CORVALLIS — If you haven't set your eyes on the Valley Football Center lately, you're in for a surprise on your next visit.
The $42-million renovation of the now state-of-the-art home for Oregon State's football staff and players is all but complete, and to third-year coach Gary Andersen, it's a thing of beauty.
"The facility is awesome," says Andersen as he greets a reporter in his office overlooking Reser Stadium, where the Beavers will play six home games during the 2017 season, beginning with a Sept. 2 date with Portland State. "It's very functional for student-athletes and our staff, but it's also a big-time football environment, which is what we need to compete in the Pac-12.
"There are still construction workers running around, finishing off the bells and whistles, but structurally, it's pretty much done."
Andersen calls the 90,000-square-foot venue, which houses coaches offices and meeting rooms, the players' locker room and lounge, the equipment room, training room, training table, media room, a football hall of fame presentation and an auditorium, "the heartbeat of our football program."
"It shows anybody who pulls into our parking lot the importance of football at Oregon State," the coach says. "It allows you to get to the next step toward where we're going."
Observations from Andersen as he looks back at spring practice and ahead at summer workouts and training camp …
• One of the key components of spring ball was to improve the passing game, an endeavor led by new passing game coordinator Jason Phillips. Phillips brings with him 16 seasons of experience in offenses at Houston, Baylor, Southern Methodist and Kansas, notably with Art Briles' "Air Raid" attack.
"We implemented the offense the way we want to play and made some stridse there," Andersen says. "Coach Phillips did a nice job of establishing his culture. I'm excited to see the receivers' growth as we go through summer and camp.
"They have to be markedly more productive than they were a year ago. I don't just mean the kids — me, (offensive coordinator Kevin) McGiven, everybody. We have to be more productive as a whole to allow the quarterback and the offense to be functionally better at what they do."
Seniors Jordan Villamin and Hunter Jarmon made strides toward securing starting jobs, and senior Xavier Hawkins, junior Timmy Hernandez, sophomores Trevon Bradford and Andre Bodden and true freshman Isaiah Hodgins will be battling for rotation time as the Beavers prepare for their Aug. 26 opener at Colorado State.
"I see progress," Andersen says. "The receivers understand their football knowledge is cleaner. We helped them coaching-wise with how we have simplified the playbook. Coach Phillips helps us with some of the terminology he's used in the Air Raid offense in the past. With confidence comes calmness, and with calmness comes reaction, and reaction makes everything become faster."
• Another area of focus was the linebacker position in Oregon State's 3-4 system. Sophomore Andrzej Hughes-Murray and redshirt freshman Doug Taumoelau made the move inside while redshirt freshmen Kee Whetzel and Hamilcar Rashed got major looks at the outside spots. Junior Jonathan Willis was used both inside and outside.
"The reps Andrzej, Dougie, Kee and Hamilcar got during spring are huge," Andersen says. "And it was important that Jonathan was identified as a guy who can play outside, because we know he can play inside."
Also back are outside 'backers Bright Ugwoegbu and Adam Soesman and sophomores Shemiah Unatoa-Whitson and Shemar Smith. Seniors Manase Hungalu and Wesley Payne and true freshman Emony Robinson are among those who will vie for spots on the inside.
• The other position group Andersen was watching closely during the spring was the offensive line, which lost starters Gavin Andrews, Sean Harlow and Dustin Stanton.
Three players with significant starting experience return — senior guard Fred Lauina, sophomore guard Gus Lavaka and sophomore tackle Blake Brandel.
Defensive lineman Sumner Houston's switch to center "was a big positive step," Andersen says.
Backing up Houston is junior Yanni Demogerontas, and junior guard Kammy Delp can play center, too.
"The big question is right tackle," Andersen says. "Blake will play left tackle. He had a good freshman season and we expect him to be even better next season."
The options at right tackle include junior Trent Moore, who has bulked up to 300 pounds, JC transfers Justin Sattelmaier and Clay Coradsco and Lauina, who could be moved there.
"We'll identify our best five linemen, then figure out the best way to use them," Andersen says.
There are 13 O-linemen on scholarship, "and we hope to add one more before we get to camp," the coach says. "There is only one senior (Lauina) among the 13. We'd like to be at 16 by this time next year."
Tackle Will Hopkins, ticketed for backup duty next season, has chosen to transfer to another school as a graduate senior.
