A recruit for all reasons
Prize OSU quarterback already has tackled adversity before season begins
CORVALLIS Ñ The ankle is only slightly swollen now. It doesn't hurt. Ryan Gunderson can run again.
'I think I'm ready to go,' says Oregon State's prize freshman quarterback.
Two weeks before the Oregon Bowl football game, on the night of his graduation from Central Catholic, Gunderson rolled his ankle in a pickup basketball game Ñ the first significant injury of his life.
The injury kept him on the sideline for the June 28 prep all-star game, but it didn't prevent him from participating in the event. He attended practices, got to know players from both teams and stood along the North sideline, rooting his team to victory.
'I was disappointed not to be able to play, but the experience of being there with the guys was a lot of fun,' he says. 'My job was to steal signals from the other team during the game. But just standing on the sideline and encouraging (North players) was worth the experience.'
Gunderson has been in Corvallis for more than a month, one of four freshmen on campus early to prepare for training camp, which begins Monday. He recently completed a session of summer school, and he's been throwing four nights a week with many of the 60 OSU players in town.
'There are distractions at home,' he says, grinning. 'This was a chance to get a couple of classes out of the way early, to work out and lift weights, and to just be around the guys, be part of the environment as we get ready for the season. It's been good.'
Gunderson already had a jump on the offense that coach Mike Riley and his staff will employ. Gunderson made five or six trips to Corvallis during the spring, gathering videotape of practice sessions and scrimmages and securing a playbook to begin to learn the system.
'Ryan wanted to get into football right away, so we provided him with a lot of material,' Riley says. 'He will be further along than most incoming freshmen.'
The heavily recruited Gunderson, who had considered Auburn and Alabama, committed to then-OSU coach Dennis Erickson before a senior season in which he completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,713 yards and 49 touchdowns in leading Central Catholic to the state semifinals. When Tennessee put a late recruiting rush on him, he called Erickson to ask the coach if he intended to stay for four years.
'He said he expected to retire at Oregon State,' says Gunderson, who signed with the Beavers only to learn that Erickson was leaving for the San Francisco 49ers the following week. 'I was pretty disappointed that coach Erickson was leaving. He had personally recruited me. I thought we had gotten close.'
The day after Riley was named as Erickson's successor, he and Athletic Director Bob De Carolis drove to Portland to meet with Gunderson and his parents, Dave and Marianne. It was the only such visit Riley made to a recruit, 'but we had heard how disappointed they were with Dennis leaving, and I just felt it was important to meet with them and answer any questions they might have,' Riley says. 'I think it was pretty productive.'
Since then, the Gundersons have become sold on Riley.
Good situation materializes
'I really like him,' Ryan says, 'and I love his coaching staff. They remind me a lot of the coaches I had at Central. They are easy to talk to, and I relate to them well. They want to make sure you understand things and are into it as much as you are.'
Gunderson says he doesn't dwell on Erickson's departure anymore. 'It's exciting for me to think I will get to play four years under coach Riley,' he says. 'A really good situation came out of a situation that could have been really bad.'
Riley says he's already become enamored of the heir apparent to OSU starter Derek Anderson.
'I feel like I actually have gotten to know Ryan in a short period of time,' Riley says. 'He is a very impressive young man. I haven't been on the football field with him yet, but he has all the qualities of a leader. He handles himself very well. He is well-spoken and fun to be around. He is a goal-oriented guy who does great in school and is excited about his football opportunities at Oregon State.'
Gunderson, who measured 6-4 3/4 and 223 pounds last week, has begun getting to know Anderson, the junior-to-be who set school records for passing yardage, total offense and TD passes as a sophomore.
'I like Derek,' Gunderson says. 'He's a funny guy. We get along pretty well. He's a very talented quarterback. He will be a good guy for me to learn from.'
Gunderson will draw plenty of attention this fall. From Riley, who works with the quarterbacks. From offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. From offensive assistant Jonathan Smith, who reunites with Riley after quarterbacking under him during his two previous seasons as Beaver mentor in 1997 and '98.
The biggest question: Will Gunderson play or redshirt this season? Backup Adam Rothenfluh will be a senior, and it appears OSU's other freshman recruit, Danny Southwick, will redshirt. If Gunderson proves to be the Beavers' second-best QB, chances are he will play right away.
'In an ideal world, I would like to see Ryan redshirt,' Riley says, 'but I'm going to let it play out. My experience has been that I don't make any hurried decisions on that until I see what the contribution might be that first year. I would suppose if he ends up being a guy who challenges for or wins the No. 2 position, we would probably not redshirt him, although I would like to.'
With Anderson having two seasons of eligibility left, Gunderson could redshirt next season, apprentice under Anderson as a freshman and then have three years to play as a starter.
'You would rather take a talented young guy like Ryan and hold him back and have him ready to play for Derek's senior year, then have three good years to look forward to,' Riley says.
Two or three weeks into camp, Riley probably will know.
'I like to make a decision on that early, because that way you can set your plans for practicing,' the OSU coach says. 'It's hard to practice more than two quarterbacks. The starter gets maybe two-thirds of the turns, and the backup gets most of the rest. Physically, Ryan appears as if he would be ready for the challenge. If he's mentally ready and feels comfortable, maybe it makes sense (for him to play).'
Like Billy Martin in the old Miller Lite commercials, Gunderson feels strongly both ways.
'Redshirting would mean an extra year to learn the offense,' he says. 'On the other hand, I would be excited to get the opportunity to at least back up Derek, and get a taste of it early on.'
Taking note of camaraderie, talent
These days are great fun for Gunderson, who has lived for football since his freshman year at Central Catholic, when he switched to the sport from soccer.
'I'm not sure what it is that makes me love football so much,' he says. 'I like the fact you only get to play games once a week. All the practice and work that goes into it that culminates on Friday or Saturday nights Ñ that makes it pretty special. I have played all the sports, but there's a different feeling when you run onto the football field.'
A 3.89 student in high school Ñ he will major either in civil engineering or business at OSU Ñ Gunderson has found a quick command of the mental game of football.
'That was the thing that helped me most at Central,' he says. 'I was on the same page in our offense as coach (Joe) Bushman. We could communicate. I was right there with him, making plays and saying, 'This would work well.'
'The good thing is, coach Riley's offense is similar to coach Erickson's, and the terminology is even more similar to the stuff we ran in high school. The biggest difference is, we had no tight ends in coach Bushman's offense.'
He has high hopes for the Beavers, this season and in the future.
'I would love to see us become Pac-10 champions, leading to some Rose Bowls,' he says. 'I know how tough the Pac-10 is, but there's a lot of talent here. We have some young guys who are going to give us a really good shot at winning in the future.'