Updated: November 21, 2012, 2:32 PM ET
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesCenter Isaac Seumalo (56) has started every game as a true freshman for Oregon State. He was rated the nation's No. 19 overall prospect in the ESPN 150 in the Class of 2012.

Oregon State uses wins, creativity to get noticed

By Mitch Sherman
ESPN RecruitingNation

Three weeks ago on a quest to uncover and report in this space on the magic that helped fuel Oregon's Pac-12 rise, I interviewed coaches and players, spoke with experts and examined the recruiting landscape before the Ducks flew to Los Angeles and hung 62 points on USC.

From California to Texas and back to the Northwest, praise flowed for Oregon.

But I heard a common refrain: Don't overlook Oregon State. Both programs up there do a tremendous job, they said.

It annoyed me. Gummed about good quotes about Chip Kelly's charm.

I didn't want to hear about Oregon State. Not then.

Well, now, the 15th-ranked Beavers, who host No. 5 Oregon on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET, stand between the Ducks and a chance to play next week for a fourth straight Pac-12 title. Oregon State sits 8-2 after a 62-14 win over Cal, its losses by 3 and 4 points, respectively, at Washington and Stanford.

Jason O. Watson/US PresswireOregon State coach Mike Riley and his staff have used creative ways to get recruits' attention.

Didn't notice? You're not alone. Oregon State is the team that hides in plain sight, the program you won't notice until you're hit over the head with its success. Even then, the Beavers are easy to miss, what with those blinding lights that radiate from nearby Eugene.

Imagine the battle coach Mike Riley and his staff face in recruiting.

Think many prospects outside of Oregon even know that these past 10 seasons Riley has been serving his second stint as head coach at OSU? Or that before he arrived the first time, the Beavers were putrid for a quarter-century, averaging 2.1 wins from 1972 to 1996?

Riley's second season in charge earned him a promotion to the San Diego Chargers. Since his return in 2003, Oregon State is 72-51 with six bowl appearances in nine seasons.

Sometimes, that success seems to resonate only within the 13.8 square miles of Corvallis. Defensive line coach Joe Seumalo, on staff under Riley for seven years, said recruits still mistake his school for Oregon.

"All the time," Seumalo said. "You've always got to say it again, 'State.' They just hear 'Oregon' and think Ducks."

It's a constant challenge -- a challenge the Beavers have learned to embrace and ultimately turn in their favor.

The 59-year-old Riley, who played defensive back for Bear Bryant at Alabama and coached the Chargers for three years, encourages prospects to look deep inside the Oregon State program. He said he wants the experience to contain "substance."

Easier said than done in a recruiting culture that thrives on surface-level attraction.

But listen to Riley. He's finely in tune with Oregon State.

"We have to work real hard," the coach said this week. "And that has to be part of our core identity. We're going to have to uncover more rocks, reach out more and evaluate with a little more projection.

"It's not a place for everybody. If somebody's looking for big city, bright lights, bells and whistles, then we're not going to fit into their plans. We're just looking for the right fit, somebody who understands why they're coming to Oregon State."

There's no fighting the shadow cast by Oregon and others in the league.

"That's all right for us," Riley said. "We'll find the right guys who want to come here for the right reasons. It's a good thing, because we tend to have happy kids."

Isaac Seumalo, Joe's second-oldest son and the gem of the Beavers' 2012 class as the No. 19 prospect in the final ESPN 150, simply encourages players to look at Oregon State. Seumalo, who has started every game this fall at center as a true freshman, committed early to the hometown Beavers.

Arnold It shows they're committed to me.

-- Oregon State commit Brandon Arnold on the Beavers flying a plane over one of his games

In the final weeks of recruiting, though, he visited USC. Just to see how it felt. How it compared to home. He enjoyed the trip, but it reaffirmed his decision to sign with OSU.

"Get to know the people here," the younger Seumalo said. "People who have any interest and take a trip here, they end up falling in love with Corvallis, the atmosphere, the coaching staff."

His dad, the D-line coach, describes Corvallis as a "five-minute town."

"Everything's five minutes away," Joe Seumalo said. "I live two minutes away from the stadium. Other coaches, they're no more than five."

The players can walk to practice from their apartments and dorms.

"The only thing I'd tell someone," Isaac Seumalo said, "is to come check it out."

Damien Haskins said OK. He's a typical OSU recruit, drawing limited attention despite big production. Haskins has rushed for 2,700 yards and 46 touchdowns in 10 games this year for New Boston (Texas) High School. He switched his pledge from Memphis to Oregon State after visiting Corvallis in October for the Utah game.

"They're family," Haskins said. "First of all, I felt comfortable around them. I liked the environment. It was about the people."

Jacquizz Rodgers, who rushed for nearly 4,000 yards from 2008 to 2010, and his brother, James, also came to Corvallis from Texas.

California has produced seven of the 10 Oregon State commitments for the 2013 class, including five from the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles -- an area patrolled by Joe Seumalo.

"What we've got to do is keep winning," Joe Seumalo said. "That's the attraction. That's what gets them to notice us."

Kids notice creativity, too.

Oregon State's full football staff met last summer to devise plans that would gain the Beavers that attention they lack. They wanted to do something no other program had tried.

So the school hired a Los Angeles company to fly a plane over several high school stadiums as Oregon State prospects played, the idea of Dan Van De Riet, Oregon State's director of football operations. For about a month this fall, the Beaver-craft stayed busy on weekend nights.

[+] Enlarge
AP Photo/Greg Wahl-StephensOregon State star receiver Markus Wheaton chose the Beavers over an offer from Oregon.

On the bottom of the plane scrolled an LED message: "OSU football. Go Beavs!"

It crossed the sky in October as safety Brandon Arnold of Encino (Calif.) Crespi Carmelite aligned for a defensive play.

"It shows they're pretty committed to me," Arnold said.

Expect more ingenuity soon.

"I think it's real important to try to stay on the edge with some stuff," Riley said. "It's fun for our people to be thinking out of the box a little bit."

Arnold committed to Oregon State over scholarship offers from Arizona, Cal, Colorado and Michigan State a few days after his Nov. 3 visit to see the Beavers dispatch Arizona State.

He is perhaps the most heavily recruited of Oregon State's 2013 pledges. The top-rated prospect in the class, receiver Jordan Villamin of Etiwanda (Calif.) High School, counted offers from Utah, Eastern Washington and Northern Colorado when he picked OSU in July.

The Beavers' 2012 class is ranked ninth in the Pac-12.

Rare are the players like senior receiver Markus Wheaton, who turned down Oregon out of Chandler, Ariz., in 2009.

Isaac Seumalo is still more rare. By signing him, the Beavers made a statement. They made people listen -- even those who didn't want to hear it.

In addition to the presence of his father at OSU, Isaac's brother Andrew, a former walk-on, starts at defensive tackle as a senior. Regardless, Riley said, Oregon State recruited Isaac harder than any school.

If it hadn't, perhaps he would have left for USC.

"We didn't assume anything," Riley said.

Assumptions are dangerous at Oregon State, which, entering the final week of regular-season Pac-12 play, could finish in a three-way tie atop the North Division with Oregon and Stanford.

Yet the Beavers remain the only team of the trio incapable of winning a tiebreaker.

There they go again, hiding in plain sight. Some things never change.


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