Oregon State football recruiting class -- an in-depth look
CORVALLIS — Notes, quotes and observations from the second half of football letter-of-intent signing day Wednesday at Oregon State ...
• The Beavers added 10 scholarship signees to the December group of 11, making it 21 players in coach Jonathan Smith's first recruiting class.
Smith was hired about three weeks prior to the early Dec. 20 signing date — before he had even completed the hiring of his coaching staff. So his plan was to secure a number of verbal commits from the previous coaching staff's recruitment, add what he could to that and then finish the job over the next six weeks leading into the Feb. 7 regular-period date.
"I felt confident in hiring a staff, then getting 10 guys on the road in January," Smith said. "With that, we were going to to be able to identify and recruit some really good players. It played out exactly like that."
Having the coaching transition made it difficult, with the late start in recruiting for the early signing date.
"But I wasn't going to allow that to dictate all my decisions," Smith said. "I'd rather be late than wrong on recruiting. We stayed to that approach. I feel great about how it played out.
"We're ecstatic and confident in the guys we signed today to add to this class. This coaching staff did a phenomenal job of identifying, recruiting in the homes and finding the right fit. It was a great January for us. We're really fired up."
• Smith was an assistant coach for 14 seasons at Idaho, Montana, Boise State and Washington, but this was his first experience in recruiting as a head coach. He believes what worked best for him was his knowledge of Oregon State as a quarterback from 1998-2001 as well as two years as a graduate assistant there.
"I really enjoyed (recruiting as a head coach)," said Smith, who was offensive coordinator at Washington the past four years. "It's different. You only get one crack at being a head coach (recruiting) in the homes.
"But what was easy was being able to sell the place. I've experienced it. I was able to tell (recruits and parents), 'I've been in that locker room and experienced it as a student-athlete.' It was authentic when I was selling the message and the vision for what I see for the place. That was unique and easy for me."
• Smith is bringing in 12 players on the defensive side, nine on the offense, though a couple of the recruits could flip to the other side of the ball at some point. The Beavers have more returning players on offense than defense, but Smith said there was no emphasis in recruiting that side of the ball.
"We were going to be selective on who we were going to recruit," he said. "We went after a lot of good players. The guys we finished with and wanted, we pretty much got.
"The numbers are close to equal (on offense and defense). We wanted to get a little bit longer, a little bit taller, a little more athletic. You can see some of the players we signed fit that bill."
• Oregon State signed five players who will get a first look on the defensive line, including 6-2, 285-pound Jeromy Reichner, a transfer from Los Angeles Valley JC, and Ronnie Audette, a 6-3, 310-pound high school tackle from Elk River, Minnesota.
"We graduated four seniors who played a lot of football (on the OSU D-line)," defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar said. "There are some holes there that we've tried to address."
OSU also signed five linebackers, including highly regarded Matthew Tago out of Palmdale, California. The Beavers will employ a 3-4 defense next season.
"In a 3-4, you have to have four of those guys (linebackers) out there," Tibesar said. "We have some good returning guys, but we needed to add depth there."
The Beavers signed two cornerbacks and no safeties.
"We have a lot of returnees in the secondary, so that wasn't as big a priority," Tibesar said.
• Among offensive players in its full class, Oregon State signed two quarterbacks, two running backs, three linemen, a tight end and a wide receiver.
"We were looking to try to fill a spot or two at each position," Smith said.
• Among Wednesday's signees, OSU added quarterback Jack Colletto, a 6-3, 220-pound transfer from Arizona Western JC who chose the Beavers over Vanderbilt. Colletto led Camas High to an undefeated season and the Washington 4A championship in 2016, then played one season as a freshman at Arizona Western. Colletto backed up sophomore Bryce Perkins, who transferred from Arizona State before the season and will play at Virginia next season.
"I'm really excited about Jack," OSU offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said. "He had a great high school career, was the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state. But he had transferred to Camas as a junior, so he played a little bit under the radar. High school quarterbacks usually have a commitment pretty early these days."
Colletto had some scholarship offers from FCS schools in the Big Sky, but thought he could play at a higher level, so he opted for a year of JC ball.
"He bet on himself," Lindgren said. "He started some games and did some good things. Had he stayed there (for his sophomore season), we thought he'd have his pick of where he wanted to go. Everybody we talked to spoke highly of him as far as behavior and ability. He has good size and can run a little bit. There are some things about his skill set that excite me."
Colletto has four years to play three, but he should be in a battle with senior Jake Luton and junior Conor Blount for the starting job.
"We're expecting him to come in and compete right away in the spring," Lindgren said.
Smith was well aware of Colletto from his time coaching at Washington.
"It was a priority for me to not get too many guys who have only one or two years left (of eligibility)," Smith said.
"Jack has three years to play. He has won a bunch of games as a quarterback. He can do a lot of different things. He can run and throws it really well. I'm confident he'll add to our 'quarterback room.'"
