BY STEVE BRANDON/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Tight end figures to be marked man in Oregon game after two long touchdown receptions at Nevada

COURTESY: MEGAN CONNELLY - Charlie Taumoepeau of Portland State speeds to a touchdown in last week's game at Nevada.Some fans are wondering if Oregon has a number in mind for its 11 a.m. Saturday football game with Portland State.

A number like 70, give or take. As in, how many points will the Ducks score or be satisfied with at Autzen Stadium? Is 58 enough again (they beat Bowling Green 58-24 last week)? How about 63? Or could they, would they go for, say, 81 … or more?

One number Oregon will have in mind — or at least a number Duck defenders will be looking for — is 89.

TAUMOEPEAUWearing No. 89 for Portland State is the biggest weapon the Vikings have — 6-3 Charlie Taumoepeau.

The 240-pound junior tight end from Federal Way, Washington, who is more of a hybrid receiver, almost single-handedly (and double-footedly) gave the Viks their only touchdowns (of 48 and 75 yards) last week in a season-opening, 72-19 loss at Nevada.

Which means the Ducks figure to be all over him.

"Yeah, probably. I've expecting them to have a game plan set up," Taumoepeau says of the Ducks.

Which means he could be more of a decoy on Saturday.

But his measurables and track record make him someone the Ducks must cover in a game in which PSU is generally going to be heavily out-manned.

Taumoepeau says he's looking forward to Saturday, win or lose.

"It's going to be fun. These money games are my favorites, because I love to play on the big stage, with the crowd, the noise, the oohs and ahhs," he says.

He says he wants to be a leader in getting the Vikings ready for Saturday's kickoff — after PSU's morning bus ride to Autzen.

"I want to get our guys riled up and going in there saying, 'OK, they're regular guys, we're regular guys, and we're just playing football,'" he says.

That it's the Ducks only makes it more fun, personally, he says.

"Growing up in Washington, you'd think I'd be big for Wazoo or UW, but I was always a big Oregon guy," he says. "I was a big LaMichael James fan. Big on all the cool stuff — the uniforms, the speed, the tempo."

Those Ducks won a lot, which is something Taumoepeau hasn't enjoyed with the Vikings. PSU was 3-8 his freshman year and 0-11 last season.

"The funnest part is the winning part. Last year was not fun at all," he says. "But I still tried to be one of the guys my teammates could look up to and say, 'Here we go, Charlie's going to make a play.'"

While the 2018 PSU offense has a committee of running backs, some of them are new to the program and the run game has yet to emerge the way the coaches hope.

The Viking quarterbacks — starter Davis Alexander and backup Jalani Eason — are sophomores with a little experience, but they haven't put complete games together. Alexander can scramble and throw deep, Eason is more of a runner who nearly led the Viks to an upset at Oregon State last season.

The PSU receiving corps, while as intriguing as it is young and with good size for a Big Sky team, also remains a work-in-progress.

And then there is Taumoepeau, still a colt of sorts but frisky enough to have realistic dreams of playing football after college. He's got soft hands and runs good routes.

A year ago, he was the biggest threat PSU had, catching 45 passes for 673 yards and three touchdowns and earning second-team all-conference honors. It was the highest reception count for a Viking tight end since 1988, when Barry Naone hauled in 48 of his 199 over four seasons.

Without Taumoepeau last year, the Vikings don't move the chains — his first 13 catches and 37 of his 45 went for first downs. In other words, he was the big target, when a completion really was needed or when all is broke down.

He came to PSU as a freshman in 2016 and played in all 11 games, making eight catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. "Gronkopeau," one assistant coach kiddingly called him, and "Baby Gronk" was another nickname he had, in reference to New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Last week, the "Baby" continued to grow in stature.

Taumoepeau's first touchdown came on the seventh play from scrimmage in the game. The Vikings had third-and-10 at the Nevada 48.

"It was a straight vertical route," he says. "We were looking to get at least half of what we needed, or get the first down. I saw the two safeties drop deep. I caught the ball and then tried to push one of my teammates into one of their guys. They (the defenders) were trying to dive at my legs, so I just tried to take it as hard as I could.

"Being so early in the game, on our first drive, that was a fun one."

That touchdown and the safety the PSU defensive line got eight minutes later gave the Viks a 9-0 lead.

Nevada scored the next 23 points, but Portland State then put together, so to speak, a one-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.

Taumoepeau taking an improvised flip over the middle from a scrambling Alexander and then slided through the Wolf Pack on a north-south run-after-catch that had him looking like a Ferrari in a freeway fast lane next to defenders in SUVs sticking to the speed limit.

"I surprised myself with that one," he said. "I was thinking they were going to clip my legs, but they never did. I just kept running, and then my eyes blew up seeing the end zone."

Taumoepeau was born in Tonga and moved at a young age with his four siblings to Sacramento, California, where his mom had relatives. Then came the move to Federal Way, where his father's family lived.

Growing up, Charlie played basketball as well as football. He was a running back and LaDainian Tomlinson fan.

Studies came first, though, by edict of his father. The kids had to do their homework during the week. About the only time Charlie got to watch sports was when his dad's favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers, were on television.

"My dad was a huge Kobe Bryant fan," Charlie says, "so if they were on, sometimes he'd sneak me into the room to watch Kobe a little. Other than that, it was no TV until the weekends."

Taumoepeau says he didn't get recruited by the big schools like Oregon and didn't go to a lot of the big football camps.

A bit under the radar, he came to Portland State without an official 40-yard dash time, and still doesn't have one.

That's probably going to change before next season. He hopes to get some attention from pro scouts.

"For sure, the dream is to go pro," he says. "I'm working towards it. I need to get bigger and faster.

"But that's another reason why I love the big games like playing Oregon. I'm not very tall, but I feel like I'm athletic enough. I feel like I can play with those kind of guys."

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