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OSU's Stroughter catches on quick.

Byline: Bob Rodman The Register-Guard

EL PASO, Texas - Much like his team, Sammie Stroughter bolted from the blocks a shade on the slow side.

The designated heir to pass-catching phenom Mike Hass, the junior split end had to endure a little famine before he could feast.

"Fortunately for us, Sammie came to the front fairly early," said Oregon State football coach Mike Riley, whose 24th-ranked Beavers (9-4) make their Sun Bowl debut against Missouri (8-4) on Friday. The game will be nationally telecast on CBS, beginning at 11 a.m. Pacific.

"He started to become something we could rely on."

Stroughter, a 6-foot, 188-pound junior from Sacramento, Calif., managed just 16 receptions for 205 yards and no touchdowns in OSU's first four games. In its final nine, Stroughter recorded 53 catches for 1,001 yards and four touchdowns.

He began the breakthrough with a six-catch, 124-yard game against Washington State. The Beavers lost, leaving them at 2-3 for the season, but a sterling defensive effort gave OSU hope.

A week later at Washington, Stroughter had seven catches for 223 yards - second-most in the Pac-10 Conference this season and fourth-highest in OSU history - and his career's first touchdown via the pass. Oregon State won, and then won seven of the next eight games to finish third in the league.

And that is just half of Stroughter's game.

As a punt returner, he really knocked on opportunity's door. He returned two punts for touchdowns in back-to-back games against Eastern Washington and Boise State, a feat officials say hasn't happened at OSU in 60 years.

This season, with a game to play, Stroughter set an Oregon State record with three punts returned for touchdowns (the third was in the upset victory over previously undefeated USC).

"When Mike Hass (who holds most of Oregon State's receiving records) left, the team came around and said that I was the next guy," the 20-year-old Stroughter said.

"I didn't look at that as pressure but that they had confidence in me. Now it was up to me. It was the same with returns."

And seldom has Stroughter, one of three finalists for the Randy Moss Return Man of the Year Award, looked back.

He has 66 team-leading receptions for 1,206 yards. His average of 92.8 receiving yards a game ranks first in the Pac-10 and 10th in the nation. His punt-return average of 15.4 yards ranks second in the conference and fourth in the country.

Stroughter, seldom without a smile on his face, is the fourth player in OSU history to post a 1,000-yard receiving season, joining Hass, who did it three times, James Newson - who did it twice - and Vern Burke.

"We knew we were going to run the ball," Riley said, "but we needed to find an identity throwing the ball, needed someone to make plays and be productive."

That someone was Stroughter.

"Special teams can be difference-makers," he said. "Just one special-teams play can change the outcome of a game. As a receiver, I worked as hard this year as I did as a freshman, but it was going to be my year."

It was a good thing for the Beavers, making their inaugural appearance in the Sun Bowl but playing in their sixth postseason game in the last eight years.

"As a receiver, Sammie has been important to the offensive balance we needed," Riley said, "and he has been a real weapon in the return game."

Even when Oregon State was struggling, and when a four-game win streak took a hit with a poor showing and loss at UCLA, Stroughter maintained a stiff upper lip.

"There was a lot of gut-checking when we were 2-3," he said. "Some people had to say that the season and the team was bigger than they were. There was some turmoil, but we stayed with coach Riley and his philosophy.

"The defense played great in the WSU game. That's when we decided as an offense that we could start gambling because the defense could make the stops. That's when we got the confidence."

The loss to UCLA was a wake-up call, Stroughter said.

"Were we going to hide under a rock, try to cover up, or get up and get going?" he said. "We got after it."

Once the Beavers got their season turned in the right direction, a shift in direction that began in Seattle with the win over the Huskies, "we began holding each other accountable," Stroughter said.

"It was all constructive. We all had the same goal. We were together."

And have been throughout most of the longest season in Oregon State's 109 years of football.

STROUGHTER'S STATS Oregon State receiver/punt returner Sammie Stroughter has fueled the passing game and ignited special teams with impressive production this season. OSU SINGLE-SEASON RECEIVING Receptions Yards Year Mike Hass 90 1,532 2005 Mike Hass 86 1,379 2004 James Newson 81 1,306 2003 James Newson 74 1,284 2002 Sammie Stroughter 66 1,206 2006 Vern Burke 69 1,007 1962

OSU SINGLE-SEASON ALL-PURPOSE YARDS Rush Rec PR KR Total Year Steven Jackson 1,545 470 0 0 2,015 2003 Steven Jackson 1,690 165 0 0 1,855 2002 Ken Simonton 1,486 219 0 0 1,705 1999 Yvenson Bernard 1,321 316 0 0 1,637 2005 Sammie Stroughter -22 1,206 416 0 1,600 2006 Tim Alexander 3 620 799 169 1,591 1998
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Title Annotation:Sports; After a slow start, the receiver/punt returner came on strong over the last nine games
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 26, 2006
Words:910
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