Academic issues kept Keith Robertson out of OSU for 4 years

CORVALLIS — Joe Seumalo, Oregon State’s defensive line coach, had just two words for Keith Robertson as the new Beaver walked off the field after a recent spring practice session. “Jenny Craig,” Seumalo mouthed, causing a grinning Robertson to pinch his stomach, checking for flab. “See, I have a pretty good bond with my coach, and it’s just been one week,” says the affable Robertson, the defensive end who has taken perhaps the most circuitous route to eligibility in Oregon State football history. “He wouldn’t say that otherwise, right?” The 6-3 Robertson weighs 275, maybe 40 pounds more than he did when he first signed with Oregon State and then-coach Dennis Erickson out of Lake Oswego High in 2003. “I have a little gut,” says Robertson, 22. “That’s why the coach is telling me to lose about 15 pounds. I’d like to be about 260, and I’ll drop a few pounds as I get back in motion.” The big thing is, Robertson is enrolled in school for spring term. He originally signed in the same class with quarterback Ryan Gunderson, who will be a redshirt senior next fall. “It’s exciting to be here,” he says. “It’s been a long road.” Robertson signed with OSU twice — the second time in 2005 after two seasons at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif. But the all-stater who was MVP in the 2003 Les Schwab Bowl never qualified academically for OSU. “School has never been easy for Keith,” Lake Oswego coach Steve Coury says. After a third academic year at Foothill, Robertson earned his associate’s degree but was one math class short of eligibility at OSU. He failed the class there last summer term. Robertson didn’t give up. He moved back to the Portland area, took a volunteer position on Coury’s Lake Oswego coaching staff and decided to take the class — Math 95 — online at Portland State. He sought out a math teacher at his alma mater. “I’d go in before practice and meet with him, almost an hour every day,” Robertson says. “That helped a lot.” He started the independent-study class after Christmas. In early February, he got the word — B-minus. He’d passed, and with flying colors. “I have such a great supporting cast, including Coach Coury,” Robertson says. “He’s taken me in as a son. I love that man. I owe a lot to him. He’s always stuck by me when a lot of people didn’t think I was going to make it.” When Robertson called OSU coaches to tell them the good news, he got the bad news, that the Beavers no longer had a scholarship available. “Another arrow shot at you,” he says. “It seems like one door opens and another one closes.” But Robertson, who must use his two seasons of remaining eligibility the next two years, accepted an offer to walk on. “I knew it was my fault for not being here on time,” he says. “I’m hoping this is the right place for me. I think it is. I’m hoping I show I can play.” OSU coaches are, too. Robertson appears quick and athletic, if a little rusty after so much time away from the game. “We don’t have a feel yet at all for what Keith can do,” defensive coordinator Mark Banker says. “He hasn’t played for a long time. He’ll determine whether or not there’s a spot for him.” The Beavers are deep at defensive end, with seniors Dorian Smith and Jeff Van Orsow as starters and Naymon Frank, Victor Butler, Jeff Kruskamp and converted linebacker Slade Norris providing depth. Even so, Coach Mike Riley told Robertson he can earn a scholarship at some point. “Keith has a chance to rise up the list,” Riley says. “If he can get to the point where he can play, he’ll be in games, because we rotate (defensive linemen) in and out.” Robertson realizes he has a long way to go. “It’s all about technique at this level,” he says. “And the speed of the game, it’s so much faster. Oh, my goodness. JC ball doesn’t get you ready for this. But I’ve felt my steps, my reaction time gets a little better each time out.” Robertson is taking 14 hours this term as he works toward a liberal arts degree. He has applied for entry into OSU’s learning center program, which will give him extended time with tests and assignments. “The great part about the football program (at OSU) is the academic support system,” he says. “We have academic counselors, tutors for every class and mandatory study hall. Plus, I have to show Coach Seumalo my daily planner, and he e-mails our teachers for progress reports every week. “Getting a degree is my biggest goal. It took me so long to get here — why not? I’m here to play football, but there’s life after football, too.” Whatever happens, Robertson has the respect of his coaches, present and past. “He’s a good example of a guy who has struggled (academically) and eventually found the way,” Riley says. “The fact that he’s here says a lot about him, that he has accepted the offer to walk on and prove what he can do.” “You have to give the kid a lot of credit for keeping the dream alive,” Coury says. “He’s already a success story in my book.”

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