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BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Francois, Dawkins, Bickler and Hodgins have high expectations for their OSU careers

A look at four of the 11 players who were members of Oregon State's early signing class ...

Craig Francois, 6-2, 215-pound linebacker, Pasadena, California

For a couple of years now, Craig Francois (pronounced "Fran-swah") has had a dream of playing major-college football.

"Now I'm about six months away from it being a reality," Francois says. "It's a very exciting time for me and my family."

Though a Pasadena native, Francois did not follow the local UCLA Bruins.

"I grew up a Stanford fan," he says. "My parents talked to me what Stanford was like, a top academic school, and they were good at football, too."

COURTESY: OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - FRANCOISFrancois had 47 tackles, 19 tackles-for-loss, 13 1/2 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries as a senior at Class 2A Cathedral High this fall. It was during the season that he verbally committed to Oregon State interim head coach Cory Hall, turning down scholarship offers from Washington State, Colorado State, San Jose State and Hawaii.

Soon after Jonathan Smith was named as head coach, Francois signed with the Beavers.

"Coach Smith came to talk to me at my school, and it was a natural click," Francois says. "He's a very cool person. He then talked to my parents. They were impressed, but still wanted me to go on a visit, just to be sure."

Francois also made a visit to San Jose State.

"It was pretty cool, but I decided to stick with Oregon State," he said. "On my visit, it felt like home. There was a good brotherhood feel from the guys there that weekend. It made my commitment stronger.

"Corvallis is a real college town. It's not super small, but it's not big. The support the people in the city give the Beavers impressed me. It's a good place for me to focus on schoolwork and football. It's a perfect fit."

Oregon State redshirt freshmen Arex "Champ" Flemings and Jeffrey Manning were both teammates of Francois, one year ahead in school.

"Arex and I grew up together from elementary school," Francois says. "Jeffrey and I had classes together our two years together at Cathedral. He's one of my closest friends. Those guys had a definite influence on me choosing Oregon State."

A 2.8 student, Francois says he will major either in ethnic studies or sociology. He has a vocation in mind after football.

"If I weren't playing football, I'd be halfway to becoming a firefighter," he says. "I've been wanting to do that since I was little."

Francois considers his best football traits to be "my get-off, my hand usage and my football IQ. I study (video), so I can see plays happening before the ball is snapped."

He'll arrive in Corvallis this summer in the best shape of his life, Francois promises.

"I'm going to compete to try to play right away, whether it's special teams or a couple of snaps a game on defense," he says. "But if coaches think the best decision for me is to redshirt, I have no problem doing that."

COURTESY: OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - DAWKINSKeishon Dawkins, 6-5, 240-pound offensive lineman, West Linn

Count Keishon Dawkins as a member of Beaver Nation for some time.

"I've been watching Oregon State play since I was a little kid," he says. "I've been going to games, been around Beaver fans. This is a dream come true for me. I'm really excited to be going down there next year."

Dawkins turned down his other scholarship offer — from Nevada — and verbally committed first to Hall. After Smith was hired as head coach, he traveled to West Linn to meet with Dawkins and his family.

"I liked what Coach Smith had to say and what he believed in," Dawkins says. "It made me want to stay with my commitment. I feel like Oregon State is the place for me. When I went there for visits, it felt like home. Everybody was so welcoming. The new coaching staff seems great. It's close to home. All those things made me feel comfortable with my decision."

None of Dawkins' relatives attend Oregon State, but his mother, Heidi Dawkins, played volleyball and basketball at Lewis & Clark. Keishon is an outstanding basketball player, a two-year starting center who was all-league last year as a junior for the Lions.

Dawkins says he owes a lot to West Linn football coach Chris Miller, who helped develop his still raw football talents.

"I love Coach Miller," Dawkins says. "He's a great person to learn from, on and off the field. He helped me get better. He said I'd have to increase my work ethic if I wanted to play a college sport. He pushed me every day in practice."

Dawkins played tight end at West Linn, but Oregon State coaches project him to play offensive tackle.

"They say my body looks like it will fill out and be right for an O-lineman," Dawkins says. "I'm not worried about my position. Wherever they need me, I'll play."

Dawkins is a 2.8 student who intends to major in business at Oregon State. He has a passion for automobiles. He owns two — a 1997 Infinity SUV and a 1993 Impala SS. "I'm big into cars," he says.

After basketball ends, Dawkins says he will focus on workouts and preparing to make the move to Corvallis in July.

"I'd like to put more muscle on," he says. "I'd like to be at about 250 when training camp starts (in August)."

COURTESY: OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - BICKLERBradley Bickler, 6-7, 240-pound defensive end, Southridge

If Bradley Bickler makes it at defensive end at Oregon State, he'll probably have the best arm in his position group.

