The work continues within the Oregon State University football program this spring despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Spring drills came to an early end in Corvallis for the Beavers, who are entering their third season under head coach Jonathan Smith.
“Everybody is doing the best they can from home,” said Jake Cookus, a 1997 graduate of Roseburg High School who’s the special teams coordinator. “You try and stay business as much as usual. We have staff meetings and are able to get a lot done through Zoom. You can get a lot done, watching video with guys.”
The Beavers return 15 starters from their 2019 team, including most of their top defensive players.
“One of the things I love as a coach is interaction with kids on a daily basis, so not having that part is challenging,” Cookus said. “Spring is always a great time for guys to win jobs and have the opportunity to compete. You’re not preparing for opponents, you’re trying to get better.
“We’re doing the best we can. We’re still recruiting. We’ll work through this and stay positive, stay optimistic that there will be an end in sight.”
The Beavers finished 5-7 overall last season, winning four games in Pac-12 play and tying for second in the North Division. They allowed 13 fewer points and nearly 100 yards less per game than the previous season.
“We fell short of our goal which was to make it to the postseason, but were a lot more competitive,” Cookus said. “I think we made a lot of strides. That was definitely a positive going forward and we have to continue to get better.”
Oregon State has some holes to replace on offense, including quarterback, wide receiver and on the line. Three players were selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft on Saturday. Quarterback Jake Luton was picked by the Jacksonville Jaguars, tackle Blake Brandel went to the Minnesota Vikings and receiver Isaiah Hodgins was taken by the Buffalo Bills.
Junior Tristan Gebbia, who started at quarterback against Oregon in the Civil War when Luton was unable to play due to an injury, is among the candidates at that position. Junior Jermar Jefferson is the top returning running back.
“I’m excited about the offense,” Cookus said. “We lost seven starters and there’s a lot to replace, but there are a lot of young guys ready to fill the shoes.”
Tight end Noah Togiai used up his eligibility, but Cookus feels the Beavers will be strong there.
“(Sophomore) Luke Musgrave is really talented,” Cookus said.
Heading the returners on defense are senior outside linebacker Hamilcar Rashad Jr. and sophomore inside linebacker Omar Speights.
“We’re deep at outside linebacker,” Cookus said.
There are spots to fill on special teams following the departures of punter Daniel Rodriguez and kicker Jordan Choukair.
“We lost our snapper, punter and kicker, but have some competition,” Cookus said. “We have some young guys who are developing.”
The Beavers are scheduled to open the 2020 season at Oklahoma State on Thursday, September 3. Their home opener is Sept. 12 against Colorado State. But the start of the college football season is up in the air with the COVID-19 situation.
A positive for Cookus during this stay-at-home period is getting to spend more time with his daughter, River. Cookus and his partner, Lindsey Goodman, became parents on July 18, 2019.
“It’s awesome, hard to describe,” Cookus said of fatherhood. “It’s been fun.”
The 2001 Fiesta Bowl team, which Cookus was a member, will be inducted into the OSU Athletics Hall of Fame on Sept. 25.
The other inductees include head football coach Dennis Erickson, women’s basketball coach Aki Hill, softball player Tarrah Beyster, men’s basketball player Mark Radford, men’s soccer player Danny Mwanga, women’s soccer player Jodie Taylor and the 1980 women’s rowing team.
The 2000 football team, guided by Erickson, is considered by many as the most talented in OSU history. The Beavers finished with a school record 11 wins (the lone loss coming at Washington), thumped Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl and finished No. 4 in the final Associated Press poll.
Smith was the quarterback of that squad. Some of the other players included Chris Gibson, Darnell Robinson, Ken Simonton, DeLawrence Grant, Dennis Weathersby, Richard Seigler, LaDairis Jackson, Chad Johnson, Mitch White, T.J. Houshmanzadeh, Marty Maurer and Terrence Carroll.
Gibson, a Roseburg graduate, was the starting center and received All-American honors that season. Cookus was a safety. He sparked the defense in the 23-13 victory over Oregon at Reser Stadium, intercepting three Joey Harrington passes.
“One thing I always think about from that season is the amount of confidence we played with,” Cookus said. “Our defense played with serious swag, we knew we could go out there and shut anyone down. Offensively, nobody could stop us.”