The NFL Draft is one way to gauge how well a staff is preparing and developing their athletes for a professional career in football. According to NFL scouts and coaches, the Oregon State staff and their athletes are doing something right. Mike Riley's men enjoyed an unprecedented Draft Day.
The Trojans led the way with the help of an army of 5-star athletes, and their conference partners in Corvallis finished tied for second with an average Rivals Rating of 2.17 stars.
So what is Mike Riley's secret? Besides being surrounded by one of the top staffs in the nation, the Beaver program is known for identifying talented athletes and developing them.
From their first training camp, the Beaver recruits and athletes are taught how to run a pro-style offense and educated on a defense that mimics several NFL schemes. The Beavers don't run gimmicky offenses which can hurt development. For example, wide receivers learn precise routes and develop their skills with pro-style quarterbacks.
Oregon State athletes also perform well during combines. They learn proper habits and techniques that increase their performance during their career.
Having a top notch athletic performance building and an indoor practice facility for all-season training has made a difference in the athletes' speed and physical progress. Beavers seniors like Al Afalava (Chicago Bears, 6th round, #190) earned rave reviews after shocking NFL scouts when he ran sub 4.5 forties and ripped out 29 reps on the bench.
Defensive Coordinator Mark Banker admitted his former recruit was a little rough around the edges when he arrived in Corvallis. After the Pro Day in Corvallis he beamed that Afalava just helped himself earn a spot on an NFL roster. Banker is being modest.
Banker develops the safeties. He taught Afalava how to play the position in college and to use his strengths. But it was up to Afalava to seize the opportunity to improve, and he worked tirelessly every day. He finished his career with a chance to play for an aggressive defense in Chicago that has similarities to the Beaver defensive system.
It's not just Afalava benefiting from the coaching in the secondary. Three of the four players in the secondary were drafted. Keenan Lewis (Pittsburgh Steelers, 3rd round, #96) will take his man-to-man defense to the Super Bowl Champions and Brandon Hughes (San Diego Chargers, 5th round, #148) will play for Mike Riley's former NFL team.
Riley and Offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf still maintain strong relationships with other NFL coaches and scouts. Few coaches are as well respected in the NFL as Riley.
Another reason so many Beavers were drafted in 2009 is the bond between the players, coaches, and trainers. While some programs create an atmosphere where new players are treated like pledges, the Beaver staff integrates the athletes and tries to utilize them through deep game day rotations.
Defensive ends Slade Norris (Oakland Raiders, 4th round, #126) and Victor Butler (Dallas Cowboys, 4th round, #110) played early in their careers and Defensive Line Coach Joe Seumalo made sure the Beaver defensive system took advantage of their strengths. Without engaging the athletes upon arrival, this development is delayed.
Offensive Line Coach Mike Cavanaugh had enough trust in 2nd round draft pick Andy Levitre (Buffalo Bills, 2nd round, #51) to play him at nearly every position on the offensive line. The bond between Levitre and Mike Cavanaugh allowed Levitre to became one of the top college lineman in the country and the first guard drafted.
Beaver fans commiserated with the heart-breaking trials that Sammie Stroughter (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 7th round, #233) endured in 2007. The Beaver coaches did everything needed to ensure he stayed focused on school, and when Stroughter was ready to play football again they didn't force the issue. Now, Stroughter embarks on a professional career.
Football fans might be surprised to see Oregon State develop and send more athletes to the Big League than Florida, Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma combined. But these are the types of things that NFL insiders and High School coaches have recognized for years. Mike Riley's staff knows the formula to make NFL dreams a possibility.