On a chilly Wednesday evening, the Portland State football program unveiled its future at a fundraising event held at the On Deck sports bar in the Pearl District. Over 120 Viking fans showed up to watch highlight film from last season, eat BBQ and rub elbows with new players and coaches. There was a palpable air of excitement that seemed far removed from the Viks’ lowly 4-7 record two years ago, or even their 7-4 improvement in 2004.
The fans were not to be disappointed. The Vikings signed 22 players in the off-season, which matches the twenty-two scholarships head coach Tim Walsh had available to offer. Among the new additions are two Pac-10 transfers and seven in-state incoming freshmen, including highly coveted standout tailback Keith Radcliff.
Out of all the Oregonians signed, it is perhaps Radcliff who has the biggest shoes to fill. Radcliff must step in and work with current starting tailback Joe Rubin (who Radcliff reverently calls "Mr. Rubin") to make up for the loss of outgoing senior star Ryan Fuqua. The 5-10 Sunset HS senior could have gone to a more established football program, but the Viks went after him hard and Radcliff is at peace with his choice.
"The coaches are great, the environment is great," Radcliff said, well spoken and already at ease with media attention and pressure. And PSU’s reputation regarding fan support for sports? "I think when we beat Oregon State people will be very excited," Radcliff said with a smile. Strong words for a guy who isn’t even a freshman yet, but it is that combination of confidence and speed that attracted running backs coach Steve Broussard.
"We recruited the speed that he has, the power that he possesses and the passion that he plays the game with," Broussard said, clearly pleased to have snagged his man. To compliment the power running game they will have next year, the Vikings brought in two Pac-10 receivers to add speed and versatility to the passing attack. The receiver corps is currently anchored by Shaun Bodiford, who had 587 yards last season and scored five touchdowns. Next year Bodiford will line up with former UO wideout Jordan Carey and former Arizona QB/WR Nic Costa, PSU’s two Pac-10 transfers.
Carey saw limited time at Oregon, but he is a natural football player and a physical freak. Carey had well documented problems including failed marijuana tests and alcohol addiction, culminating in a June 2004 car accident that resulted in 60 stitches to close a huge wound on his arm. Now emotionally and physically healthy, he has the coaching staff excited and should fit right in with the revamped offense.
Nic Costa is an interesting addition, in that he has seen snaps at QB in Pac-10 competition and has also played his share of receiver, until leaving Arizona four games into last season. The Aloha native will most likely see plenty of time at receiver, though Walsh also plans to create specific QB packages for him as well.
The biggest losses have come on the other side of the ball. The Viks will miss defensive tackles Chris Berg and Chuck Jones, both outgoing seniors and the leaders of the fierce Viking defense. "There are four or five defensive guys that you have to replace with JC transfers," Walsh pointed out. Among the newcomers in the defense are Tigard HS senior Mark Lucas, a 6-3 linebacker and Mark Sutton, one of Walsh’s coveted JC recruits.
Coach Walsh is extremely pleased by this year’s recruiting class, calling it as strong as the legendary 1996 class that started PSU’s football revolution. "Young people want to compete against the best," Walsh told the crowd Wednesday. Portland State’s Sept. 3 game against Oregon State in Corvallis will go a long way in proving Walsh’s point and selling his message.