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November 14, 2008Jacquizz Rodgers lingers on the field long after every Oregon State football practice - stretching, running, catching passes, chatting with teammates. He's almost always the last player to leave the field, but it's unclear whether he does so because he enjoys the extra reps or because he wants just a brief respite from the constant media attention.
Rodgers - affectionately known as "Quizz" to nearly everyone in Corvallis - has been a revelation for the Beavers in his freshman season. Eight weeks in, he has already been named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week three times, broken the Pac-10 freshman rushing record and set a nation of Beaver fans ablaze with dreams of Rose Bowl glory. On Tuesday he added to that list with his selection as one of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the top running back in college football.
So it was no surprise, then, that Quizz was one of the last players to leave the OSU indoor practice facility Tuesday evening. In fact, he may even have been one of the last players to learn of his newest superlative.
"No way. As a freshman?" junior guard Gregg Peat asked upon learning that Quizz had been named a Doak Walker semifinalist. "That's awesome."
Awesome is certainly one word to describe Quizz, who has already broken Ken Simonton's single-season OSU freshman rushing record of 1,028 yards and - with a big game or two in the Beavers' final four contests - is within shouting distance of Steven Jackson's school record of 1,690. It's hard to imagine that less than a year ago, Quizz was still playing against high school competition in Richmond, Texas.
"We anticipated his ability to come in here and compete right away," said OSU head coach Mike Riley. "Quizz won the job and has performed extraordinarily well. This guy is a little different that way, as far as the maturity of being on the football field and playing at a young age. He appears to be unfazed by where he is and what he's doing."
Riley and his coaching staff certainly deserve some of the credit for Quizz's success. After all, not many BCS schools would have been willing to take a 5-foot-7, 190-pound, three-star recruit and turn him into an every-down running back as a true freshman. But that's exactly what Riley and Co. did, and now they're reaping the benefits. Through eight games, Quizz has been the very definition of a workhorse back, rushing for 1,089 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 25.3 carries per game.
Count offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh among the few who predicted that the diminutive Quizz would be a perfect fit for OSU's zone blocking scheme.
"He's an exciting guy and we love blocking for him," Cavanaugh said. "He's got great vision and quickness, he's smart, he breaks a lot of tackles. He's just a great football player."
No one knows that better than Peat and his offensive linemates - center Alex Linnenkohl, guard Adam Speer and tackles Andy Levitre, Mike Remmers and Tavita Thompson - who have been paving the way for Quizz's eye-popping runs all season long.
"He makes us look good," Speer said. "He hits the holes, he runs hard, he plays with a lot of heart. He makes our jobs a lot easier."
Well, sometimes. Other times he makes their jobs a little bit harder, like the second down play against Arizona State where Quizz appeared to be stopped by a wall of ASU defenders, only to spin away from them and race 15 more yards, bowling over another defender before finally being dragged to the Reser Stadium turf. The only problem was that officials whistled the play dead after the initial contact.
Peat, Speer and the rest of the offensive line have seen plays like that all season long - both in games and in practice - so they know the play is never over until Quizz hits the ground.
"We just have to finish blocks and count on him," Peat said. "That's what's good about him - the play's not over until the whistle blows. It's important for us to finish our blocks."
"Cavanaugh tells us, 'Stay on your blocks because he's going to do big things for us,'" Speer added. "We just stay on our blocks as long as we can, get on those linebackers and watch him go."
The big guys up front make the holes, but Quizz seems to get all the press clippings, so it's no surprise that the offensive line takes a measure of pride in Quizz's rapidly growing list of awards and accolades.
"It's our reward to see him doing well," Speer said. "We know we've contributed to it. It's like we've done our job well."
"We take a lot of pride in that," Peat said. "We don't get the limelight in football, so that's our pride. Having him succeed, that means the world to us."
But don't despair, Beaver fans. The stats and honors haven't gone to his head quite yet - Quizz still invokes his freshman status to dodge one of football's most storied traditions. On Monday night, OSU starting quarterback Sean Canfield treated his offensive line to dinner for holding UCLA without a sack during the Beavers' 34-6 win on Saturday.
Early this season, Speer cornered the freshman running back that was just starting to make headlines for his flashy stat lines and gave him some friendly ribbing. If you break a bunch of records this year, Speer asked, can we expect a big steak dinner?
Quizz's response: "I live in the dorm, man. I've got no money!"
After the UCLA game, when Quizz's 144 yards pushed him past Simonton for the Pac-10 freshman record, Peat joined in with some ribbing of his own.
"Sunday after the game I asked him, 'You broke the record, you going to take us out to dinner?' But he's a freshman, he lives in the dorms, he doesn't get a scholarship check like us yet," Peat said with a laugh. "But if we keep doing what we're doing, maybe we'll get dinner one of these days."