In just over a month, Riley and his coaching staff have potentially filled the majority of the gaping holes left by an exquisite class of seniors. A recruiting class that was looking mediocre at the best has suddenly become one of the best in school history.
Although, the 2004 group will that will not be in anybody's top-10 and will probably finish in the bottom of most people's Pac-10 list, this assembly of players could become the most successful and influential squad in Beaver football history.
If the twenty-three publicized verbals signed today, potential weaknesses on the offensive side and defensive side of the ball would receive immediate help.
Perhaps the most important verbal is punter/kicker Sam Paulescu who will help improve the punting and kicking game; two areas that the Beavers needed urgent help in due to graduation.
With a couple of years of junior college ball under his belt and a strong leg, adjusting to the Division I level will not be that difficult. His hang time will allow the special team’s players to get to the return man and his strong leg gives the Beavers the option of using him as their kicker as well. With just the addition of Paulescu, OSU special teams will improve drastically in ’04.
Probably the second biggest concern for Riley and his staff was finding a big play receiver to fill the void left by James Newson. The first junior college player to verbal to the Beavers was City College of San Francisco’s (CCSF) Kevin Swanigan who has the size (6-3, 200) and speed to become a successful receiver in the Pac-10.
The verbal from Swanigan was partially brought about by the friendship Riley and George Rush, the head coach at CCSF, have forged over the past several months. The relationship paid a bonus and the Beavers grabbed another receiver from CCSF, 6-foot-1, 185-pound Marcel Love who has a reputation for making tough catches over the middle of the field.
The experience and confidence of Swanigan and Love, both who are already enrolled at OSU, will help the Beaver receivers immensely in 2004.
Other areas that Riley and his staff targeted were special teams play and depth at the offensive line, secondary and linebacker positions.
Four offensive linemen, including one Junior College player, have verbaled to the Beavers this year. Adam Speer (6-2, 265), Jon Ioane (6-3, 335), and Andy Levitre (6-3, 310) are all athletic for their size and will power the Beaver running and passing attack several years down the road.
JUCO Chris Miller from Butte Junior College, where he was a two-time All-California selection, will compete for the starting left tackle position immediately after he arrives on campus in the spring.
Continuing with the JUCO trend, Keith Ellison, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound hard hitting safety is the latest to join the Beaver junior college verbals. Like Miller, Ellison will compete for a starting position throughout spring and fall drills. His playing time at the junior college level will provide the Beavers with leadership and competition for Sabby Piscitelli.
Possibly the most pleasant surprise was the verbal received from Lamar Herron, a 6-foot, 190-pound safety, who originally stated he would like to play at USC. The four-star athlete will compete for playing time his freshman year, perhaps on the offensive side of the ball; if he can qualify. Joining him is cornerback Bryan Payton (6-1, 185) who will most likely redshirt this season and compete for a starting role in 2005.
Rounding out the class is a host of athletes and linebackers who will add depth, speed, and tenacity to the Beaver special teams in years to come.
Linebackers Wallace Bates (6-2, 205), Isaiah Cook (6-3, 195), Alan Darlin (6-1, 223), and Will Price (6-1, 245) will continue the tradition of great linebackers at OSU, while running back Patrick Fuller is the future of Beaver running backs.
A host of high school quarterbacks, including Stadford Brown (6-1, 180), Michael Perri (6-3, 205) and Nate Johns (6-1, 180) will most likely leave the gunslinger position and help the team as a wide receiver or secondary player. Brian Hildebrand (6-2, 190) is the only quarterback recruit that will stay at the QB position in college.
Running back Keith Johnson (5-10, 170) will probably stay on the offensive side of the ball but move to the wide receiver position where the speedy Sammie Stroughter (5-11, 180) will be playing his college ball.
Wide receiver Zach Tarver (6-5, 190) and running back Mike Jones (6-0, 230), both from Jesuit High School in Oregon, will most likely stay on the offensive side of the ball as well with Jones moving to the fullback position.
Some men in black fans have expressed concern over the lack of defensive linemen in the 2004 class. The Beavers do have a couple of players, Ioane and Levitre, that will receive a shot on the defensive side of the ball.
In all probability, Riley will announce a few more JUCO players, probably another offensive lineman and a defensive lineman at the least, to help solidify those positions on the team.
Riley has done an excellent job at recruiting in his first year back. He has addressed the urgent needs of the team by bringing in junior college players and added depth at almost every position by bringing in athletes who can play on either side of the ball.
Signing Day is just one day away. It should be fun to read the news as it comes in and don’t be startled if Riley has a couple of surprises come Wednesday.