Free safety bolsters line with experience, a fixed knee and know-how
CORVALLIS By nature, Mitch Meeuwsen is quiet as a church mouse. On the football field, that's going to change this season.
Oregon State's crack free safety is a junior now, no longer feeding off the direction of older, more experienced teammates such as cornerbacks Dennis Weathersby and Terrell Roberts. His role for the Beavers this year will include leadership responsibilities, and he is ready.
'Being back there with Dennis and Terrell, guys who played here for four years, I didn't have to be a vocal leader,' Meeuwsen says. 'Now things have changed. I feel like a veteran. I have to help the young guys out.'
Meeuwsen is an anchor on a defense that has lost seven starters from a year ago, and he appears healthy after surgery in March to repair a tear to the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
The former Forest Grove standout missed four games after injuring the knee in Oregon State's sixth game last season against UCLA. He returned for the final two regular-season games and the Insight Bowl, but the knee wasn't at full strength. When it didn't come around during winter conditioning, he chose to have the arthroscopic procedure that kept him out of spring ball.
After doing rehabilitation and weight-room work this summer, Meeuwsen looks close to 100 percent as the Beavers complete their first week of preseason training camp.
'I just started the cutting and stuff like that a couple of weeks ago, so I am still feeling it out,' he says. 'It feels good. It doesn't hurt at all, but I still have to get used to it by being on it awhile.'
Last season was the most difficult of Meeuwsen's young career. Never before had he suffered an injury that caused him to miss significant time.
'It was really tough,' he says. 'It's especially hard to stay behind when the team goes on the road, knowing you could help them. It's hard to watch.'
Meeuwsen might be the top in-state recruit of Dennis Erickson's four-year run as OSU's head coach. He was a three-sport star at Forest Grove, a quarterback/safety in football, a high-scoring guard in basketball and an all-state third baseman in baseball. In other words, a Chip Hilton-like all-around athlete who does just about everything well.
He was an instant hit in the Beaver secondary in 2001, earning first-team freshman All-American honors. Last season, he was off to a great start before the injury and still finished as OSU's team leader with five interceptions.
Player exudes confidence
New coach Mike Riley says the 6-3, 210-pound Meeuwsen, who runs a 4.56 40 and bench-presses 265 pounds, has earned a sense of security in his career that will pay dividends this fall.
'Mitch looks really confident back there,' Riley says. 'He has been productive the last couple of years, is recognized as a good player, and you can tell he feels that. It looks to me like he's a smart football guy, and he's a pretty darn good athlete at that position. He has toughness, he has savvy those are pretty important qualities in a guy playing his position.'
In the OSU defensive scheme, the free safety is often responsible to cover the deep middle zone, but there are other duties. Sometimes he must come up for run support. Sometimes he plays man-to-man on tight ends or slotbacks.
'And he has to be a traffic director,' Riley says. 'He has to communicate with linebackers and cornerbacks. A lot of times he will be making the judgment calls off something he notices from the opposing offense.'
That part of the game has always intrigued Meeuwsen.
'I like to study film and figure out what the other team is going to try to do against us,' he says. 'The thinking part of the game is a lot of fun. I enjoy calling out defenses and knowing what the offense is doing.'
Meeuwsen came to Oregon State with the intention of playing both football and baseball, 'and I would still like to give baseball a shot,' he says. 'I miss it. But football is so time-consuming. I'll have to wait and see on that.'
College football has been a blast, he says.
'I love playing on Saturdays in front of so many people, and I just love the game,' he says.
Talent goes both ways
If Riley ever decides to employ a two-way performer, Meeuwsen will be first in line.
'I miss offense,' he says. 'It's fun to have the ball in your hands and score touchdowns. I love that stuff. Anytime they want me over there on offense, I'm willing.'
For now, Meeuwsen has his hands full on defense. His team goal, he says, is to help the Beavers win the Pacific-10 Conference. His personal goal is more simple: 'I just want to get back to full health, back to playing the way I was playing before the injury.'
Notes: Oregon State has five early verbal commitments from high school seniors-to-be, including three quarterbacks: T.R. Smith from Jefferson; Michael Perri from Covina, Calif.; and Stadford Brown from Washington, D.C. Also committed are receiver Zach Tarver and running back Michael Jones from Jesuit. Smith is likely to play running back or in the secondary for OSU. The Beavers are still recruiting Glencoe QB Erik Ainge.
Dallas Buck, the true freshman safety from Newberg, intercepted a pass and was impressive during controlled scrimmage sessions in Wednesday practice. 'I really like him,' Riley says. Buck, who signed a baseball letter of intent, will go through training camp, then move over to the baseball program in the fall as he redshirts in football.
Four veteran players defensive linemen Alvin Smith and Henry Anderson, receiver Cole Clasen and linebacker Seth Lacey had not received academic clearance and had not practiced through Wednesday. OSU coaches were expecting their OKs any day.
The Oct. 18 game against Washington at Reser Stadium has been sold out. Individual tickets remain for the other six home dates on the Beavers' schedule. É OSU's first full scrimmage is Tuesday.