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LaGrone gamble pays off for OSU.

Byline: Bob Clark The Register-Guard

CORVALLIS - It's basketball season, too, and Oregon State defensive end Matt LaGrone couldn't help but think about his days on the court when the Beavers played their exhibition opener the other day.

"I was going to go, but we had meetings," he said.

Football comes first and has since LaGrone gave up his basketball scholarship at Nevada and headed for Corvallis, nothing more promised to him than the opportunity to walk on with the Beavers.

Even with LaGrone's younger brother Josh headed for Corvallis with a scholarship, how could the Beavers offer anything more than a chance?

"His high school film is just this big guy standing up in a two-point stance on the end of the line," OSU coach Mike Riley said. "He didn't do enough for us to say, `Oh, let's give this guy a scholarship.'"

He earned one with his work on the scout team last fall, and LaGrone's first season of college football has him the leading tackler among four defensive ends that OSU uses in a rotation. He trails only two outside linebackers in tackles for lost yardage and also has a fumble recovery.

Yes, LaGrone seems to have known what he was doing when he decided to give up basketball at Nevada, where the 6-foot-6 junior was the first substitute in the front line for a team that reached the NCAA Tournament.

Why didn't LaGrone just stay at Nevada? The coaches wouldn't let him play football, too, and he felt football was his best sport.

"I guess because I'm more of a physical guy, and football is all about being physical," LaGrone said. "I was always called a banger in basketball, a physical guy, and football allows me to do that to the extreme."

Still, who gives up a scholarship in one sport to transfer to a school playing at a higher level, with no promise of scholarship aid? And that did matter to LaGrone, married and now the father of two.

"I have confidence in myself," LaGrone said. "I just felt this was what God had called me to do. After praying about it and talking to my family, I felt this was the decision that was right for me."

LaGrone is deeply religious. He was ordained as a minister while a teenager and was the youth pastor for a church in Reno. He doesn't speak lightly about heeding God's calling.

"I wanted to seize the opportunity and I felt that if I gave it my all, there was a reason that God had me come up here," LaGrone said.

"If (football) was the reason, He would make way for me to have a scholarship. All I had to do was my part."

That started with learning the basic stance for a defensive end. As a transfer, he had to redshirt in 2008 and was relegated to the scout team that mimics the tactics of opponents to prepare the Beavers.

The coaches kept noticing the tall, long-armed basketball player who was causing problems for the starting offensive tackles, including one now playing in the NFL. That was enough for the Beavers to award him a scholarship.

LaGrone, however, suffered a wrist injury as the Beavers prepared for the Sun Bowl last December, and recovering from that surgery didn't allow him in spring drills. When workouts resumed in August, LaGrone was up to 260 pounds, 30 pounds heavier than a year ago after an off-season in the weight room, but the Beavers still weren't sure what they had other than their tallest defensive end.

The assumption was that with his reach and surprising quickness, he would be an effective pass rusher even if he didn't hold up against rushing plays. So far, it's been almost the opposite.

"Matt has played very well against the run and really hasn't had the pass rush yet that we think is in him," Riley said. "It's just about gaining more confidence."

LaGrone said his height helps him see over offensive linemen, and longer arms allow him to grab blockers before they get their hands on him, but "it's also a disadvantage at times" to be 6-6 because blockers have found they can stay lower and gain leverage.

Still, the Beavers figure that first sack of a quarterback is coming for LaGrone, perhaps Saturday when OSU plays at California.

LaGrone missed practice time during the week recovering from a bruised thigh, but with several members of his family planning on being in Berkeley, he couldn't imagine being too sore to play.

And wouldn't that be something: his first collegiate sack in front of a personal cheering section?

"I'm just as anxious as everybody else," LaGrone said. "It'll happen in due time.

"I'm getting more and more familiar with the game and reacting faster. I'm sure it will come."

It's that assurance that led him to leave Nevada, and change sports, too.

Oregon State's final home game of the season, on Nov. 14 against Washington, will be televised by FSN in the Northwest with a 12:30 p.m. kickoff.

That leaves only the kickoff for OSU's game at Washington State on Nov. 21 still to be determined. The Beavers will play California at 4 p.m. on Saturday for a telecast on FSN and OSU's game at Oregon on Dec. 3 will begin at 6 p.m. for an ESPN telecast.
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Title Annotation:Football College; The former Nevada basketball player tranferred to OSU to play defensive end
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 6, 2009
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