That's because the 6-7, 240-pound Bickler was starting quarterback at Southridge the past three seasons.

"For a long time, I saw myself as playing quarterback in college, too," he says.

But by the end of his junior year, Bickler — at that point 6-6 and 215 — had changed his mind. He had a talk with his coach, uncle Kevin Bickler, and they decided that he would go both ways as a senior, playing quarterback and D-end.

"We had discussed it a little bit before," Bradley says. "When he told me he was serious (about playing both ways), I was excited. I wanted to get bigger, and I wanted to learn everything about the (D-end) position.

"I was nervous at first. I'd never gone up against an offensive lineman in my life. Once I got going, though, I enjoyed it. I'm quick, I've got long arms and I know how to use them. By learning certain moves, I just kept getting better."

Bickler played the position well enough to catch the eye of Oregon State coaches, and he committed to Hall this fall. A couple of weeks after Smith was hired as head coach, Bickler went on his official visit to Corvallis.

"I got to meet a lot of the guys on the coaching staff," he says. "I was happy with the vision they have for the program. Coach Smith seems really confident and excited about turning the program around. I believe we can do that while I'm there. I can't wait to get down there to Corvallis. I'm more than excited about it."

Bickler's only other scholarship offer from an FBS school came from Wyoming.

"Oregon State is close to home," he says. "Playing in the Pac-12 has been my dream. I want to play against the best competition possible. The OSU campus feels like home. The people there are great. It seems like the right place for me to go."

Bickler enjoyed playing for Kevin Bickler, the brother of Bradley's mother, Chandra Bickler.

"We had great communication," Bradley says. "It was a great experience. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot."

Bickler is currently playing basketball at Southridge, a sometimes-starter at power forward.

A 2.5 student, Bickler will major in business at Oregon State. He'll arrive in July with a goal.

"Once basketball ends, I'll be lifting and trying to get bigger," he says. "By August, I'd like to be at least 255."

If OSU coaches need him to play right away, he says he'll be ready.

"But it might be better to redshirt, so I can get used to things at the college level," Bickler says. "I'm sure it will be an adjustment, playing against those 300-pound offensive linemen. We'll see what happens."

Isaac Hodgins, 6-1, 285 defensive tackle, Oakley, California

Isaac Hodgins has great blood lines. His father, James, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a fullback with St. Louis, Arizona and the New York Jets from 1999-2006. His brother, Isaiah, was the second-leading receiver as a true freshman at Oregon State last season.

"I can't remember a time when I didn't play football," Isaac says. "When I was too young to play and my dad coached my brother's Pop Warner team, I would practice even though I couldn't play in games.

"I've always loved being around the game. My dad taught me a lot and showed me the ropes to reach my full potential."COURTESY: OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - HODGINS

Hodgins gave an early verbal commitment to coach Gary Andersen's staff at OSU over scholarship offers from San Jose State — his father's alma mater — Yale and San Diego. After Andersen left and Jonathan Smith was hired as the new head coach, Hodgins signed a letter-of-intent.

"Coach Smith is a stand-up guy," he says. "He played at Oregon State. He knows what's best for the program. I loved the coaches who initially recruited me (for Andersen), but for me, it's not all about the staff. It's about the place, whether I'll be able to play early in my career, and if the school can develop me to be the best player I can be. I felt that was Oregon State."

Hodgins says having Isaiah at Oregon State was a "plus" toward signing with the Beavers, "but not the deciding factor."

"It's reassuring to know he is here, and that we're in it together," Hodgins says. "But I took a lot of other things into consideration. I love the campus. I love the fact that it's a college town. The facilities are awesome — everything you could want. And I'll have a chance to play early here."

Hodgins lives in Oakley but traveled 40 minutes each way to go to Berean Christian in Walnut Creek, California. He was an animal on the team's defensive line the past three seasons, setting school records for career tackles (282), tackles-for-loss (70) and sacks (31 1/2). As a senior, he had 98 tackles and 33 1/2 tackles-for-loss.

"What I lack in height I make up for in strength and quickness," says Hodgins, who bench presses 370 pounds and squats 520 and ran the 40 in 5.1 a year ago. "I'm pretty good at penetrating into the backfield, getting off a block and pursuing."

Hodgins graduated early and has already enrolled for winter term at OSU, taking 14 credits. A 3.7 student at Berean Christian, he is majoring in exploratory studies with an eye toward accounting or money management.

OSU coaches project him to play nose tackle in their 3-4 defensive scheme, "but I'm not too big where I couldn't play D-end, too," he says.

Don't bring up the R-word to Hodgins.

"I don't think I'll redshirt," he says. "I'm fully expecting to play right away, though I'm not sure how much the first year. That's the biggest reason for me coming to (OSU) early, to get a jump on strength and conditioning and in learning our defensive schemes so I can play right away."

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