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Beavers improve depth with new recruits

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO; JONATHAN HOUSE - Ryan Nall of Central Catholic stiff-arms a Grant defender in the 2013 season opener.A look at four players from Oregon State's recruiting haul on Wednesday …

• Before Oregon State offered a scholarship, the best offers for Central Catholic's Ryan Nall were from Wyoming and Portland State.

When it's said and done, Nall could be the biggest steal since Russia sold Alaska to the United States for 5 cents per hectare.

The 6-3, 230-pound Nall rushed for 1,684 yards (13.2 average) and 22 touchdowns. He was at his best in the Class 6A championship game, rushing for 196 yards and three touchdowns and coming up with a key interception in the Rams' 38-28 victory over Jesuit. That came after a 320-yard, four-TD performance in an 83-49 blitzing of Tigard in the semifinals.

"That was insane," Nall says with a laugh.

Nall burst onto the scene as a senior, perhaps a reason why he was under-recruited on a team blessed with FBS-caliber players in Connor Humphreys and Cameron Scarlett. Does Nall consider himself a late-bloomer?NALL

"I think so," he says. "I swung between JVs and varsity as a sophomore. My junior year, I was a starter, but we had a lot of D-I guys, so I wasn't one of the main people on the team. This year, I felt like I was one of the major-impact guys. I was able to help my team on both sides of the ball."

Nall lists several reasons why he chose the Beavers.

"I know coaches shouldn't be my No. 1 reason, but they had a huge impact," he says. "They were pretty cool. I like the staff and the style they use, and Coach (Mike) Riley seems like a great guy. It's going to be fun to play for him.

"Oregon State is close to home. It's a program I'm familiar with, and they have a good program. And really, the education comes first. It's going to be a great place to go to school."

Nall, a 2.8 student who has already passed his SAT, says he will take the test again "to try to boost it up as much as I can." He hasn't decided on a major but wants something to help him get into the sports management business.

Nall has an unusual combination of size -- OSU coaches project him to get to at least 250 -- and speed. His best time in the 40-yard dash is 4.55 seconds, which he showed in full bloom against Tigard, running past defensive backs for touchdowns of 96, 79 and 67 yards.

OSU coaches project Nall, who played running back and outside linebacker at Central Catholic, as a tight end/H-back.

"Sounds good to me," he says. "I'll play whatever they want, but I'd prefer to play offense, especially after this season, having the ball in my hands a lot and scoring a whole bunch of times. It's motivated me to want to work on my skills as an offensive player. I could see myself being successful in (the Beavers') offense."

• On the website "Football Brainiacs, University of Oklahoma edition," Tulsa linebacker Jonathan Willis is referred to as "the best-kept secret in the state of Oklahoma."

The best-kept secret with "freakish speed" is taking his talents to Oregon State, where coaches project him as an outside linebacker along the lines of Nick Barnett, Derrick Doggett, James Allen, fellow Oklahoma product Michael Doctor and other greats of recent Beaver lore.

Willis is a sleeper, in part due to his slight 6-1 1/2, 200-pound frame. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State didn't recruit him -- at least until he verbally committed to the Beavers.

"I had a lot of people call me after that," he said, "but I'd already committed. Oregon State was the best school for me."WILLIS

Booker T. Washington High lost in the first round of the state 6A playoffs, though not because of Willis, who led the state in sacks with 13. That came after a junior year in which he had a state-high 16 sacks despite playing with a cast on one hand. Why does he get so many sacks?

"I'm just quick," the soft-spoken Willis says. "I watch the tackles, read them and get after it."

Willis says OSU's coaches were a big selling point for him on his recruiting trip.

"I liked everything about (the visit), but especially the coaches," he says. "They're people I can play for. I feel like I can fit into their defensive scheme pretty well.

As a safety or outside 'backer?

"I think I could play both, but I'd probably like linebacker," says Willis, who expects to report to August training camp at about 220 pounds. "I like being in on every play."

Willis, who has a 2.7 GPA and has passed his ACT, says he will major in business at Oregon State.

Does Willis expect to play as a true freshman?

