Corps of young receivers compete for attention, field time this season

CORVALLIS — It’s no secret that Oregon State landed a quartet of promising receivers in its recruiting class of 2013.

Before they’re done, Victor Bolden, Jordan Villamin, Walter Jones and Hunter Jarmon could make their mark as one of the best receiving groups in school history.

First, though, they’ll have to battle six veterans — Brandin Cooks, Richard Mullaney, Malik Gilmore, Obum Gwachum, Kevin Cummings and Micah Hatfield — for playing time at the three receiving spots this season.

Odds are that all four true freshmen will redshirt. If one makes the active roster this season, it might be Bolden, the 5-9, 165-pound live wire out of Etiwanda, Calif., who could succeed Cooks as the Beavers’ next starting flanker.

“Victor is a mini-Cooks,” Mullaney says. “When he gets in there, I feel like they’re the same exact player.”

Not so fast, warns receivers coach Brent Brennan, mindful that Cooks — who caught 67 passes for 1,151 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore last season — has established himself as one of the top receivers in the Pac-12.

“There have been a lot of comparisons between him and Brandin,” Brennan says. “I’m reluctant to do that because Brandin is such a good player, and we don’t know what Victor is going to be when we start playing real football. But we love his combination of speed and quickness. So far, he has done a nice job.”

Bolden is a burner who did it all as a senior at Los Osos High last season, playing quarterback in the Wildcat formation as well as running back, receiver and defensive back while returning punts and kicks. In track last spring, he was the CIF Division I champion in the 300 hurdles in 37.30 and ran the 100 in 10.74.

Oregon State beat out UCLA, Utah and Hawaii for Bolden’s services.

“I loved the great coaching staff and the welcoming family atmosphere,” Bolden says. “Also, our pass-happy offense that does well with little receivers — that played a big role. I wanted to come here and be the next guy.”

Brennan was impressed when he first watched video of Bolden during his junior season at Los Osos. After he “kind of lit it up” in an OSU mini-camp that summer, the Beavers offered a scholarship.

“It was like, ‘OK, he fits our profile,’ ” Brennan says. “We’ve had a ton of success with smaller wideouts. He’s a guy we refer to as a ‘speed-in-space’ player. In high school, the ball was always in his hands. I watched him in one game (in which) he ran for 150 yards, scored four touchdowns, had two picks and was all over the field.

“And he has an awesome family. His parents are both track coaches. He’s a neat kid, really serious about football, mature.”

When Cooks arrived in Corvallis, veterans James Rodgers and Markus Wheaton showed him the ropes. Now the 5-10, 185-pound Cooks is doing the same for the rookies, especially Bolden, built along his same body lines.

Cooks’ reaction to comparisons with Bolden?

“I love it,” Cooks says. “I want him to be great. I’m trying to help him focus on the little things I missed out on when I was a freshman. James and Markus were both hard on me and expected a lot of me, which I liked. And I’m doing the same thing for Victor.”

Bolden says when Cooks talks, he is all ears.

“Brandin has taught me a lot since I’ve been here,” Bolden says. “I’m going under his wing and letting him teach me everything he knows.”

Bolden is drawing raves from those who have watched him through the first week and a half of training camp.

“He’s exciting, fast, smart, diligent,” Riley says.

“Really fast and quick, good hands, runs good routes — he has the whole thing there,” Mullaney says. “He just needs to put on a couple of more pounds and get some experience. He’s going to be a special one here, I think.”

“That kid’s feet are unbelievable,” Cooks says. “His cut moves ... put it like this: When he has the ball in his hands, he’s lethal.”

Maybe Bolden will be too good to redshirt.

“We’ll get to that pretty soon,” Riley says. “We’re not ready to say that yet, but he is going to be a good fit here.”

Bolden wants to play this season and figures special teams “are the quickest way I can get on the field. I’ll go out there and show my skills and hopefully I can move up the depth chart.”

Brennan doesn’t want Bolden to get ahead of himself, though.

“He’s made some nice plays, he’s made some mistakes,” the receivers coach says, adding with a smile, “he’s just a freshman. He was at his senior prom four months ago.”

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