Southland Castoffs Boost Oregon State

Share via

UCLA’s 44-38 loss to Oregon State caused consternation in the households of all but a few Southland football fans.

USC followers normally would have taken delight in the Bruins’ debacle, but were too consumed by their own misery to care.

No, only those who through leap of faith or act of desperation sent their sons to the desolate outpost of Corvallis felt vindicated. Oregon State’s roster is bursting with California products, including 40 from the Southland.


Many players, including offensive tackle Vincent Sandoval (Palmdale High) and cornerback Keith Heyward-Johnson (Taft, Montclair Prep), chose Oregon State because no other Pacific-10 Conference school chose them.

“I wanted to get away to somewhere I could concentrate on school,” Heyward-Johnson said.

Now the focus is on gaining a Rose Bowl bid for the first time since 1957. Heyward-Johnson and Sandoval are starters and the Beavers (6-1, 3-1 in Pac-10 play) are off to their best start in 36 years.

When Heyward-Johnson and Sandoval came to Oregon State in 1997, the team had been 3-19 the previous two years and hadn’t had a winning record since 1970. Improvement has been steady.

The Beavers were 3-8 in ‘97, 5-6 in ‘98, then went 7-5 last year in Coach Dennis Erickson’s first season.

Sandoval, a junior who redshirted his first season, became a starter this season at right tackle because Keith DiDomenico left the team during the summer. DiDomenico returned, but Sandoval has not relinquished his spot.

Sandoval’s specialty is opening holes for tailback Ken Simonton, who has rushed for 1,028 yards.


“The offensive line has been successful because they’ve given us the opportunity to run,” Erickson said. “If we can’t run like we’ve been running, none of this [winning] would happen.

Heyward-Johnson, a senior, has started the last 30 games. He has one interception this season.


Although they play considerably less than Sandoval and Heyward-Johnson, Eric Mobley (Antelope Valley High) and Noah Happe (Simi Valley) are other bowl-bound Beavers from the region.

Mobley is a key figure on special teams and is a backup safety. He’s made six tackles, including one against UCLA.

A standout running back at Antelope Valley, Mobley injured a knee in a summer all-star game in 1997, had surgery and redshirted. He played on special teams in 1998 and was converted to safety.

Happe redshirted as a walk-on last season but was impressive enough during practice that he was put on scholarship. He moved from defensive end to linebacker and has played sparingly, making one tackle.



His name is plain and his company colorful, yet Brian Smith (Thousand Oaks) has found a way to stand out.

Knock defenders off their feet.

Smith, a junior center at Hawaii, is flanked by guards named Manly Kanoa III and Vince Manuwai. Yet Smith is proving man enough for the job.

“He makes all our blocking calls, he’s perfect on his shotgun snaps and he grades out as high as anybody on the line,” said Mike Cavanaugh, the Warriors’ line coach. “He’s a tremendous athlete with great feet. Plus he’s probably the strongest guy on the team.”

Cavanaugh said Smith’s experience as a high school wrestler is helpful.

“He has great feet for pass blocking and real good hands, which I attribute to having wrestled,” he said.

Smith, 6 feet 1 and 290 pounds, was the long snapper as a freshman and sophomore before becoming a starter this season.

Hawaii is 1-5, with its victory coming against Southern Methodist two weeks ago. The Warriors were defeated by Rice, 38-13, on Saturday.




A look at the freshman season of Casey Clausen, an Alemany High graduate who made his first start for Tennessee on Saturday:


Opponent Comp. Att. Yds. TDs Int. Lousiana-Monroe 12 15 133 3 0 Lousiana State 0 2 0 0 0 Georgia 5 11 40 0 1 Alabama 17 24 213 2 0 Totals 34 52 386 5 1