"That's what I'm going to try to do," he says. "I think I'm going to be real good. I can learn things pretty quickly."

• It didn't take JC cornerback DeMarlin Morris long to decide Oregon State was the place he wants to play his final two seasons of football.

"I just felt Oregon State was the place," the Mesa (Ariz.) Community College product. "I liked everything about it (on his recruiting trip). I liked the people I met. The city made me feel at home, where you can get some work done every day in the classroom and be successful on the field, too. The coaches connecting with the players … I just got a good vibe. I like being around positive people."

Morris originally committed to Utah. Then he decided he wanted to take more visits.

"After that, everything went south" with the Utes, he says. "I guess they didn't want anything to do with me after that. California was recruiting me heavy, and I was supposed to go on a visit there. After Oregon State, it wasn't necessary."

Morris, who had 52 tackles and five interceptions in 11 games as a sophomore at Mesa this fall, was impressed with OSU secondary coach Rod Perry.

"He's a good person, first of all," Morris says. "And he's a good coach who knows the game. He's been around it for a while. If I want to go somewhere (after college), he'll put me in the best position to do that."

Morris' host on his trip to Corvallis was cornerback Steven Nelson, another JC transfer who wound up as a starter and one of the nation's leaders in interceptions in his first season with the Beavers.

"We texted the other day," Morris says. "We have a nice little connection going forward."

Morris attended Percy L. Julian High on the south side of Chicago.

"I had some (major-college) offers, but I let my grades slip," he says. "I barely graduated. With my transcripts, it was over for me. I had to go the Juco route."

At Mesa, "I've been on with the books," he says. "I'm getting better and better with my grades."

Morris, who will graduate in May and expects to be in Corvallis in late May or early June, has sprinter's speed and is competing for Mesa's indoor track team. "I'm running the 60 and the 200," he says.

He knows the Beavers don't recruit JC players they think can't help immediately.

"I feel I can come in and make an impact on the team," he says. "I have a knack for the ball. I want to be around the ball all the time. I'm kind of a hyper player.

"My biggest thing is getting in there and learning the system. Once I do, I'll be ready to go."

• Xavier Hawkins loved the scenery and the atmosphere of Corvallis during his recruiting trip.

"It reminds me of my hometown," says the 5-8, 165-pound receiver, who hails from Fulton, Tenn., a suburb of Knoxville. "I like how everything is nice, green, with all the trees. The campus was nice. It was peaceful."

The OSU coaches were a selling point, too.

"They were real cool," he says. "They made me feel good about making my decision to go there. They told me a lot about how successful their receivers have been. I'll have a chance to do something big."

The hometown Tennessee Volunteers were interested in Hawkins, "but they offered me a preferred walk-on," Hawkins says. "I wasn't accepting that."

Size was the sticking point. Offers from smaller programs such as Tennessee-Martin, Campbell, Chattanooga and Austin Peay were on the table when OSU receivers coach Brent Brennan came calling.

"Somehow (the Beavers) found my film," Hawkins says. "They compared me to another (recruit) and thought I was better than he would be in their offense. (Brennan) came to my first playoff game. A week later, they offered."

Hawkins caught three touchdown passes in that game. Brennan was back three weeks later to watch Fulton High close out a 15-0 season with a victory over Giles County in the 4A state title game. For the season, Hawkins caught 47 passes for 1,195 yards (25.4 average) and 22 touchdowns. In his last two seasons, he caught 81 passes -- and 35 of them went for touchdowns. He also returned two punts for scores.

"They used me as a receiver, but I ran the ball, returned punts and played corner," he says. "I did everything I could."

There is speed to burn in Hawkins, who was second in the state meet in the 100, clocking 10.72 as a junior. He has been timed in the 40 at 4.4. "I believe I can get to a 4.3," he says.

Hawkins is interested in studying kinesiology at OSU. "I want to be a physical trainer," he says.

His GPA at Fulton is 2.8, but he failed on his first try at the ACT. If he qualifies, he'd prefer not to redshirt next season.

"I'm thinking about playing right away," he says. "I know there are a lot of receivers returning, but I have my mind on playing as a true freshman."

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