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No. 1 weapon? Poyer as potent as any for OSU

Big-play specialist has Beaver roots, timely 'game speed'
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Oregon State’s Jordan Poyer kept the Beavers in the UCLA game last month with his punt return for a touchdown near the end of the first half.

CORVALLIS - There's little doubt which player has been Oregon State's greatest weapon this season.

It's Jordan Poyer, a big-play specialist and one of the most potent multidimensional players in the country.

The junior cornerback had a 51-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 57-yard kickoff return against Brigham Young, an 85-yard punt return for a TD against UCLA and a pair of first-half interceptions against Arizona State.

That was more of the same from the 5-11, 190-pound Poyer, who as a sophomore last season was second in the Pac-10 in kickoff return average (27.8), caught a 23-yard pass off a fake punt and returned an interception 65 yards for a score in an upset of 20th-ranked Southern Cal. As a freshman, he had a 70-yard kickoff return against the Trojans.

Not bad for a small-town kid out of Astoria who didn't receive a scholarship offer from Oregon State until December of his senior year.

'I guess I've surprised some people,' says Poyer, a key to the hopes of the Beavers (1-5 overall, 1-2 Pac-12) when they visit Seattle's CenturyLink Field Saturday to face Washington State (3-3, 1-2) in a 7:30 p.m. game.

Not the folks in Astoria, who watched Poyer do his thing for four years for the Fishermen in football, basketball and baseball.

As a senior, Poyer was Oregon's Class 4A player of the year on both offense and defense in football and Cowapa League player of the year in basketball. He was a Class 4A player of the year as a senior and a three-time all-state selection in baseball after hitting 12 home runs for Astoria's state championship club as a freshman.

Poyer had scholarship offers from Idaho, Idaho State and Portland State - all to play quarterback - when Oregon State finally came through with an offer after his senior football season. OSU coach Mike Riley envisioned Poyer as a candidate for the secondary.

But the offer came with a qualifier.

'I was watching (video of Poyer's senior season) and trying to make a decision,' Riley says. 'I told Gary Beck (coordinator of support services), 'Let's send him a letter offering him a scholarship, but with our numbers now, we might have to grayshirt him.' '

Poyer was thrilled with the offer, but wondered about the caveat. It meant he would have to sit out fall term and not enroll full-time at Oregon State until the winter.

'I was puzzled,' Poyer says. 'I wanted to come in right away and develop myself. I spent long nights thinking about it, but then I decided Oregon State was the best place for me.'

It helped that his maternal grandfather, Lynn Baxter, played basketball at Oregon State - and once was a roommate of Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker. And that his mother, Julie Poyer, played softball at the school.

'I wanted to keep it in the family,' Jordan Poyer says. 'Growing up, I was always a Beaver fan. And I wanted to stay in my home state. It has worked out great for me.'

A spot opened for Poyer to enroll in the fall and take part in August training camp as a safety, though he seemed headed for a redshirt first season. Then injuries to Lance Mitchell and Cameron Collins in camp opened the opportunity to play as a true freshman.

'I got my chance to run with the (second string) and show what I could do,' Poyer says.

Poyer took over the gunner job in punt coverage early that season and became a special-teams standout along with fellow cornerback Brandon Hardin.

'Jordan is not only a gunner, he's a great one,' Riley says. 'He and Brandon together are the best pair in the league.'

Alas, Hardin has missed the entire season after shoulder surgery. And Poyer, too valuable in other roles, is no longer a gunner.

'We have to pick and choose what he does, because he can do a lot,' Riley says. 'I've even joked with Jordan about being a 'wildcat' quarterback. He could do that, too. Maybe we'll have some fun with that in the spring.'

Poyer, who was Oregon State's third cornerback last season and is in his first season as a starter, has become a leader on the OSU defense.

'Jordan is a great athlete with great instincts for the game,' Collins says. 'And he has been executing, making the most of his opportunities. He is one of the hardest workers on the team, and he does his homework. It pays off.'

Poyer is not a burner, but he has what Riley calls 'game speed.'

'He has that little extra burst that allows you make the play' in coverage, the OSU coach says. 'It looks like the (receiver) is going to catch the ball, but (Poyer) bursts. The good receivers have that, too. They'll be running fast, but they have a little extra.

'I don't know that Jordan would time real well in the 40, but he plays at a tremendous speed. I am really impressed how he returns kicks. He hits the hole like a 4.4 guy.'

Poyer says he probably runs the 40 in the low 4.5s.

'My speed is not up there with (Markus) Wheaton or James (Rodgers),' he says, 'but once the game is on, I feel I can turn it on.'

Riley says Poyer's special-team skills, together with his progress as a cornerback, make him 'absolutely' an NFL prospect.

'His versatility is what they're looking for,' Riley says.

For now, Poyer is focusing on the rest of his junior season. He expects a turnaround Saturday in Seattle.

'We have a lot of talent on our team; we just have to use it,' he says. 'From here on out, we ain't got nothing to lose.'