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Three years of work pay off for starter Vaz

Understudy stayed positive, focused on being good teammate


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Oregon State coach Mike Riley liked the way Cody Vaz threw the ball at St. Mary's High in Stockton, Calif., and offered him a scholarship.CORVALLIS — There have been plenty of backup college quarterbacks who have played the waiting game through the years and — at some point — checked out mentally.

Not Cody Vaz.

After three years of watching from the sidelines during games and working with diligence at practice, Vaz finally hit the lottery at Oregon State.

The redshirt junior from Lodi, Calif., will be at the controls Saturday when the 12th-ranked Beavers (7-1 overall, 5-1 in Pac-12 action) square off with Stanford (7-2, 5-1) in a showdown with major bowl implications.

“I’ve had fun during my entire time at Oregon State,” Vaz says, “but I’m really having fun now.”

Vaz, who has taken over for incumbent Sean Mannion and driven the Beavers to three victories as a starter, wasn’t sure if he would ever get his chance.

After a redshirt year as a freshman and two years as an understudy to Mannion and Ryan Katz, it appeared Vaz was destined for a career as a backup.

“It was tough, but I accepted my role and prepared every week like I was going to be playing,” he says. “That’s all you can do. You can’t sulk or feel sorry for yourself. You have to be the best teammate you can be and stay prepared.”

Vaz got his chance when Mannion underwent knee surgery after Oregon State’s 19-6 victory over Washington State. In his first start, the 6-foot, 200-pound Vaz threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-24 win at Brigham Young, earning Pac-12 offensive player of the week honors.

Did Vaz ever think he would never get his opportunity to play?

“There were a few times when I felt that way,” says Vaz, who has completed 57 of 102 passes (55.9 percent) for 870 yards and seven TDs with only one interception this season. “But you just have to stay positive. That’s something I’ve always tried to do.

“The coaches and my teammates have been great. I enjoy coming out for practice every day. I just tried to accept it, and now, here I am.”

Coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf always knew the talent was there inside Vaz.

“What Cody has done hasn’t really surprised me,” Riley says. “Even though he never won the (starting) job early on, he has always been impressive to me.

“Had he not hurt his back a year ago when he was in the mix (to start) with Sean and Katz, he might have been close to winning the job then.”

Vaz caught the eye of Riley and Langsdorf when he attended an Oregon State quarterbacks camp after his junior year at St. Mary’s High in Stockton, 10 minutes from Lodi. The Beavers offered Vaz a scholarship and he accepted soon thereafter. Other schools made a run at Vaz, especially after he threw for 3,908 yards and 32 TDs as a senior in leading St. Mary’s to the CIF D-II state championship, but he held firm.

“Other coaches called my (high school) coach, but I told him I wasn’t interested,” Vaz says. “I just fell in love with Oregon State. I loved the coaches, the guys I met on the team, the environment and the atmosphere here. It was an easy choice for me.”

“I just loved the way he threw the ball,” Riley says. “Very natural, a good thrower with a quick release. And just a total winner.”

“We loved the speed at which he plays,” Langsdorf adds. “Cody was really productive in high school. We’re finding productive high school players are usually productive college players.”

But Vaz found himself first behind Katz, then Mannion in the pecking order at OSU. Riding the bench isn’t easy for anyone.

“It’s hard to stay totally engaged when you’re not playing in the games,” Langsdorf says. “Cody has prepared well all the time, but it’s tough. When you’re not playing, there’s a little lapse of focus here and there.

“But he has done a nice job. He showed us that when he went in and played well. He has really matured and grown since he came here.”

The teammate who knows Vaz best is receiver Brandin Cooks, who played at rival Lincoln High in Stockton and has been friends with Vaz — two years his senior — since their high school days.

“I had a couple of buddies on Cody’s team — that’s how we met,” Cooks says. “We started throwing together when I was a junior and he had already come to Oregon State. He had a quarterbacks coach (in Stockton) and when he’d come home for breaks from school or in the summer, he’d call me up and we’d get together and throw.

“After I committed to UCLA (as a prep senior), he was still throwing to me, and he was always in my ear about coming here. It’s funny how it worked out.”

Cooks says Vaz’s self-confidence has carried him through rough patches at OSU.

“Cody has an inner belief,” Cooks says. “He knew his time was going to come sooner or later, somehow, no matter what the situation was. He got his opportunity and he’s making the best of it.”

Offensive guard Grant Enger admits he wondered if Vaz’s opportunity would come.

“I wasn’t sure,” Enger says. “Sean was the guy they picked, so we didn’t know. But I always knew if he did get a chance, he was going to be fine. And here he is.”

Vaz’s unflappable mindset has paid dividends for him.

“He’s so confident, so poised,” Cooks says. “Sometimes I feel like he’s too calm. But that’s what I love about him. He sits in that pocket. He never gets rattled. He’s a great quarterback, period.”

Vaz’s resolve was tested early in last Saturday’s 36-26 win over Arizona State when the Sun Devils sent the house and sacked him five times in the first half. He got off the mat and threw for 267 yards and a pair of scores.

“Cody is a warrior,” Enger says. “He’s a really tough kid. He showed that to everybody (against ASU). He got popped a few times. Even in the BYU game, he got popped a couple of times. He’s the kind of guy who is always going to keep getting up and keep throwing the ball, and he has a cannon. Those are the ingredients that makes him good.”

Vaz says he gets his demeanor from his parents, Phil and Julie, who run a trucking/warehouse/bottling company with Phil’s three brothers.

“It was the way I was raised,” Cody says. “They both did a great job. I love my parents, but I think I got it from my mom. She’s a really calm person.”

The prototypical quarterback in OSU’s pro-style offense is 6-3 or taller, but the Beavers have had their shorter quarterbacks during the Riley era, including 5-10 Jonathan Smith and 5-11 Lyle Moevao.

“Cody towers over Jonathan,” Riley says with a chuckle. “There are some similarities. Like Cody, Jonathan had a quick release, and they see everything easily as they read defenses.”

Riley hasn’t had to change the offense a lick with Vaz at quarterback.

“Normally, when you go to your second quarterback, you have to skim things down a little,” the OSU coach says. “Not with Cody. We’re just doing what we think we need to do to win a game, period. We were able to pick up right where we left off with Sean.

“We were able to not skip a beat through Sean’s injury. Cody did this team a great service.”

Vaz isn’t worried about numbers as he prepares for a game that will dictate much about Oregon State’s preseason.

“I just want to win,” he says. “It will be a really tough game at Stanford — probably our toughest one so far. But every week is a big game for us.”