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One more Beavers game day for Jordan Poyer

All-American cornerback who loves to win leads Oregon State defense into Alamo Bowl game with Texas — then will battle for NFL job


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Oregon State's Jordan Poyer heads up the sidelines against Wisconsin.SAN ANTONIO — The college journey ends Saturday night for Jordan Poyer when Oregon State — ranked No. 13 in the BCS standings — squares off with Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

“I live for game day,” the senior cornerback said.

Only one more of those for Poyer at the college level. From there, it will surely be on to an NFL career for Poyer, OSU’s first consensus All-American since center John Didion way back in 1968.

The kid from little Astoria High made it big.

“It’s a great story,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “That just shows you, the great ones come from everywhere.”

When I asked him Wednesday what memories he’ll take from his four years in Corvallis, Poyer took a moment to gather his thoughts, his eyes misty, his voice catching just a bit.

“It has been a fairy-tale experience for me,” the 6-foot, 190-pound Poyer said. “I mean .... the whole college experience ... making friends ... making plays ... the atmosphere at Reser Stadium ... being with my teammates. ... bowl games ...

“It’s gone by in the blink of an eye. I remember coming in as a freshman and (former OSU cornerbacks) James Dockery and Brandin Hardin telling me, ‘Enjoy it all. It goes by fast. Before you know it, you’re going to be done.’

“Now I have one game left. My last game as a Beaver. I want to go out with a bang and then take the next step in my life.”

That means several weeks of training sessions at Fischer Sports in Tempe, Ariz., in preparation for the Senior Bowl Jan. 26 at Mobile, Ala., and the NFL combine Feb. 20-23 at Indianapolis, all leading up to the NFL draft April 25-27.

“If you play sports as a kid, you dream about being in the big leagues, the NBA, the NFL,” Poyer said. “For it to actually be in reach ... I never would have thought that. You talk about it, but how many kids really get the chance? It’s right in front of me now.”

Heady stuff for the kid from a Class 4A school whose only scholarship offer from an FBS school was Idaho until Oregon State came in late — in December of his senior year. And even that came with a catch.

“It’s not an easy evaluation,” Riley said. “Small school, relatively low competition ... we wondered for a long time.”

Poyer was the epitome of a big fish in a small pond. A quarterback/safety in football, a point guard in basketball, a shortstop in baseball, he earned 11 letters in his four years at Astoria. He was Cowapa League player of the year in basketball as a senior, a three-time all-state baseball player and an all-state quarterback who drove the Fishermen to the 4A championship his senior year.

Still, how many kids from a small school can cut it in big-time college football?

“I can remember going in to talk to (coordinator of support services) Gary Beck a couple of different times during his senior season and saying, ‘Let’s watch (video of) Jordan Poyer again,’ " Riley said. “Then I remember one day saying, ‘Let’s offer him a scholarship.’ I thought for sure he’d need to grayshirt, and then redshirt.”

In April, after one of the other recruits from the class of 2009 failed to qualify academically, Riley found a spot for Poyer and invited him to August training camp.

“That was great,” Poyer said, “but even then, I was definitely going to redshirt.”

Except not.

“From the point he arrived on campus,” Riley recalled, “Jordan started surpassing all expectations.”

Poyer was a regular on special teams as a true freshman, making 10 tackles — second-most on the team behind Hardin — returning a kickoff 70 yards against Southern Cal and recovering a fumble against Washington. After switching from safety as a sophomore, he served as the team’s No. 3 cornerback, was second in the Pac-10 in kickoff returns, returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown against USC, was a gunner on punt teams, returned punts and caught a 23-yard pass off a fake punt that set up a TD against Texas Christian.

As a junior, Poyer was already one of the team leaders, a second-team all-Pac-12 selection who set a Reser Stadium record with an 85-yard punt return for a score against UCLA and went the distance with a 51-yard interception return against Brigham Young.

Poyer carried it over this season to even greater heights, ranking as one of the nation’s premier corners as the Beavers flipped their 3-9 record of 2011 to 9-3 going into Saturday’s date with Texas.

During his dozen seasons at Oregon State, defensive coordinator Mark Banker has sent eight cornerbacks to the NFL — Dennis Weathersby, Terrell Roberts, Brandon Browner, Gerard Lawson, Brandon Hughes, Keenan Lewis, James Dockery and Brandin Hardin. Where does Poyer rank among them?

“I’ll answer that this way,” Banker said. “I think he’s one of the best players we’ve ever had at Oregon State at any position.

“And he is the ultimate competitor. He is going to do whatever it takes to win. He is the best one I’ve coached from that standpoint — no doubt.”

Riley had a similar reaction.

“Jordan has talent, but he has some intangibles that take him over the top and have put him where he is today,” the OSU mentor said. “He has an instinct about playing games that is unique, and he is probably as good a competitor as I’ve ever been around. Everything he does, he tries to win.”

Poyer, 21, knows he is a role model for not just kids coming up in Astoria but in all the small towns across the state.

“I get that a lot,” he said. “A lot of kids hit me up on Facebook and tell me how much they look up to me, how it opened their eyes to them being able to do what they want to do. If you’re from a small school, you think, ‘I don’t know if I can make it in the big time.’ I give them hope.

“It’s crazy to think that people look up to me like that. I’m so young. For a kid in high school, four or five years younger, to look up to me, it’s a great blessing and it keeps me motivated.”

Last spring, Poyer was arrested and charged with second-degree trespassing during an incident at Impulse Bar & Grill in Corvallis. The charge was later dropped, but it was still an unsettling time for the Beavers' co-captain. Especially, perhaps, since both his parents — Faalaeo and Julie Poyer — work as juvenile delinquent counselors in Naselle, Wash.

But Jordan said the incident was blown out of proportion.

“I don’t regret it at all,” he said. “I know what really happened. It wasn’t anything like the media has said.

“Everything worked out for the better. I learned from it. It was a lesson to show what can happen if you do mess up. There are going to be some haters out there, but people who know me understand that’s not me. That’s not what I’m about.”

It shouldn’t affect his chances in the NFL draft, but his speed will. NFL scouts like burners. Poyer is football fast, but nothing extraordinary.

“How he runs the 40 (at the NFL combine and on Pro Day) will go a long way toward dictating where he goes in the draft,” Banker said. “That next level, it’s hard to predict. But he has return ability, and he has football instincts you can’t teach.”

Riley — who served as head coach of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers — has no doubts.

“No question about it, he’ll make it,” Riley said. “I know him too well. He’s going to be an outstanding gunner, an outstanding returner, a good corner and an outstanding nickel-type back.

“There are more guys in the NFL than they care to admit who aren’t 4.3 40 guys. They’re just good football players, and that’s what Jordan is.”

There is one more game to play for Oregon State, though. And he’ll have plenty of relatives in the stands at the Alamodome — many of those on the side of his stepfather, who has raised him since he was 1-year-old and whom Jordan considers his father.

Faalaeo attended high school in Killeen, Texas, a 2 1/2-hour drive from San Antonio. Jordan expects 20 to 30 of his relatives from the area — “some of them I’ve never met,” he said — to be on hand on Saturday.

“They’ve been itching to watch me play for a long time,” Jordan said. “There’s a lot of motivation there for me. I’m excited to play in front of them.”

Poyer, a 2.7 student, is working toward getting his degree in elementary education in June. After his playing career is over, he’d like to teach and coach. He seems perfectly suited to do that after what he has accomplished at Oregon State.

“It’s been fun,” he said. “On this team, we’re all brothers. I’m going to miss them. I want to keep this program going in the right direction by winning this game.

“I live for game day.”

Yes, he does.

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