When roll into Corvallis, usually from 99 after a leisurely (ok really fast) trip through the fields and rural sites of the valley south of Beaver Territory, my soul takes a breath. I literally feel better in the shadow of Mary’s Peak. It is where I grew up, it is my home and it is where who I am today was defined. Those from Corvallis might know what I mean (unless you are one of the people that prefer Corvallis in your rear view window.)
So for people like me, or people who live and die Beaver football, the concept that an 18 year old from Los Angeles might not find Corvallis very exciting is a foreign one. As I sit in my hotel room in Chicago and peer out at a city that manages to smell like steak, sewer and marijuana all at once, I am struck by the sheer claustrophobia mixed with excitement that can be found in a city. It is tall, it is vibrant and I am one block away from clubs, restaurants, stores and people. Lots and lots of people. There is literally nothing about the town of Chicago that makes me think of Corvallis except for the occasional pine for the Core of the Valley.
Yet Chicago is a talent rich area, and as you look across the landscape of college athletics and where players come from, there are very few that look like Corvallis. Many of the top recruiting hot beds of the nation are urban or they are in an atmosphere and culture that are vastly different to the laid back, sleepy and cloudy mid-valley lifestyle. This doesn’t mean that there are not players in these places that are looking to try something new, to find a new adventure or to find a place where they can focus and take care of the important things rather than be distracted by the bling of a vibrant night life.
The problem is that of all the remote college towns out there, there are a lot that have culture and historical advantages that snatch up the high quality players that fit that mold. A good example is the school the Beavers former coach went.
Lincoln, Nebraska is actually a pretty nice town. It has a lot of amenities and places for players to go and have a good time. It gets a lot of premium concerts and events and the facilities, fan passion and history are superior to most of the schools in the country. Right now it is popular for recruits to tweet out to Nebraska fans because their followers will explode. Where as a #gobeavs might draw dozens of fans, a #GBR will add hundreds. It is also the only gig in town so the vast majority of the state bleeds red and white.
That is our competition.
North Bend, Palo Alto, State College and Tuscaloosa are all smallish college towns that house huge, historic and successful universities. On the west, we are dealing with towns like Boulder, Phoenix, Tucson and even Eugene.
Here is where the rub for many Beaver fans lie. Eugene is a terrible place in comparison to Corvallis. It has a litany of issues not least of which is that it has a schizophrenic culture that wants to be something it is not. It does have an airport, but it is also ridiculously spread out and there is very little about it that speaks to college age kids except for quality beer.
What Eugene does have is a breath of Los Angeles blown into it. Walking through the Autzen highlights a lot of facilities and buildings that players from urban environments can relate to. There is a style that belies the rather gentrified surroundings of the Oregon football oasis.
Oregon State has become a beautiful school that has a unified look and puts every part of the University of Oregon to shame. It also looks like what it is. A small, almost private school tucked away in the grass seed fields of the Willamette Valley. Both locations allow students a way to get out of the city and focus on football. That is actually why D’Anthony Thomas chose the Ducks. He wanted to get out of the city and focus on football. He could have done that at WSU or OSU as well, but he also wanted something that was familiar and wasn’t such a huge shift from home.
So in my mind, recruiting to Corvallis has challenges that come in two points:
- Location - Small college town that is competing with other small college towns that have had more success.
- Culture - Corvallis is what it is and players have to be able to envision themselves there
That is not to say that these cannot be overcome. Watching a Saints game shows us that at least one player saw the advantages of Oregon State over urban UCLA. I will cover that more in Part 2: Coaching.
What I want to end this with is the realization that this 3 part series ends with hope. Corvallis is not a black hole and it can be a place top talent wants to go to. But for those expecting it to happen overnight, they need to understand the factors working against them.
Players choose schools for a wide variety of reasons from location, culture, proximity to current girlfriend, school colors, racial identity of team and town, historic relevance and many, many more. But these two items, the stark difference between urban and rural, the competition for players that desire rural and ways of finding comfort in their new home are all items that give Oregon State a smaller pool to draw from.
I love Corvallis, I love Oregon State and sometimes I lose track of the reality that I am not the coaches audience. Their job is harder and so they have to start changing the message that comes out of the Valley Football Center. That is what I will focus on in the next two parts of this series.