System Players: Key to OSU success at wideout

CORVALLIS -- Since 2002, Oregon State has ranked no better than No. 34 nationally in the recruiting rankings -- and as low as No. 61 -- according to So how has Mike Riley continued to build a successful program with what are, on paper, "lesser quality" recruits? For answers, we crunched some numbers and sought out Shane Morales, the ultimate Oregon State "system player."

The average star rating, on a scale of one to five, for Beaver signees over an eight year span on -- 2.4.

Only two recruits during that time frame -- WR Ruben Jackson and DE Simi Kuli -- were tabbed five star athletes. Ironically, Jackson had only two touchdowns during his college career and Kuli has still to set foot on campus.

To make a conference comparison, USC's recruiting over the same time was ranked an average of No. 5 nationally -- No. 1 on three occasions, and only ever falling as low as No. 12. They've also landed 74 Top 100 recruits in their eight signing classes.

Their average star rating -- 3.9. On a scale of one to five, a 3.9 would obviously appear vastly superior to a 2.4. On paper, USC should whup Oregon State. And yet it hasn't quite worked out that way.

WHILE RECRUITING RANKINGS are suspiciously subjective and vary from publication to publication, looking at the rest of the Pac-10 recruiting rankings and then comparing the actual wins and losses makes one wonder -- What's in the water in Corvallis?

How does Mike Riley continue to build a successful Pac-10 program with what are, on paper, "lesser" recruits?

Answer: Role players and system development.

TYPICALLY AT OSU, players bide their time in Riley's upperclassmen-heavy system -- and player names are often times learned by fans through quality special teams play.

Gerard Lawson, a special teams standout for OSU now with the Cleveland Browns, became one of the Beaver greats after losing his starting corner position early in his career, but excelling on special teams.

No position adheres to this rule more so than receiver.

OSU RECEIVER/RETURN MAN James Rodgers, however, is a recent exception, and as the recruiting improves and success continues, freshman talents may continue to see the field in their first year on campus.

But names such as Brandon Powers and Shane Morales are perfect examples of players who may not have the "wow" factor on paper but because of qualities identified by the coaches during the recruiting process, namely hard work and persistence, thrive at the wide-out position. They've made the OSU passing game as successful as it is -- even if that means they shine for just one season.

A RECENT CONVERSATION with Shane Morales confirmed it -- the Beavs thrive on "system players."

Morales didn't earn starting time until his senior year. And yet he earned a free-agent tryout with the Arizona Cardinals after that tremendous OSU senior season, with seemingly every catch a clutch grab, (743 yards, eight touchdowns.)

Indeed, Morales, perhaps more than just about anyone, defines the term "system player" at Oregon State.

Q: How did you get to OSU, what initially attracted you to the Beavs?
: "I got to OSU through my junior college in California (College of the Canyons). Coach (Mark) Banker recruited me. I had no offers in high school so I decided to try my luck at a JC. I liked OSU because they were always the underdogs and my idol growing up was Mike Hass."

Q: In your eyes, what do Beaver commits see in OSU? With you being one of 10 Beavers to taste the NFL, is the potential for an NFL career a major selling point?
: "I think that the players see that OSU is more of a family than a football team. You step in the locker room and from day one you are welcomed by all of the teammates. Everyone has a common goal in winning and doing the best they can. There aren't any egos on the team and everyone is here to help each other.

"I think that the NFL is a great selling point for prospective student athletes to come to OSU. Even with that potential to play at the next level, the campus and city (are) beautiful. It is a small town that breathes football. The academics are great here and our academic advisors are second to none with regards of helping players succeed in the classroom as well as on the field. Megan O'Quin and Ardell (Bailey) spend a timeless amount of hours working with us."

Q: What is it about the way the OSU program is run that makes it so successful?
: "I think that we are successful because we prepare very well. Our coaches are all very knowledgeable and break down film very meticulously. They can explain well and relay it in a language that players can understand and grasp the concepts."

Q: Who in particular influenced you the most during your time on campus?
: "I think that coach (Jay) Locey was a big influence as well as Sammie Stroughter and coach Riley. There are really too many to name because all the coaches influenced me in some way. Coach Locey helped me with plays and teaching the younger players by setting an example. He helped me mature a lot as a person."

"Sammie Stroughter was a a great influence because he was someone I could talk to about anything whether it's about football or life. He helped me through tough times when I thought I should be starting or playing more. He told me to just keep pushing and sure enough he was right because I ended up starting my whole senior season."

"And coach Riley was a great influence because he is a great person all around. He knows so much about football and he is a good person to model yourself after. He is a total family member and treats every player like he's his own son. And Coach Riley always had neat stories about Texas or Canada or any of his previous journeys, (laughs)."

Q: How important is it to progress through a college system like you did at OSU?
: "It is very important. Everyone who plays Division I was an All Star at their high school. It's hard to come in after winning a bunch of accolades and then starting back at square one being the low man on the totem pole.

"I took more of a learning role during my sophomore year behind Brandon Powers. He helped me out a lot with the terminology and the reads of the offense. You learn a lot from film and you grow more as a person. And when I stepped into the starting role my senior year, it was easy to just line up and run the play without having to think about it too much."

Q: Do you see the OSU program continuing to climb upwards in the years to come?
: "I think that OSU will be on the rise in a few years. Coach Riley and his staff are good at recruiting good players for their system. Riley finds good players that aren't even ranked in recruiting services. Lyle and I were ZERO star prospects when we came to Oregon State.

"We are also getting a bigger recruiting platform and are starting to get more players from all around the United States. Even though OSU has lost a lot of seniors, we have a lot of underclassmen who will step in and not miss a beat. Keaton Kristick, Sean Canfield, Gabe Miller, Ben Terry, James, Jacquizz, there are a plethora of players that I can name."

Thanks to Shane Morales for his time and insightful answers. Morales has since been released by the Arizona Cardinals and is looking to fill a spot on an NFL roster.

  • The 2009 season will showcase a handful of players battling for a starting spot who fit the system player role. Casey Kjos (Jr.), Damola Adeniji (Sr.), Taylor Kavanaugh (Sr.), and Aaron Nichols (Jr.) are names Beaver Nation has heard about for years, though not because of spectacular plays on Saturday afternoons. The quiet but ready group figures to provide great depth at wide-out for the 2009 Beavers.

  • Senor quarterbacks Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao should be in good shape with any combination of Rodgers, Catchings, and the four mentioned above -- assuming the trend continues and they too have developed smartly through Riley's system.

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