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Beavers' QBs embrace battle


On Sports

Sean Mannion.CORVALLIS — Physically, they couldn’t be much more different.

Psychologically, they are strikingly alike.

Junior Sean Mannion is rangy (6-5 and 215) and fashioning little more than a crewcut.

Senior Cody Vaz is compact (6-1 and 200) and sporting locks that haven’t been shorn since early last football season.

The latter is part of a bet Vaz made with his girlfriend, that he wouldn’t get a haircut until it’s time to walk through a graduation ceremony in June.

“Getting a little tired of it,” he says with a smile. “Not sure if I’ll make it.”

It’s with their demeanor that the two candidates for starting quarterback at Oregon State are remarkably similar.

While each has a fire inside to be the starter when the Beavers open Aug. 31 against Eastern Washington at Reser Stadium, there is not a drop of bad blood between the two.

Mannion and Vaz put it almost exactly the same way as they speak about learning that coach Mike Riley probably won’t make a decision about the starter until well into August training camp.

“I feel fine about that,” Vaz said after the second day of spring practice. “The competition is going to bring out the best in both of us. We’re going to come out here every day and work hard and push each other. In the end, it will be better for us and better for the team.”

“You’re always competing,” Mannion says. “This is more obvious of a competition because we need to find a starter. But even last year when I was the starter, I was competing against Cody every day. It’s nothing new as far as a mindset goes. Not much as changed. We’ll push each other. It’ll make each of us better players and help the team.”

Cody VazIf it sounds scripted, Lyle Moevao vouches for the idea the camaraderie is genuine. Moevao was in a similar situation from 2007-09, when he went back and forth with Sean Canfield as the starter and backup.

Moevao and Canfield, with a vast amount of respect for the other, made it work. Moevao — now working as a graduate assistant for the Beavers — sounds certain Mannion and Vaz can, too.

“They will do a lot of the same things Sean and I did as far as working together, getting each other ready, getting each other better,” Moevao says. “They are two (upperclassmen) competing for a spot but working together with the right attitude. They’ve done a great job so far.”

Very few quarterbacks at the Pac-12 level get through a season unscathed in terms of injury.

“I know they are mature enough to understand no matter who gets the starting role, the other one is just one play from being the guy on the field,” Moevao says. “If they are neck-and-neck and one guy wins, the other guy has to be ready. That’s one thing I’ve tried to remind them.”

Last season, Mannion was the opening-day starter and was superb in leading Oregon State to a surprising 4-0 start. When Mannion underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in a knee, Vaz stepped in and earned Pac-12 offensive player of the week honors in his first college start, a 42-24 win at Brigham Young. Vaz started in a 21-7 win over Utah that pushed the Beavers’ record to 6-0, then relinquished the starting job to Mannion in a 20-17 loss at Washington. Vaz took over again the next week, leading the Beavers to a 36-26 win over Arizona State, then injured an ankle at Stanford that kept him out for two weeks.

Vaz wound up as the starter in the Alamo Bowl, taking 10 sacks in a 31-27 loss to Texas that left the starting job up for grabs going into spring ball.

Both players are healthy of body and spirit as they renew their friendly rivalry. Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf will be watching, knowing that it’s unlikely anything will be decided this spring.

“We have two good kids and they’re going to play a long time before we say anything about who is leading,” Riley says. “The first two days ( of spring practice), they split the turns evenly. That’s what we’ll continue to do. We’ll see what comes out of it all.

“We’re in no hurry to do anything. Both of those guys have done some real good things and are good quarterbacks. The evaluation has to be done over a period of time. I don’t know there’s a need to do anything different than that.”

Last season, Mannion completed 64.9 percent of his passes and threw for 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. Vaz connected on 58.9 percent of his passes and threw for 1,480 yards and 11 TDs, but with only three interceptions.

“They were both pretty good last year,” Riley says. “The biggest difference was interceptions. One of the best ways to lose a game is to lose the turnover battle. We want to help eliminate those, so we want to cut down on interceptions.

“We want our quarterbacks to take care of the football, make the right choices and still have the guts to throw the ball.”

Because both Mannion and Vaz have a body of work, claiming respect of offensive teammates shouldn’t be a problem

“They are both great leaders,” junior receiver Brandin Cooks says. “They’re like a commander-in-chief. Whoever is in there, everybody on the offense is going to listen to them. When we go in that huddle, whoever it is, he’ll have our respect.

“It makes the whole team hungrier to see your quarterbacks battling every day for that starting position. Those guys don’t take practice lightly at all. They’re going back and forth with great throws, and the competition between them fires the team up.”

The competition for next season’s starting QB is just beginning. However it breaks, it shouldn’t get bitter.

“We’re both competitive guys,” Vaz says. “We want to play, but we’ll do what’s best for the team.”

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