Erickson lands a top QB and may get his best class of recruits

Dennis Erickson is closing in on what he considers the best of his five recruiting classes at Oregon State. And it appears he will land the whopper that nibbled at the bait in a pond far, far away.

Ryan Gunderson, the Central Catholic quarterback who committed to OSU before his senior season but visited Tennessee last weekend, has told Erickson he will sign to play for the Beavers.

Gunderson and three of OSU's four other in-state commitments Ñ Lake Oswego's Andy Darkins and Keith Robertson and Pendleton's Roy Schuening Ñ are good friends and have been in close communication. They are expected to hold a joint media conference next Wednesday, the national letter-of-intent signing date.

The 6-4, 215-pound Gunderson caused Erickson some anxious moments with his Tennessee visit. But on Wednesday, he called Erickson to tell him he had opted for the Beavers.

Gunderson was taken aback a few weeks ago when Danny Southwick Ñ a 6-3, 215-pound QB from Provo, Utah, who had been on a church mission for two years Ñ committed to the Beavers.

'I wouldn't say I was upset,' says Gunderson, who threw for 3,740 yards and 49 touchdowns with only seven interceptions as a senior. 'I am not afraid of competition. I would say their recruiting strategy changed from the time I committed. They had told me they would bring in another quarterback who was an athlete, and they might move him to another position. I'm going to have to compete with good players wherever I go.'

Oregon State coaches say they told Gunderson and others that they might recruit two quarterbacks this year. The one quarterback who committed last season, Kellen Bradley, wound up at Arizona State, leaving the Beavers without a QB in the class.

With Derek Anderson heading into his junior year and no hot prospects in the wings, the coaches thought they needed depth at quarterback. But they consider Gunderson to be 'the guy' in this class.

Southwick was highly regarded out of high school, after which he signed with Brigham Young. But he has been away from football for two years, and the OSU coaches aren't sure what they'll be getting.

Oregon State has 22 verbal commitments, including five from in-state ÑÊGunderson; Darkins, a 6-3, 230-pound linebacker; Robertson, a 6-3, 235-pound defensive end; Schuening, a 6-4, 285-pound offensive guard; and Lebanon's Zach Hagemeister, a 6-4, 230-pound linebacker/tight end.

Erickson considers these five the cornerstone of the recruiting class. Gunderson and Darkins were among the eight players selected on the Tacoma News Tribune's 'Northwest Nuggets' team last month.

Other intriguing players who have committed to OSU:

• Charles Burnley, a 6-0, 180-pound running back from Valencia, Calif. Burnley, who rushed for 2,123 yards and 30 touchdowns as a junior and 1,754 yards and 18 TDs as a senior, was ranked the nation's 14th-best all-purpose back by one recruiting service. He was recruited by most of the Pacific-10 Conference schools, Ohio State, Alabama and Florida, and ultimately chose OSU over Washington State.

• Lorenzo Bursey, a 5-9, 165-pound running back/cornerback from Long Beach, Calif. He runs a 4.4 40, bench-presses 320 and was ranked as the 15th-best all-purpose back. He drew interest from most Pac-10 schools, along with Tennessee, Nebraska and Miami.

• Bernard Yvenson, a 5-10, 205-pound safety prospect from Boca Raton, Fla. He rushed for 1,156 yards and 18 TDs, splitting time between fullback and tailback, and also played linebacker last fall in Florida's toughest district. He was selected to the Palm Beach Post's 'Perfect 10' honoring the top 10 athletes from Palm Beach and Martin counties.

• Anthony Wheat, a 6-1, 210-pound safety from Dominguez High, the Compton, Calif., alma mater of ex-OSU tackle Eric Manning and current Beavers Brandon Lockheart and Harvey Whiten. He missed four games because of a torn knee ligament last fall. Before that, he was recruited by most Pac-10 schools and turned down down offers from Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Arizona.

• Kyle DeVan, a 6-2, 275-pound lineman from Vacaville, Calif., who is the No. 1-ranked heavyweight wrestler in California.

• Three players who continue the pipeline to the Las Vegas area Ñ Curtis Coker, a 6-1, 290-pound defensive tackle, Gerard Dawson, a 5-11, 175-pound cornerback, and Jeff Van Orsow, a 6-4, 225-pound defensive end.

NOTES: OSU has been waiting for confirmation that Thomas Huff, a 6-4, 190-pound receiver from Phoenix, has committed to the Beavers. Clinton Polk, a 6-3, 190-pound cornerback from Phoenix, will visit Corvallis this weekend. The other player on the wish list is Chijoke Onyenegecha, a heavily recruited 6-3, 205-pound cornerback from City College of San Francisco. OSU coaches figure he probably will wind up at Florida State. É James Finley, the 6-2, 195-pound receiver from Manuel Arts High in Los Angeles who signed with OSU last year but didn't qualify, took his entrance test Saturday. Results are expected in about a week. Finley, who was close to qualifying the last time he took the test, lived in the Corvallis area on and off during the fall. He is back in the L.A. area but will enroll for spring term at OSU if he qualifies. É Of the 22 players who have verbally committed, 13 have SAT scores of more than 1,000. Six haven't qualified, but OSU coaches expect at least four of them to do so. Scholastically, it's the most solid of Erickson's five recruiting classes.

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