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Transfer quarterback from Utah State via West Salem High now in the mix to fill the shoes of Alex Kuresa

COURTESY: STATESMAN JOURNAL - Cade Smith was a prolific passer and runner at quarterback for the West Salem High Titans. Now he's hoping to produce yards, touchdowns and wins for Portland State.He's got the genes, the run-pass option ability, the desire to play, and even some of the political expertise that could help him become the quarterback and leader of the football team at Portland State.

What Cade Smith doesn't have, at the moment, is the familiarity — and any time to lose.

PSU's newest QB candidate is on a crash course on the Park Blocks.

"The key things are learning the terminology and getting my timing down with the receivers," he says.

The work started on Sunday, June 25, when the former West Salem High star officially arrived as a sophomore transfer from Utah State.

Things will intensify on July 31, when the Vikings open camp for the third time with Bruce "Barney" Barnum as their head coach.

The Viks finished 3-8 in 2016. It was a disappointing year with several close losses that went down to the final minute.

It also was a far cry from 2015, when pretty much the opposite happened and the Viks came out of nowhere to upset Washington State, go 9-2 in the regular season, make the FCS playoffs and get into the nation's top 10.

Both those years, a run-first quarterback named Alex Kuresa was at the controls of Barnum's offense.

Kuresa, who came from Snow College in Utah, has graduated, so the QB job is open. Smith, who knew of Kuresa through several teammates as well as by following the exploits of Portland State the past two seasons, could be the heir apparent.

Smith will have to battle a senior, though, in Josh Kraght, another solid football player who led the Vikings in spring camp. Portland State also has redshirt freshman QB Davis Alexander next in line, plus other young quarterbacks in the wings.

The catch is the 6-0, 200-pound Kraght was the Vikings' leading receiver last season (along with their top punt returner), so moving him back to quarterback would take his talents away from the wideout corps and special teams.

And for what it's worth now, when Smith came out of high school, he had the talent to be recruited by programs, Navy included, rated higher than PSU.

So the starting job this season could go to the 6-0, 205-pound transfer, provided he can learn what he needs to learn — quickly. And provided he earns the trust of his new teammates.

"A quarterback needs to be a leader in the locker room, but you can't just walk in and demand stuff. You've got to earn it," Smith says. "You've got to prove it when the bullets are flying. Prove to the guys you can run the show."

Smith hasn't played in an official game since 2014, when he guided the Titans to the Oregon School Activities Association Class 6A semifinals. He redshirted his first year at Utah State, then sat on the bench all last season.

One of the attractive things to him about PSU was the chance for playing time.

"I knew coming here that the job was open, but I also know there are very talented quarterbacks here," he says. "It's not going to be handed to me, because these guys are competitive just like I am. But I also know I'm going to get better here, because I have those guys in the room with me."

Smith will turn 21 on Aug. 13.

"I wouldn't say I'm an older guy, but I'm not a freshman," he says. "The last couple of years I've learned to be patient, and I've tried to learn from the coaches and older players I was fortunate to come in contact with.

"My body feels good, and there are some similarities in the system here, especially with what we did in high school, where I ran the ball a lot."

At West Salem, Smith ran the 100 meters and 4x100 relay for a couple of years, but he was even more dynamic on the football field. He threw for 7,775 yards and 73 touchdowns, with 16 interceptions, and ran for 2,671 yards and 42 TDs.

Kuresa, 6-0 and 190, was that kind of dual threat, too, for the Vikings.

"He's a great athlete, probably shiftier as a runner than me, to be honest, but I think I can run the ball, too, just in a different style," Smith says.

Barnum remembers recruiting Smith — briefly — when the QB was coming out of the Central Valley Conference.

"He became a mid-major recruit right away, so that blew up," Barnum says of trying to get Smith to sign back then. "He was very cordial, very polite and professional — he just said he wanted to play at the highest level he could. I respect that. You shake the guy's hand and say, 'Hope to see you down the line.'"

Smith chose to see Barnum again even though he knew hardly anyone on the PSU team. In the spring, and after announcing on March 21 his intention to transfer, Smith went to both PSU and Big Sky rival Northern Colorado, checking out a scrimmage at each place.

"I picked Portland State because I love it here, and because of people like Coach Barnum and Coach (Steve) Cooper," Smith says of the head coach and offensive coordinator/QBs coach.

The opportunity to play college ball in his home state also played a big role in the Salem native's decision to sign with the Vikings. He comes from a close-knit family that includes older brothers Kyle and Brett, younger sister Ellie, mom Kimi and dad Kevin, and a grandfather who owns a vineyard near Salem.

Kevin Smith was an all-state quaterback at South Salem High in the 1980s and the son of Vern Smith, a standout running back on the 1960 state finals team at North Salem. Kevin went on to play some for a defending national championship team at BYU (where PSU will open the 2017 season on Aug. 26).

"I love Oregon. I want to be here when I grow up," Smith says. "Both my brothers and their wives just came back here, and have had their first babies, and we're trying to get Ellie to come back — she just graduated from high school in Denver.

"Now that I'm here, too, my folks have gone from an empty nest to having almost everyone back really quick.

"We're a super-close family, and we're excited to be together."

Cade Smith is following in the footsteps of Brett, who was an all-state QB for West Salem, played college ball at Wyoming, starting 35 games and compiling 8,834 yards and 76 touchdowns passing, with 1,529 yards and 20 TDs rushing.

Brett, now 25, signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and wound up spending three years in Canada, starting for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He signed with Edmonton in January but has since retired.

Cade Smith says he'd love to experience some pro football, too.

"That's always the dream. I wouldn't be playing the game if I didn't hink I had a chance," he says.

But, "first and foremost I want Portland State to be the best. When you win, all the accolades come along with that, so I'm not going to focus on individual stuff. If I do the best I can to help this team, good things will come out of it."

And while he is playing football for Portland State, Smith says he wants to change course a bit in the classroom. He was majoring in business for a while at Utah State, but at PSU he wants to pursue a degree in political science.

"I would really like to do something in government or political science, maybe be in Washington, D.C., someday," he says. "If I could get an internship there, that would be great. I'm really passionate about politics. I've always been interested in that, even as a young kid. I couldn't tell you why. But this is a big time politically in our country."

And it's a big time for football at Portland State, with Smith now campaigning to be the commander-in-chief of the Vikings' offense.

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