The Oregon State Beavers are a couple of weeks away from kicking off football practice, and Jake Cookus expects to see an improved team on the field this fall.
Jonathan Smith is in his second year as Oregon State’s head coach. Cookus, a 1997 graduate of Roseburg High School and former Beaver safety, is the special teams coordinator.
“The whole mindset is to keep improving,” Cookus said during a phone interview from Corvallis Tuesday. “I think we’re going to be better than last year, we’ve made a lot of improvements. You may not see it as far as wins and losses, but the culture is better.
“We’re still a young team. We played a lot of young guys last year, but they had a good off-season in the weight room. We’ve got a ways to go, but I’m confident we’ll continue to improve.”
The Beavers finished 2-10 overall last year and were 1-8 in Pac-12 Conference play, the lone league win coming at Colorado in overtime. They ended the season with a demoralizing 55-15 loss to Oregon in the Civil War at Reser Stadium.
The 2018 Beavers showed promise offensively, averaging 404.8 yards and 26.1 points per game. But defensively they were one of the worst units in the nation, allowing 536.8 yards and 45.7 points.
“We’ve got some weapons coming back offensively,” Cookus said. “If we can run the ball, we can do anything with those receivers. Defensively, we filled some gaps we needed to. We’ve got a couple of junior college kids coming in. I expect the special teams to be better. We’ve got some pretty explosive returners, and we’re going to be better on punt coverage and kick coverage.”
Most preseason publications have the Beavers finishing last in the Pac-12 North again.
Lindy’s magazine forecasts OSU for sixth behind Oregon, Washington, Stanford, Washington State and California. The Ducks are No. 10 in the magazine’s top 25.
Street & Smith’s has Oregon winning the North, followed by UW, WSU, Stanford, Cal and OSU. Utah is picked by both publications to win the South.
“Jonathan Smith’s first season ushered in a fun offense and a more competitive attitude,” Lindy’s says. “Oregon State’s rebuild looks like more than a two-year project.”
“OSU still lacks depth, size and experience on the defensive line, though the linebackers and defensive backs have somewhat more promise this time,” Street & Smith’s says.
The Beavers open the season on Aug. 30 with a Friday night game against Oklahoma State at Reser Stadium. They visit Hawai’i the following week, then host Cal Poly on Sept. 14. OSU opens Pac-12 play on Sept. 28 against Stanford at home.
“Not the easiest way to open a season, but we’ll be ready to roll,” Cookus said. “I’m looking forward to this year. We’ll compete for four quarters, and it’ll be fun.”
Cookus was in Roseburg on July 10 for the second annual Larry Cookus Memorial Football Camp at Roseburg High’s Finlay Field. The free camp is named after Jake’s late father who coached at Jo Lane Middle School.
Around 70 kids participated in the camp, according to RHS head coach Dave Heuberger.
“We had a good turnout, double what we got last year,” Cookus said. “Coach Heuberger did a great job of organizing it. I think the kids had a good time and learned a couple of things — hopefully some things that will help them in the future.
“This camp is very special to me. My dad had a big impact on the community for over 30 years and this is a good way to honor him. Some of the coaches I worked with (Brian Groshong and Scott Lovemark) coached with my dad (at Jo Lane), and a couple of high school teammates (Brandon Ramey and David Collins) were there.”