Three OSU freshmen work hard while they await chance to play
CORVALLIS Ñ They stick together. They watch. They learn. They wait. They man the scout team. Scrimmages against the starting units during practice are their games. Any glory is yet around the corner.
The 14 true freshmen on Oregon State's football team have had no choice but to learn patience this fall. Each is redshirting, preserving four seasons of eligibility as they sit on the sideline while veterans play to the cheers of thousands on Saturdays.
It's not an easy assignment. The Tribune visited with three of OSU's blue-chip prospects, who have gained an extra month of practice time in December as the Beavers prepare for the Dec. 26 Insight Bowl in Phoenix against Pittsburgh.
Roseburg tight end could be great
Joe Newton grew up a Beaver, so he figures this fall hasn't been all bad.
'They have always been my favorite team,' the Roseburg native says. 'It's a lot of fun to be able to watch and cheer for them, but I'm looking forward to the time when I get to go out and play.'
Coach Dennis Erickson figures that will be next year. Tight end is OSU's most loaded position. Starter Tim Euhus is coming back for his senior season, promising 2002 freshman Dan Haines is in the mix despite knee (ACL) surgery this month that will keep him out of the bowl game, and sophomore Pat Loney is waiting in the wings.
Newton probably is going to be too good to sit much longer, though. At 6-foot-7, 255 pounds, and blessed with basketball hands, he could wind up being OSU's finest receiving tight end ever. Even better than Phil Ross (1985-89), the OSU career receptions record-holder with 153.
That is a long way off, which Newton fully understands.
'I still have a lot of learning to do, a lot of physical development to get done,' says Newton, a courteous young man whose father, Dan, works in the forest industry. 'I have some good times ahead of me. I'll get in there (next fall), compete as best I can and see what happens.'
As a senior at Roseburg, Newton was a first-team Parade magazine All-American. He was first team on the Long Beach Press-Telegram's 2002 Best in the West, receiving seven of a possible 10 votes, the most ever by an Oregon prep star. SuperPrep Magazine touted Newton, also an All-State basketball player and the Class 4A discus champion, as the No. 1 overall athlete from the state.
Nearly every major school wanted Newton, including Oregon, Washington, California, Southern Cal, Washington State, Nebraska and Oklahoma. He chose OSU, for which he has no regrets.
'I'm extremely happy with my decision,' says Newton, who turned 19 in October. 'This place fits my personality. I like the school, and I just love the football program. It's a perfect fit for me.'
In his four months in Corvallis, Newton has improved his performance dramatically in the three major lifts Ñ the bench press, the squat and the power clean. He has gained 20 pounds, and Beaver coaches figure he will grow to about 270 before he is through.
Newton has learned that just about everything is different about the college game.
'The speed and strength of everyone is a huge step up from high school,' he says. 'They are a lot more serious about the technique in lifting than I was used to. Blocking is probably the thing I need the most work on. I have to use extremely good technique. My strength was comparable to that of most high school defensive linemen, but these guys are huge and fast. They are so good, I have to work my hardest just to not get embarrassed.'
For the first time in his life, Newton isn't playing football games on weekends.
'That has been kind of tough, but everyone has to go through it,' he says. 'It's part of the process. I've enjoyed learning a lot about our offensive system and getting better. As long as I'm getting better, it's not a problem at all for me.'
For some players, practice is drudgery. Newton doesn't see it that way.
'I like playing football,' says Newton, an engineering major who graduated from high school with a grade-point average of 3.75. 'It's great we get a few more weeks (of practice), plus we get to travel with the team to the bowl game. It's all a lot of fun.'
Running back gets body ready
Ryan Cole's rippled body glistens with sweat after a workout in OSU's second-floor weightlifting room at Valley Center. At 6-foot and nearly 220, he is almost as big as Steven Jackson, the player he hopes to succeed as the Beavers' next great tailback.
'When I came here in August, I was semi-strong,' says the graduate of South Kitsap High in Port Orchard, Wash. 'After four months of workouts, I've seen improvement in my body and strength.'
Cole ran the 40 in 4.41 at a Nike combine the summer before his senior year.