• It has been years since Oregon State has done well with in-state recruiting. Smith hopes to change that. The approach of his predecessor, Gary Andersen, was to recruit nationally. Smith said he will follow more along the lines of a "Pac-12 footprint," meaning the Northwest, California, Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
"We'll start within the state," he said. "There are good players in this state. We want to thoroughly look at those guys and try to get the top guys from this state. California will be a heavy emphasis. It was reflected in this class.
"It makes sense to me to lean toward the West Coast — the Northwest to start. We'll go wherever good players are at. We have some connections with this staff outside the West Coast. But we'll start in this state."
• During the second phase of the Mike Riley era (2003-14), Oregon State sent a wealth of players to the NFL, many of them coming to college as lowly regarded prospects.
"With some of those guys who go on to the NFL, not only their skill set but also their maturity and ability to improve is important," Smith said. "You can develop them as they're here. A lot of those kids (under Riley) were developed over time.
"We're looking for good players who are good dudes who want to improve over the process of time. If we get guys like that over a four- or five-year period and develop them, hopefully a bunch of them go on and play in the NFL."
• THIS AND THAT: Smith said he favors an early signing date to go along with the regular date in February because "a lot of these kids are making (college) decisions earlier," he said. "Giving them an opportunity to lock that up and move on to either a great senior year or a focus into winter is a good idea." But Smith would prefer a much earlier early date. "I think June 30 makes sense," he said. "Coaches can recruit during the spring and then have July for some vacation time. Plus, a good portion of those kids are ready to make a decision (by late June)." ... OSU's highest-rated recruit was the 6-3, 230-pound Tago, who narrowed his choices to OSU and Nebraska before deciding on the Beavers. Tago also played quarterback and was his league's Offensive Player of the Year in leading Quartz Hill High to a 12-3 record as a senior, throwing for 3,173 yards and 38 TDs. "Matt is a pretty darn good quarterback, and a lot of schools were looking at him at that position," Smith said. "We were up front with him. Big-picture wise, we felt he is going to be the best college player at outside linebacker. For the next step for his future, we sold him on that." ... Which of the players in the 2018 recruiting class have a good chance to play right away? Certainly the JC transfers — Colletto and Reichner. Tago, for sure. Also, D-linemen such as Audette and Isaac Hodgins of Walnut Creek, California. And perhaps prep receiver Jesiah Irish from Snoqualmie, Washington, who plays at another position where depth is an issue. "But every freshman will have the opportunity to play, and play early, if they're ready to do it," Smith said.
Smith is high on both running backs in the class — 5-10, 190-pound Jermar Jefferson of Harbor City, California, and 5-11, 180-pound Kase Rogers of Houston. Jefferson rushed for 1,861 yards and 34 touchdowns in leading Narbonne High to the state championship as a senior, going for 225 yards and four TDs in the championship game. He had a number of scholarship offers, including Utah and Colorado. "He had a phenomenal senior season," Smith said. "It was a (recruiting) battle to the end, but he stuck with us. We feel good about his capabilities to play, and play early." ... OSU coaches are high on 6-4, 245-pound offensive tackle Joshua Gray from Rancho Cucamonga, California, who had offers from Arizona, Arizona State and Washington State and narrowed his choices to OSU and Nebraska before picking the Beavers. They love his athleticism and figure he'll gain enough weight to become a factor by the 2019 season. ... Brandon Kipper, a 6-6, 280-pound offensive tackle who is transferring from Hawaii, played as a freshman for the Warriors and will redshirt during the upcoming season. OSU D-line coach Legi Suiaunoa, who was the D-coordinator at Hawaii last season, was involved heavily in Kipper's recruitment. ... Semisi Saluni, a 6-4, 205-pound linebacker from Walnut Creek, California, will serve a two-year church mission and is scheduled to return for the 2020 campaign. ... Smith likes the potential of 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback Jaden Robinson out of Auburn, Washington, a speedster who played only two years of high school football. "He came to our camp at Washington last summer and competed like all get-out, and he can run," Smith said.
Luton, who suffered a thoracic spine fracture in Oregon State's fourth game last season (at Washington State on Sept. 25) and missed the rest of the season, has recovered nicely. "I'm working out with the guys and doing pretty much everything they're doing," Luton said Wednesday. "I'm feeling great and expecting to be fully ready to go by the start of spring practice." ... Tight end Noah Togiai had surgery on one foot and has had some difficulty with the other foot this winter. He's likely to miss spring ball. ... OSU also announced the addition of three prep walk-ons: defensive ends Shawn Elliott (6-2, 240) of Lake Oswego High and Conner Warick (6-4, 240) of Lacey, Washington, and 6-5, 315-pound offensive guard Griffin Korican of Bainbridge Island, Washington.