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PSU's Closs waits for scholarship

Walk-on receiver overcame injuries, led Viks in catches


by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - Kasey Closs made this and seven other touchdown passes in 2013, when he led Portland State in receiving. Coach Nigel Burton says he is still trying to figure out a way to put the former Lake Oswego High star on scholarship.Nigel Burton has had some experience with walk-ons making good. During the Portland State head coach’s time as cornerbacks coach at Oregon State, Mike Hass and Alexis Serna made names for themselves, winning the Biletnikoff and Lou Groza awards as the nation’s top receiver and place-kicker, respectively.

“That being said,” Burton says, “Kasey Closs’ season was pretty special, for a guy who grew up and played like that so quickly.”

Indeed, Portland State may never have had a walk-on enjoy a more productive first season than Closs, a transfer from Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., by way of Lake Oswego High.

The 6-3 junior receiver tied for eighth in the Big Sky Conference in receptions (63) and was second in the Big Sky and 11th in the FCS ranks in receiving yardage (1,167) to go with eight touchdowns this fall.

Closs, who was named third-team all-Big Sky, led the league in yards per catch at 18.5 and ranks third on the school’s single-season receiving yardage list, behind only Randy Nelson (1,299, 1969) and Terry Charles (1,171, 1999).

Not bad for a youngster who got no offers out of Lake Oswego High and no Division I offers after two seasons at Saddleback.

The biggest reason for that was injury. Closs was ticketed to be Steve Coury’s go-to receiver and a two-way starter as a senior in 2009, but broke his collarbone in the season opener against Central Catholic. He missed seven games, then returned for the regular-season finale against Oregon City, only to suffer a broken right tibia on the first offensive series.

That caused Closs to miss the playoffs and also most of the season for Mark Shoff’s basketball team, for whom he figured to be the starting point guard.

Closs wanted to walk on at Oregon State but didn’t get an invitation. Did he consider giving up on football?

“Not at all,” he says. “I wanted to play, wanted to prove everybody wrong, wanted to prove even to myself that I could succeed at the Division I level.”

Closs’ best option was Saddleback, where he played some as a freshman, then started as a sophomore. Even that didn’t go smoothly. Midway through the second season, he tore a labrum, toughing it out the rest of the way.

No Division I scholarship offers came his way. A couple of Big Sky schools talked to him but passed on offering money, “probably because I was injury-plagued,” he says. There was a Division II offer in Henderson, Ark., “but I wanted to play at the Division I level,” he says.

A friend put him in touch with Burton, who met with him and offered him a chance to walk on at Portland State. Closs did, but surgery to repair the labrum caused him to miss spring ball in 2012, which led him to redshirt that fall.

“That was a blessing in disguise,” Closs says. “We had a bunch of senior receivers, so the playing time would have been miniscule. It was a year for me to develop. I played with the scout team going against some very good defensive players. I got to work on my craft, learn our offensive system and get used to the speed at the D-I level.”

Burton liked the way it worked out, too.

“We always knew Kasey had ability,” says Burton, who recently completed his fourth year as PSU coach. “He did what all first-year guys do — struggled to adjust his first year. You normally recruit JC guys to come in and play right away, but truth be told, you’d like to redshirt them all. When the light finally comes on, it’s usually in the second year.”

Closs’ second year at PSU was his first on the field as a player. He earned the starting nod during spring ball, having built strength to a frame that carried 200 pounds when the season started (and dipped to 180 by the finale against Eastern Washington).

It didn’t take Closs long to make his presence felt. His only catch in a 57-17 rout of Eastern Washington in the opener was a 17-yard touchdown. On the Vikings’ second play from scrimmage in the second game against California at Berkeley, Closs got loose behind the Bears’ secondary on a deep drag pattern and hauled in an 81-yard touchdown catch.

As Closs celebrated with teammates, there were “lots of thoughts going through my mind,” he says, laughing. “Did that really just happen? The adrenaline rush ... the silence of the crowd, from it being loud to where you could hear a pin drop, it was amazing. For a kid growing up watching Pac-12 football ... it fulfilled my childhood dreams.”

