Oregon State uses wins, creativity to get noticed
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recruiting Nation 411
Podcast: Verbal Commitment
Around the Nation
TOP SENIORS IN COLUMBUS:
Some big-name Class of 2013 stars will be in Columbus to see Ohio State play Michigan. Scheduled to make official visits are ESPN 150 prospects Daniel McMillian (Florida commit), Trey Johnson (Auburn commit), James Quick and Tony Stevens, as well as Ohio State commits such as five-star corner Eli Woodard.
-- Brad Bournival, BuckeyeNation
ELITE JUNIORS, TOO:
Class of 2014 prospects such as Myles Autry and Raekwon McMillan will be also be in Columbus and have the Buckeyes right at the top. Athlete Marshon Lattimore is a dynamic playmaker. Watch List linebacker Clifton Garrett is a big target, while the QB picture for Ohio State might clear with Drew Barker and DeShone Kizer both on campus.
-- Jared Shanker, Midwest
NORTH HEADS SOUTH:
Instead of taking an official to Ohio State, ESPN 150 WR Marquez North will instead travel to Clemson for the game against South Carolina on Saturday night. The news likely means the Buckeyes are no longer under serious consideration for the 6-foot-3, 210-pound wideout.
-- Kipp Adams, Southeast
SEALS-JONES AT A&M AGAIN:
For its regular-season finale against Missouri, Texas A&M is hosting several visitors. But none are more notable than the nation's No. 1 athlete, ESPN 150 prospect Ricky Seals-Jones, who's considering the Aggies and LSU.
-- Sam Khan Jr., GigEmNation
IRON BOWL HOST:
It's Iron Bowl week in the state of Alabama, and it will give the Tide a chance to host another big recruiting weekend. Auburn commits like defensive lineman Dee Liner and wide receiver Earnest Robinson are among the visitors planning to attend.
-- Greg Ostendorf, TideNation
MARYLAND TRIO AT USC:
Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy teammates Kenny Bigelow, Khaliel Rodgers and David Sills -- all committed to USC -- plan to make the cross-country trip for the Trojans' rivalry game against No. 1 Notre Dame. Elsewhere, four-star DT commit Eddie Vanderdoes will take his first official visit, to UCLA, for the Bruins' big game against Stanford.
-- Blair Angulo, WeAreSC
TOP OLB TO WATCH FSU:
Florida State will welcome some of the top prospects remaining on its board for the Class of 2013 for its game with rival Florida, including No. 1 ESPN 150 OLB Matthew Thomas.
-- Corey Dowlar, NoleNation
TERRY IN ATHENS:
Georgia will have three official visitors for the rivalry game with Georgia Tech -- ESPN 150 athlete Tramel Terry, prep school wide receiver Ja'Quay Williams and juco safety target Kennar Johnson. Georgia is trying to hold onto Terry following multiple trips to Clemson, so securing the early enrollee this weekend will be a recruiting priority.
-- Kipp Adams, DawgNation
Scouts: Rising Star
By Billy Tucker, RecruitingNation
This fall, while evaluating late bloomers who came on during their senior seasons, we discovered Ohio receiver Austin Wolf, who posted more than 1,000 yards receiving and showed enough on film for us to project him as a three-star prospect despite him having only a few offers. He committed to in-state Cincinnati, and in the Bearcats' open system, which likes size on the outside, Wolf could develop into a productive weapon as he continues to physically develop. He has great size (6-4, 200 pounds), hands and body control that allows for very good downfield production, particularly outside the numbers. We feel those go-to skills should transfer over to the next level and see the potential for good red zone production with his high-point and ball skills. He tends to climb the ladder in terms of being a vertical route-runner and is not a burner or a receiver who is going to make a lot of yards after the catch in the Big East, but we like his mismatch potential as an outside possession receiver and feel the Bearcats landed a nice complementary receiver in their system.
UA All-America Game Spotlight
By Craig Haubert, RecruitingNation
The spotlight doesn't shine very often on the big men in the interior of the offensive line, but it's worth watching the battles in the trenches during the Under Armour All-America Game. There is a good group of offensive guards headed to St. Petersburg, Fla., and one to watch is Ira Denson, a big-bodied and powerful presence at the guard spot. He has impressed us each time we have studied him on film and we look forward to seeing how he has developed in the Under Armour Game setting. Denson, a Florida State commit who is No. 84 overall in the ESPN 150, flashes the explosive surge needed to knock defenders off the ball when he keeps his pads down, something he has improved on this season. With nimble feet and a powerful punch he can also be a very stout pass-blocker and he always seems to play with a nasty finishing attitude. There will be a lot of great talent on the field in Florida, but do yourself a favor and check out some of the action in the heart of the trenches.
Denson receives his UA Game jersey.
Juco Spotlight: Aaron Wimberly
Game of the Week
By Jon Mahoney, RecruitingNation
This is normally a matchup you'd see in the state championship. But because of how the bracket was set up, No. 12 Delray Beach (Fla.) American Heritage will face No. 14 Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) University School in the Class 3A regional finals on Friday. ESPN 150 RB Greg Bryant leads American Heritage, while University School is headlined by ESPN 150 prospects Maquedius Bain and Jordan Cunningham.