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Beavers use Bay Area time to bond

OSU prepares for Emerald Bowl with doses of football, fun while enjoying school break
by: , FRANK

SAN FRANCISCO - The mind-set of Oregon State's players going into tonight's Emerald Bowl matchup with Maryland at AT and T Park is the right blend, according to their coach.

'Relaxed, positive and focused,' Mike Riley says. 'We've had good, sharp practices. The players have been balanced this week in having fun and getting prepared to play Maryland.'

There have been a few team outings - an Alcatraz bay cruise, a hospital visit, a video-game challenge - but mostly the Beavers have practiced football and spent time together in and around their financial district Marriott Hotel.

After last year's Sun Bowl appearance in El Paso, Texas, most of the players welcomed the Bay Area opportunity.

'It's been fun being in the big city, real cool,' defensive tackle Naymon Frank says.

Bowl game organizers 'have been really cordial to us,' Frank adds. 'The hospitality room is good, and the food's been great, which is more than I can say for the Sun Bowl.'

Every Oregon State and Maryland player receives a bowl-game gift bag, which includes an iPod dock, a bowl watch, jacket, backpack, hat and gift certificate.

'Well put together,' Frank says. 'I don't have an iPod, so it'll be a great Christmas gift for someone else. But the thought was there - that's what counts.'

Quarterback Lyle Moevao likens the bowl atmosphere to training camp and the early season, before fall term starts.

'It's been fun being able to do activities and hang out with teammates,' says the sophomore from Torrance, Calif., who will try to improve his record as a starter to 4-0 with a win over the Terrapins. 'That gets me loose for the game. And as far as preparation goes, it's nice not to have to worry about class or homework. It's all about football.'

Well, not all. Riley allows for some horseplay, and his players will oblige on occasion.

During Wednesday's practice at City College of San Francisco, defensive end Slade Norris was wearing Dwight Roberson's No. 59 jersey and Roberson repaid the favor in Norris' No. 58. The motive wasn't just to confuse media types.

'We switch to make the coaches laugh a little bit,' Norris says.

Tailback Yvenson Bernard had no mercy as fashion czar after getting a look at teammate Gerard Lawson's get-up, which included a black robelike Emerald Bowl jacket over his jersey.

'Hey, what are you, Frankenstein?' heckled Bernard as teammates chuckled. 'That's like some Halloween gear or something.'

Riley brought 111 players to San Francisco, the most ever for a Riley-coached bowl team. Among them was redshirting receiver Sammie Stroughter, who looked fit and healthy as he ran routes in a T-shirt.

'We're allowed to bring everyone who is (academically) eligible,' Riley says. 'It's awesome to bring all the redshirts and players who don't normally travel as reward for hard work during the season. It's a treat, the way it should be for a bowl game.'

So true freshman Ryan McCants is getting to know senior Dorian Smith as a teammate instead of as the scout-team tailback against a starting defensive end.

'It's definitely good,' says Norris, the sack-happy junior from Jesuit. 'This week, we've been around each other 24/7 at the hotel, practice, wherever. It's great for the young guys, who normally don't travel with us. We get to know them a lot better because we're around them all the time.'

While it's been a fun week of preparation, the Beavers have their sights set on beating a Maryland team that has the respect of everyone in the Orangemen camp.

'Coming in here to play Maryland - that's a big-time team,' says Frank, a 6-5, 290-pound senior from Honolulu. 'That's what it's about for us, first and foremost. It's my last game. I want to go out with a win.'

'It's like this is the first game of next season,' freshman James Rodgers says, repeating a mantra often used in bowl preparation.

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Game story

Go to www.localnewsdaily.com after the Emerald Bowl for Kerry Eggers' complete report from San Francisco.