Closs caught five passes for 160 yards in the first half, missing most of the second half because of leg cramps. He kept going, grabbing 10 passes for 205 yards and a TD against Humboldt State, catching four for 111 yards and two scores vs. Cal Davis, finishing the season with 11 receptions for 191 yards and three TDs in a near upset of the No. 3-ranked Eagles.

“My season exceeded my expectations,” he says. “I was just trying to contribute to the team. Having the year I had was the cherry on top.”

The best thing about it was, Closs stayed healthy.

“Kasey had a great year,” Burton says. “Considering how potent our run game was and having to deal with some quarterback shuffles, it was absolutely outstanding. Kasey is deceptively fast, and I give a lot of credit to him for his work ethic. He changed his diet, worked hard with the strength and conditioning staff in the

offseason, changed his body and became a faster, more agile guy.

“We’re looking for him to take the next step next season, not only in terms of production but leadership.”

That’s what Closs has in mind, too. He’d like to set the school record for receiving yardage — “that’s me being a little selfish,” he says — and help the Vikings to their first NCAA playoff appearance since 2000. He hopes he’ll be named a squad co-captain.

“My goal is to be a catalyst for the team, to show leadership values and skills and be a dude that everyone looks up to and says, ‘Kasey Closs, a great guy and leader on and off the field, who does everything the coaches ask,’ ” he says.

So Closs, still a walk-on through fall term, is a scholarship player now — right?

“That’s everybody’s first question when it comes to Kasey,” Burton observes.

FBS teams are limited to 63 scholarships, and the Vikings — who don’t even have that many to offer due to budgetary restrictions — are full up for now.

“I want to help Kasey financially as soon as possible, but the likelihood to do something right away is tough,” the PSU coach says. “He’ll be on scholarship next fall, and I’m hopeful it will be before that. He’s by far the most deserving (walk-on) on our team, that’s for sure.”

Closs — who was on every special-teams unit and was even the holder for kicks by season’s end — is on pace to graduate next fall, so he is anxious for the financial aid to

happen.

“The sooner the better,” he says. “But that’s a decision Coach Burton and his staff will make. I’ll accept whatever comes my way.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers


Vikings prep for Big Sky

With his team deep into its preseason, Portland State basketball coach Tyler Geving still isn't sure exactly what to think of this year’s squad.

“We’re a work in progress,” Geving says.

After dropping their season opener to UNLV, the Vikings put together a four-game win streak before falling in consecutive games to Boise State and University of Portland.

Portland State is averaging 69.4 points per game. Guard Tim Douglas leads the club with 16.6 points per game. Guard DeShaun Wiggins is averaging 12.9, and forward Aaron Moore is at 12.0.

The Vikings have been solid on defense, for the most part, giving up 68.3 points per game.

PSU often plays with three guards and lacks a strong presence on the backboards. Moore is Portland State’s leading rebounder with 6.5 per game. No one else on the Vikings is averaging more than 3.7.

PSU (4-2) will open Big Sky play Jan. 2 at Idaho State. Geving plans to use the last two preseason games to work on his team's identity for the conference season.

“We’re kind of trying to figure out our rotations and who to play and when and how and some of that stuff,” he says. “We’ve got to figure that out over the next month.”

Douglas says the Vikings have gotten better over the preseason but that a lot must be accomplished.

“We’re improving,” Douglas says. “We’re a good team. But we need to keep improving our defense and rebounding. We need to work on getting back in transition and limiting our turnovers. Offensively, we need to work on moving the ball and playing together.”

If Portland State is able to do that, Douglas says that there is no ceiling as to how far the Vikings could go this season.

“We can compete with anybody in the Big Sky,” Douglas says. “We could be really good. We could make it to the NCAA Tournament this year. We have all the pieces you could ask for. We have scorers, we have guys who can play inside, we’re versatile. We have a lot of different options.”

• The Portland State women (2-3) have two tough Division-I basketball road games this week. They'll be at run-and-gun Oregon for a 2 p.m. Saturday game, then travel to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech at 4 p.m. PT Tuesday.

The Ducks are 5-2 and lead the nation with 99.3 points per game (while allowing 94.0).

The Jackets are 6-2 and have outscored their opponents by 17.4 points per game.

The Vikings have been outshot from the field (.459 to .372) and from 3-point range (.386 to .319).

— Stephen Alexander