"Will looked at it as an opportunity to go somewhere and play," Andersen says. "He wants to play as a senior. Part of me respects that; part of me would like to see him here. But he went about it the right way."
• The quarterback position will go into training camp as a three-way battle between JC transfer Jake Luton, junior Marcus McMaryion and senior Darell Garretson. Andersen says it's possible the Beavers could start the season with two QBs sharing the job.
"If we had a game today, we'd play with two," the coach says. "Is it going to be that way in the fall? It doesn't have to be. I don't think it will be, but I don't necessarily think it won't be, either. We'll let the thing play out."
The 6-7 Luton was impressive during the spring despite a mysterious ailment that caused him to lose 25 pounds down to 210.
"I'm still not sure what it was, but Jake came out every day, battled and never said, 'Woe is me,'" Andersen says. "He has gained all his weight back, and he'll be healthy and good to go for camp.
"I want to do what's best for us to win football games. All three of those guys are fighting like crazy to win the job. They're going to compete."
• The tight end position was used almost entirely as a blocker through most of last season. That won't be the case in 2017.
"Our tight ends need to be a big part of our offense next season," Andersen says. "And they will be."
The starter will be sophomore Noah Togiai, who has been granted a medical redshirt season after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
"Getting Noah's year back was huge," Andersen says.
His backup will be sophomore Tuli Wily-Matagi, one of OSU's most improved players in the spring. Behind them is junior Quinn Smith, a transfer from Lafayette who missed last season with a knee injury.
The other player who was ticketed for duty at tight end, sophomore Joah Robinett, will leave OSU after spring term and transfer to San Diego State.
• The safety position will be bolstered by the addition of graduate transfer Austin Hudson, a 6-2, 220-pound senior who played at South Florida the last two seasons. Hudson played for Andersen at Wisconsin as a true freshman in 2014.
"I expect him to compete right away for a starting job," Andersen says. "Austin has a good understanding of the defense. He has the tools. I know what he can do. He's big, strong and extremely intelligent."
• Oregon State will be a young team, with only 15 seniors. That group will be led by Villamin, Jarmon, Garretson, Lauina, Hungalu, Hudson, safety Brandon Arnold, punter Nick Porebski and defensive linemen Phillip Napoleon, Titus Failauga, Baker Pritchard and Paisa Savea.
How will the on-field leadership be for the 2017 Beavers?
"That's something we've discussed as a staff," Andersen says. "I've been around teams with tremendous leaders that had poor years. I've been around teams that don't have such great leadership, or almost no leadership, and they were fantastic. So sometimes that's overrated.
"The key is to identify the type of leadership you have. Does it need to be more through the coaches, through the players, through the leadership committee? I'll say this: I'm not concerned about where we are from a leadership standpoint."
• The Beavers are nearing the completion of a nine-week cycle following the end of spring practice. They've been working with strength/conditioning coach Evan Simon, who will put them through measurements for strength, speed and agility once the cycle ends.
"I'm excited to see the results," Andersen says. "We may time a select few (players) in the 40. I don't need to see (cornerback) Dwayne Williams. I know how fast he can run. But, for instance, I'd like to see how fast Kee Whetzel is in the 40."
• Oregon State's roster stands at 83 scholarship players, two below the limit.
"I'd like to get to 85 by camp, if we add the right two guys," Andersen says. "There are still guys out there who can help us. As it stands, we'd have 15 scholarships to give with our next class. But I expect us to sign at least 20."
• Andersen believes he is making in-roads in terms of in-state recruiting.
"This state is highly competitive in recruiting, and it's our top priority," he says. "I love where we're at in-state. We will attack this state the same way we attacked it from Day 1. We'll identify who we think are the best prospects, and we'll go after them extremely hard.
"We'll also identify one or two of those developmental kids in-state. We've done a nice job with that with guys who don't have the wowzer star effect."
• Oregon State has only three verbal commits so far — linebacker Halid Dijibril of Los Angeles, defensive tackle Isaac Hodgins of Walnut Creek, California, and cornerback Deshon Wilson of Hayward, California.
"I feel we're in a good spot," Andersen says. "We're not going to be panic recruiters. We don't care how many commits we have at any time during the year. We care about how are they playing two or three years after they've been here."
• Training camp will begin either July 23 or 24 in Corvallis. Camp will move to Bend from July 29 to Aug. 5. A scrimmage is tentatively planned for Friday night, Aug. 4. The Beavers open the season at Colorado State on Aug. 26.