STAR-STRUCK NO MORE;Football Oregon;The Portland State Vikings, many of whom rooted for the Ducks

Byline: Ron Bellamy The Register-Guard

When he was in grade school, Cory McCaffrey recalls, he went to

the

University of Oregon

football team’s autograph day one

year.

“The first guy I wanted to get an autograph from was Joey

Harrington,” McCaffrey said of the quarterback who starred for the

Ducks in bowl victories over Minnesota, Texas and Colorado and was

a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

Not only did McCaffrey get the autograph, he still has it, which

gives you some feeling for what it means to the Portland State

junior running back from Sisters and his teammates with local

connections tobe playing the fifth-ranked Ducks in Autzen Stadium

on Saturday.

“It’s been something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” said

senior defensive end Travis Beckley, a Thurston graduate who also

grew up cheering for Harrington, this year an analyst on the Oregon

SportsNetwork telecasts, as his favorite Duck.

Offensive tackle Dustin Waldron, the Marist High School grad,

was a fan of defensive lineman Haloti Ngata in his younger days and

went to Duck games “all the time. …

“It’s going to be a great experience,” Waldron said. “I look

forward to being in front of a hometown crowd. It will be

loud.”

But as New Mexico learned, losing 72-0 in the season opener in

Autzen, it might not be fun, though the Vikings profess not to

worry about that.

“It’s going to be an awesome challenge for us,” said Beckley, a

PSU captain who will be making his 25th straight start in the

Oregon game. “I don’t fear it at all. Not one bit. I have a lot of

confidence in our team and our defense that that’s not going to

happen to us.”

Beckley was on the sidelines as a redshirt when Portland State

lost to Oregon 55-12 in Autzen in 2006. The Vikings are 0-9

all-time against Pac-10 schools, 0-3 all-time against Oregon, and

have played Pac-10 teams regularly over the past decade, always on

the road; they lost 34-7 at Oregon State last year, and 54-9 at

Arizona State earlier this month.

“When you get in a game like that, with previous experience, it

kind of calms you,” Waldron said. “Against OSU last year, I was a

little bit nervous, thinking those guys would throw us around and

beat us up. After that didn’t happen, you feel a lot more calm

playing schools like that.”

Said McCaffrey: “It’s an opportunity to show up, win or lose. If

we play a good game and we don’t make any mistakes, I think

everyone will be pretty satisfied if we can execute the way we’re

supposed to.”

McCaffrey will be in the middle of whatever the Vikings try to

do offensively, having been moved to running back under first-year

head coach Nigel Burton after two years as a seldom-used slot back

in the passing attack of coach Jerry Glanville.

Understand that McCaffrey brought tremendous credentials as a

running back to Portland State. At Sisters, he set a state record,

rushing for 8,460 yards in three seasons, including 2,925 yards and

46 touchdowns as a senior. His 114 career touchdowns set an Oregon

prep record, and he led the Outlaws to a pair of Class 4A title

games – a lossto Siuslaw at Autzen Stadium in 2006, and a loss to

Waldron’s Maristteam at Reser Stadium in 2007.

And yet McCaffrey said he’s not bitter about playing out of

position for two years, or losing a possible redshirt season for

token action as a freshman.

“It’s all been a learning process,” he said. “It would have been

best if I could have redshirted, but I also got a lot of experience

and exposure those first two years. Even being in the slot, I

learned alot about picking up defenses, and understanding defensive

schemes, better than I would have at running back. So I took a lot

from that.”

Not that the experience was easy.

“There were times that I was definitely down and really, really

questioning my role on the team,” McCaffrey said. “But I had a lot

of support from family and friends and they said to stick with it,

and itturned out for the better, so I’m really glad I stuck it out

and stayed motivated.”

McCaffrey learned over the winter that Burton wanted to move him

to running back, and the adjustment didn’t take long. “After the

firstcouple of snaps it was ‘Oh, OK, this is what I’m used to, this

is normal for me,’ ” he said.

Waldron, who described his former Sky-Em League rival as “a

speed,juke guy,” said the Vikings have embraced a new regime and a

new offense, moving from Glanville’s run-and-shoot to Burton’s more

balancedpistol offense.

“I think we were ready for a change,” Waldron said. “Everyone

has responded to it real well. No one was upset about having to go

from passing every play to learning how to run block. … When a

team doesn’t know if you’re going to throw or run the ball, it’s

definitely an advantage.”

In last weekend’s 41-33 win over UC Davis, McCaffrey rushed 15

times for 116 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown run; in two

games, he’s accounted for 158 yards rushing and receiving.

“He’s been absolutely outstanding in making the transition,”

Burton said. “He brings a level of quickness that’s different. His

abilityto change directions, his burst. … Especially when you’re

making the transition from the run-and-shoot to the pistol, he

gives you thathome-run hitter.”

Saturday, McCaffrey will take a swing against an Oregon defense

that’s allowed one touchdown in two games.