Darlin, Doggett and LaRocque have been fearsome OSU starters
CORVALLIS - Mike Riley has coached plenty of big-time linebackers during his seven years at Oregon State, including Keith Ellison, James Allen, Richard Seigler and Trent Bray.
But Riley rates his current Cadillac fleet of seniors Joey 'the Rock' LaRocque, Alan 'Shug' Darlin and Derrick 'D-Dog' Doggett as the best he's had.
'We've had a lot of good linebackers and great play at that position, but we're talking about three experienced starters who play together and have played on arguably our best defensive team ever,' Riley says. 'I wouldn't be surprised if it's as good a group as there is in the country.'
The trio will make their final appearance in Oregon State uniforms Friday, when the Beavers face Maryland in the Emerald Bowl at San Francisco's AT and T Park.
'I did quite a bit of reflection over the course of this season,' says Darlin, the 6-1, 240-pound middle linebacker from Elk Grove, Calif. 'We all talk about how fast (our college careers) have gone. We've had a lot of good times together, played a lot of good football. I couldn't be happier with the time I've spent at Oregon State. It's hard to believe it's almost over.'
All three linebackers were named to the all-Pac-10 second team.
'That was pretty cool,' says LaRocque, a 6-2, 235-pound Agoura, Calif., native who came to OSU last year by way of College of the Canyons. 'Derrick probably should have gotten first team, but I was excited we all got some acclaim.'
LaRocque, Darlin and Doggett were the lifeblood of the Oregon State defense that finished second nationally against the run, was tied for third in sacks and 12th in total defense. Doggett was the team leader in tackles with 85 and returned four interceptions for 115 yards and a touchdown. LaRocque made 82 tackles and Darlin had 58.
Darlin and Doggett have been together for four years. Doggett redshirted in 2003 while Darlin played as a true freshman in 2004. Former OSU linebacker coach Charlie Camp gave Darlin his nickname.
'Shug is short for sugar,' explains Doggett, a 6-3, 210-pound San Diego native. 'Coach Camp said Alan reminded him of some linebacker from way back who was called that.'
LaRocque transferred in 2006, and the trio has started 25 of 26 games together as the Beavers have gone 18-8 the past two seasons.
'They work tremendously well together and feed off each other,' Riley says. 'There is a friendship and a respect you don't often see.'
'We share lockers right next to each other,' LaRocque says. 'After dinner, we're always hanging out, and we're together a lot on the weekends.'
That personal relationship can carry over to the field, Darlin says.
'Not only with the linebackers, but with the entire defensive huddle,' he says. 'We all have a trust for each other, that if we execute our responsibilities, they'll take care of theirs.'
LaRocque adds: 'You can't have a successful defense without camaraderie. You have to know somebody's there for you, will show up at the right time and the right place. Early (during the 2006) season, our defense took our bumps and bruises, but we just kept getting better. We're at a point now we know where our partners are going to be. It's a pretty special deal we have going.'
LaRocque is the prankster, given at any moment to bring levity to a situation, crack a joke or provide a teammate with a hotfoot.
'On the field, though, he's all business,' Doggett says.
Doggett is the shy, reserved one, though 'he has kind of come out of his shell the last couple of seasons,' Darlin says. 'Once he gets to know you, he's a funny guy, full of energy.'
Darlin is blessed 'with a big heart,' LaRocque says. 'He'll do anything for you. When he's by your side on the field, he'll do his job and help you with yours.'
Riley says any or all of the three could get drafted, and all will get a shot at playing in the NFL. Doggett has great speed and instincts, LaRocque is a total package. And Darlin - who dropped 15 pounds before his senior season - runs well for a middle backer and is an effective pass rusher.
After Friday, they'll be taking cracks at a pro career.
'We want to leave on a win,' Doggett says. 'It's very important. Coach Riley always tells us to finish. We need to finish this year with a win. That will carry over to next year for the guys coming back.'
Maryland is the second Atlantic Coast Conference opponent ever for Oregon State. The other ACC foe was Duke, who faced the Beavers in the transplanted Rose Bowl at Durham, N.C., in 1942 - the only Rose Bowl not played in Pasadena, Calif. The game was moved east because of the threat of attack on the West Coast during World War II.
• Senior receiver Anthony Brown, seventh on the OSU career receptions list with 133, needs six Friday to pass Robb Thomas (138) and Steve Coury (135) and move into fifth.
• Kicker Alexis Serna needs 11 points in the Emerald Bowl to pass UCLA's John Lee (390) and become the all-time Pac-10 scoring leader.
And Serna, tied for second with Arizona State's Luis Zendejas and Washington's Jeff Jaeger at 380, has surpassed Arizona State's Jesse Ainsworth with his consecutive extra-point streak that stands at 141.