will help,' he says. 'But Father Time don't wait for nobody. If my body can't withstand the pounding every day, I would rather let the young guys have it and get on with my life.'

• James Whelan is getting his chance with the Dallas Cowboys. The second-year tight end from LaSalle High, inactive with the Cowboys all last season, caught five passes for 38 yards, including three for first downs, in Dallas' victory over St. Louis on Sept. 29.

'James stepped to the front,' said Cowboy coach Dave Campo, the one-time Oregon State assistant. 'We have to be a team that takes advantage of what a defense is giving us. If (QB Quincy Carter) gets more confidence in our tight ends, he will certainly use them more.'

On Sunday, Whelan caught one pass for 33 yards in a loss to the New York Giants.

• Bill Schonely won't be moving to Los Angeles after all. The longtime voice of the Blazers, contacted by Laker GM Mitch Kupchak about filling the shoes of the late Chick Hearn, didn't get the job. It went to Paul Sunderland, 50, who played a season of basketball for the Oregon Ducks before transferring. Sunderland was on the United States' gold medal-winning volleyball team in the 1984 Olympics.

Contact Kerry Eggers at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .