Back-to-back crops yielded little, leaving OSU vulnerable
CORVALLIS —Every college football team needs talent to win games. Veteran talent is particularly essential. It was obvious this season that Oregon State was lacking in the latter department, with only a few seniors as starters or key performers. Of the seniors, James Rodgers and Joe Halahuni got late starts due to offseason surgeries. On the defensive side, Brandon Hardin missed the entire season with an injury, Castro Masaniai was lost early in the campaign with a broken leg and Dominic Glover never gained his academic eligibility. That left offensive linemen Grant Johnson, Mike Remmers and Burke Ellis, defensive tackle Kevin Frahm, punter Johnny Hekker, long snapper Marcus Perry, linebacker Cameron Collins and safety Lance Mitchell — the latter two slowed by injuries — as senior team leaders. How did such a shallow senior class come about? A look at year-by-year recruiting classes tells the story. The 2006 class was solid, with Halahuni (a grayshirt), Brady Camp, Howard Croom, James Dockery, Keaton Kristick, Alex Linnenkohl, Gabe Miller, John Reese, Dwight Roberson, Suaesi Tuimaunei and Feti Unga as prep recruits along with a terrific junior-college group featuring Joey LaRocque, Gerard Lee, Lyle Moevao, Shane Morales and Dorian Smith. The 2009 class reaped Josh Andrews, Jordan Bishop, Kevin Cummings, Michael Doctor, Grant Enger, Geoff Garner, Obum Gwachum, Hekker, Micah Hatfield, Sean Martin, Michael Philipp, Jordan Poyer, Rashaad Reynolds, Rueben Robinson, Mana Rosa and Markus Wheaton. Those players were redshirt sophomores or juniors this season. That brings us to 2007 and ’08, which fall into the disaster category. The Beavers signed 34 players in ’07, some of them late as a result of players not qualifying academically. Academic casualties were defensive lineman Kyle Bell, receivers Reggie Dunn, Lofa Liilii and Brandon Wimberley, quarterback Jake Gelakoska, offensive lineman Jon Ioane and linebacker Danzel Issac. Among others in the ’07 class, fullback Will Darkins, defensive linemen Jesse Fifita and Tonu Tuimalealiifano and offensive lineman Rory Ross quit football for medical reasons. Defensive ends Taylor Henry and Carl Sommer, offensive linemen Michael Cole and Una Smiley, tight end Kevin Pankey, cornerback David Ross, tailback Ahmed Mokhtar and linebacker David Pa’aluhi left the program at different stages for various reasons, in many cases because they weren’t good enough to see much playing time. Receiver Darrell Catchings, dealing with diabetes, was never the player he had been early in his OSU career, and safety Josh LaGrone has dealt with several injuries. Ryan McCants never panned out as a tailback. The others from the 2007 class were JC transfers Latu Moala and Sioeli Nau, who ended their careers in 2009; Keith Pankey, who played as a true freshman and finished in 2010; and grayshirts Colby Prince and Anthony Watkins, along with current seniors Collins, Frahm, Hardin, Mitchell, Perry and Rodgers. Since the ’07 Beavers had a small group of departing seniors, the ’08 recruiting class was small, with Jordan Bishop, Ryan Katz, Colin Kelly, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jovan Stevenson and JC transfers Stephen Paea and Ben Terry the plums. Among those who haven’t contributed much, departed or never arrived: Kameron Krebs, Geno Munoz, Keynan Parker, Kevan Walker, Brent McNeil, Jeremy Francis and the infamous Simi Kuli, the nation’s No. 1-rated defensive lineman who never qualified academically. The ’07 class was ranked eighth in the Pac-10 and 47th nationally by Rivals.com and seventh in the Pac-10 and 40th nationally by Scout.com. The ’08 class was graded even lower — ninth and 52nd by Rivals.com, ninth and 61st by Scout.com. From 2002-08, Oregon State’s classes were never ranked higher than seventh in the Pac-10 or 26th nationally, though. At first glance, it didn’t appear the Beavers had put together unusually weak recruiting groups. In hindsight, they did. Every year, a few prospects who sign letters-of-intent don’t qualify academically. It happens at every Division I-A school. Oregon State is competing with some of the top programs in the country and has to take some gambles. If there is a player judged to have outstanding skills but questionable academic qualifications, OSU coaches sometimes take a risk. In some cases, the idea is that the player will go to a junior college and arrive in Corvallis two years down the road. Linebacker D’Vante Henry — a member of the 2011 class now a freshman at Arizona Western — is an example. From the 24-member ’11 class, 22 players are in the OSU program. Only Henry and Jefferson High’s Elisinoa Aluesi — the latter on a two-year church mission — are not in the fold. The huge number of no-shows in the ’07 recruiting class was an exception, and the Beavers paid for it on the field this year. Offensive line was the biggest problem this fall, and it’s easy to see why. From the 2006-09 recruiting classes, O-line signees Mau Nomani, Cole, Ioane, Ross, Smiley, Brent McNeil, Colin Lyons and Tyler Thomas never made it onto the field for various reasons. Squad members Michael Beaton and John Braun, both scholarship players, have yet to make their mark. That’s a big reason why walk-ons Johnson, Remmers and Ellis wound up as starters. Oregon State has six O-linemen among the 15 prep seniors who have made verbal commitments this fall, including Corvallis’ Isaac Seumalo, who could wind up starting as a true freshman next season. The Beavers also have Justin Addie and Darryl Jackson from last year’s class, both redshirts this season. And Oregon State is looking to recruit at least one JC O-lineman. The other area of need is the defensive front seven. Returning at end are freshmen Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn, along with juniors Rusty Fernando and Rudolf Fifita, sophomore Rosa and promising freshman redshirt Desmond Collins. Tackles who will be back include starters Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo, along with freshman Manu Tuivailala, redshirt freshman Fred Thompson and JC transfer Blake Harrah, the latter two who missed the 2011 season after surgeries. The Beavers expect to add a JC recruit to the mix. The middle linebacker spot will be held by junior Unga, with freshmen Josh Williams and Joswha James competing with junior Wilson to be his backup. On the outside, sophomore Doctor and freshman D.J. Welch are the likely starters, with junior Robinson and freshmen Jabral Johnson and Shaydon Akuna among those behind them. Expect at least two JC recruits. Next year’s senior class will feature Wheaton, Poyer, Bishop, Masaniai, Unga, Kelly, Seumalo, Prince and Watkins among 17 returning starters. They’ll be the lynchpins to what the Beavers believe is the start of a revival.