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Big-play flair fits OSU's go-to guy.

Byline: Bob Rodman The Register-Guard

C o l l e g e f o o t b a l l

CORVALLIS - Oregon State's Sammie Stroughter has returned two punts for touchdowns. A third would tie a Pac-10 Conference record for a single season.

"It's such a rush," Stroughter said with his ever-present smile. "A punt return can change a game so quickly."

His two big plays in back-to-back games against Eastern Washington and Boise State are believed to be the first such scoring punt returns in the last 60 years by an OSU player.

Those performances, however, are just the tip of the Stroughter success story's iceberg.

The 6-foot, 188-pound junior from Roseville, Calif., leads the Pac-10 and is third in the nation in punt returns with an average of 22.9 yards. Stroughter is the only player in the country with two returns for touchdowns.

He also wears another hat for the Beavers.

Pegged as Oregon State's replacement for graduated and record-setting split end Mike Hass, Stroughter leads the Beavers and ranks among the top 10 receivers in the conference, averaging 4.33 receptions (fifth) and 56.7 yards (sixth).

"Sammie emerged from fall camp as our kind of go-to guy," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "He's got a tremendous inner drive to be good. He's smart and he loves football. He's become one of our best players and one of our team leaders."

Stroughter has yet to catch the deep ball, however. Seventeen yards is his longest reception, which is a far cry from his 64-yard punt return for a touchdown against Boise State or the 52-yard return that set up OSU's first touchdown amid the win over Notre Dame in the 2004 Insight Bowl.

And he has yet to score as a receiver.

"We're a little surprised about that," said Lee Hull, an OSU assistant coach who tutors the wide receivers. "But the offense has not yet totally clicked. Once it does, Sammie will get in the end zone.

"Maybe it's a blessing he has not scored yet. Maybe this week will be his breakout week."

The Beavers (2-1) begin the Pac-10 portion of their unprecedented 13-game regular-season schedule against 20th-ranked California (3-1) at Reser Stadium. Game time is 1 p.m.

Hass departed for the NFL - drafted by New Orleans and currently on the Chicago Bears' practice squad - as the nation's top college receiver and with a slew of OSU and Pac-10 records, including school career records of 220 catches, 3,924 yards and 20 touchdowns.

"When Mike left, I had a lot of guys put their arms around me and say, `Sammie, it's your time,' ' said Stroughter, who has a team-leading 13 catches for 170 yards.

It's also been a good time.

"He's on his way to being the guy we think he can be," Hull said. "But he's a dangerous punt returner, too. We just have to make sure we get him through the season in one piece."

As a high school senior, Stroughter played wide receiver, running back, defensive back and kick returner, amassing 2,321 all-purpose yards and 23 touchdowns.

Stroughter takes his talent and his accomplishments in stride. No need for fanfare, he said.

"It's all nice," said Stroughter, blessed, he insisted, by the way his mother (Andrea Brown) raised him, "but the meaning of it depends on why you're playing - for a higher calling or for all the praise that you can get from the media.

"I want to use my successes as motivational factors for people out there who are struggling, to show that they, too, can make it."

Riley considers Stroughter one of the pillars of the OSU program.

"Sammie has a strong foundation provided by his family; he has a good, moral upbringing and has a faith that drives him every day," Riley said. "He's the greatest guy in the world to coach."

Stroughter, second on the team with an average of 118.3 all-purpose yards a game, arrived at Oregon State in 2004 intending to major in business.

He has since decided to target a degree in sociology. "I want to work with kids. Society is missing great male role models," he said. "Economically, it's not big, but that kind of career will enrich my heart."

OREGON STATE VS. CALIFORNIA

1 p.m. Saturday at Reser Stadium. No TV. Radio: KKNX-AM (840), KNND-AM (1400). In Spanish on KXOR-AM (660).
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 27, 2006
Words:734
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