'We'll run it for time next spring,' he says. 'I'm anxious to see how I'll do.'
Cole rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 68 touchdowns in his final two seasons at South Kitsap, one of the top Class 4A teams in the Puget Sound area. He was a SuperPrep first-team All-American as a senior, the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Washington, and the No. 2 player on the Tacoma News Tribune's eight-man Northwest Nuggets squad. As a senior, he had a 34-inch vertical leap, a best of 520 in the squat and 325 in the bench.
Cole narrowed his choices to Washington, Northwestern and California before choosing the Beavers.
A season without games has been difficult, he says.
'So many times I have been in the stands and seen a bad play or a call, or we have been down, and I want to be out there and be there for my team,' says Cole, 18, articulate and thoughtful with his words.
'I've tried to take it one day at a time. Days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months, so it went by fast. It was hard watching the veterans play and doing stuff we all love to do. But it's good because I can sit back and learn, watch the veterans play and see how much they improved through the year.'
Cole has enjoyed apprenticing under Jackson, the Pacific-10 Conference rushing leader as a sophomore this past fall.
'He's a great back,' Cole says. 'I've learned a whole lot from Steven. He's so good at getting around the corner, really good at reading defenses, and he can just run over people. I try to take his strengths and learn from them. I've learned to trust myself, to play more freely. That's the way he does it.'
Cole says he appreciates that Jackson is approachable.
'If I have a problem with a play or if my footwork is wrong, I know I can ask him for some help here and there, and he'll teach me,' Cole says.
Each week, Cole and the rest of the offensive 'rookies' portray the opposing offense for the benefit of the OSU defense.
'That's been good,' he says. 'Going up against the starting defense, which has at least four guys who are soon going to be in the NFL É I know it will help me in the future.'
During the bye week in October, the coaches held a scout team scrimmage.
Cole got a half-dozen carries and says he gained 'maybe 30-some' yards.
'It was cool to bang heads because we hadn't real tackled for a month and a half,' he says. 'We were all hungry. The defense probably had the advantage over the offense for the most part, but we have spring to take care of that.'
Cole likes what he sees from the freshman group.
'This class is special in a lot of ways,' he says. 'We are all competitive. We all want to win. There is a lot of camaraderie.'
Defensive end bulks up
Brandon Scales wasn't sure what to expect when he came to Corvallis last summer.
'I knew there were players here before me who would be ahead of me,' says the defensive end from North Hills, Calif.
'I didn't know we would all be redshirting, though. It has been sort of hard. I'm used to starting and being the highlights person. Now I'm sitting back. It has been fun, it has been frustrating Ñ all types of emotions, actually.'
The soft-spoken Californian was a three-sport star in high school, the starting center in basketball, and the school's triple jump record-holder in track.
The 6-4 Scales, who chose OSU over Washington State and USC, came in at 208 pounds and now weighs 220. Coaches project that he will be about 230 next fall and 250 before he is through at Oregon State. They love Scales' athleticism and expect him to contend for playing time next season.
'I believe I can play next year,' he says. 'I'm hoping I can show them during spring practice that I can be one of the guys in the mix.'
Scales wanted to play his college ball away from the big city.
'This is a good place to study, a smaller community than L.A., where there are unlimited things my mind can go off to,' he says. 'Here, I can keep my mind on school, working out and reaching my goals: to start, and then to get to the next level.'
The adjustment from the preps to college 'has been pretty hard,' says Scales, 18. 'I'm learning how to work my body, how to do different techniques. Being with the scout team, you learn more things than just by sitting on the sideline, watching.'
Scales says he has enjoyed his fellow freshmen. Quarterback Anton Clarkson is his roommate. Defensive lineman Josh Linehan and cornerback Brandon Browner Ñ the latter a high school teammate for three years Ñ are good friends.
The young group sometimes gives the first-team offense 'a lot of trouble when we get the adrenaline going,' he says.
Scales looks forward to the bowl experience, even though he will just be watching. One day, it will be different.
'Our scout defense is soon going to be the starting defense here,' he says. 'We have a great defense right now, but this group is going to be even better. We could wind up being the No. 1 defense in the country.'