Beavers WR Gwacham focuses on football
CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP)
The two-sport athlete is redshirting this season as a high jumper - even though Oregon State doesn't officially have a men's track and field team - to give his full attention to football.
His dedication comes at a good time for the Beavers as they face the coming season without Markus Wheaton, who figures to go high in the NFL draft later this month.
As a junior, Gwacham realizes that his time is now.
''I've talked with my coaches about it,'' he said. ''They are ready for me to start making plays and I am definitely ready to start making plays.''
This spring, the 6-foot-5 Gwacham is trying to stand out among a handful of receivers looking to complement Brandin Cooks. Richard Mullaney is out of the mix because of a shoulder injury, meaning that Gwacham is seeing a lot of work.
Coach Mike Riley said spring practice is a great time for Gwacham to ''step up and move forward.''
Born in Nigeria, Gwacham and his family came to the United States when he was 7 and settled in Chino Hills, Calif. Gwacham was captain of both the football and track teams at Ayala High School. His big brother, Nnamdi, played receiver and was on the track team at Utah State.
Gwacham turned to both sports in high school out of brotherly competition with Nnamdi.
''I've gotten better each year, so I've just stuck with it,'' he said.
Gwacham redshirted in football his freshman year at Oregon State, but took part in track and field events.
The Beavers dropped their track program in 1988 for financial reasons, but have taken steps to restore it since 2004 under coach Kelly Sullivan. The women's team last fall opened a new track facility on campus, but the school has yet to bring back a full-fledged men's team.
However, because they are already on football scholarships, a number of Oregon State football players have been able to moonlight as track athletes.
Gwacham and teammates Jordan Bishop, James Rodgers, Rashaad Reynolds and Keynan Parker became the first men to represent the Beavers in track since 1988 when they participated in the 2010 Husky Indoor Classic.
That season, Gwacham went on to win the high jump at both the Oregon Preview and Oregon Twilight outdoor meets, and he finished fourth at the conference championships with a leap of 7 feet, 1 1/2 inches.
Although he's seen playing time in every game for the past two seasons, Gwacham has yet to live up to his potential in football - something that he hopes to change this season. With his height, Gwacham could become an easy red-zone target for Beavers quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz.
Last season Oregon State had the dynamic duo of Wheaton and Cooks. Co-captain Wheaton had 91 catches for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns, finishing his college career with a record 227 receptions. Named to the Pac-12 First Team, he also ran for a pair of scores. Cooks added 67 catches for 1,151 yards and five scores.
Cooks will undoubtedly be atop Oregon State's receiving corps this season, but Gwacham is hoping for a breakthrough at split end. He'll be competing with sophomores Mullaney and Michah Hatfield and redshirt freshman Malik Gilmore.
In addition to Wheaton, the Beavers are also looking to replace cornerback Jordan Poyer after finishing last season 9-4 with an appearance in the Alamo Bowl against Texas. Oregon State was ranked No. 20 in the season's final AP rankings.
Currently, the Beavers are in the midst of practice in advance of the annual spring game set for April 26.
Gwacham's focus on football doesn't mean he's giving up totally on the high jump. One of Oregon State's best-known athletes was a high jumper: Dick Fosbury, who popularized the Fosbury Flop.
Gwacham's career best jump is 7- 1 3/4, respectable for a guy who says he favors football.
Because he's redshirting, Gwacham jumped unattached at a meet last month at Oregon State's new Whyte Track & Field Center. It was the first track meet on campus in 25 years.
Gwacham easily won the high jump with a leap of 6 feet, 10 3/4 inches.
''I can never imagine doing one and not the other,'' he said. ''But I talked to coach Kelly (Sullivan) about what I want to accomplish and I decided that now would be the best time for me to focus on football.''