CORVALLIS — Storm Woods heard the whispers about his durability last season and heard coach Mike Riley talk regrettably after the Washington and Texas games about wishing he had run the ball more. So Woods, the Beavers' sophomore running back, came into spring ball eager to prove that he could handle the running load by himself if necessary, and that he could stay healthy.
With the departure of third-string running back Malcolm Agnew, the responsibility for generating yards on the ground will fall primarily to Woods and backup Terron Ward, a junior. Redshirt freshman Chris Brown has shown promise with his speed but still has a lot to learn.
So after a stellar first three weeks of spring ball — Woods' 80-yard touchdown run was the highlight of the Beavers' only scrimmage this month — Woods was frustrated and disappointed when coaches ordered him to the sideline Tuesday. After being popped by safety Ryan Murphy during Monday's practice, Woods, a Pflugerville, Texas native, was diagnosed with a concussion.
"Ryan Murphy is having a hall-of-fame spring," Woods said. "He slid through the hole and banged right into me. I didn't see it coming, and he hit me pretty good. I got back in for two plays but coach (Chris) Brasfield said I didn't look right, so he made me go see (the trainer)."
Riley said Tuesday that Woods might miss the rest of spring ball, including the Beavers' spring game Friday night, which will be more like a glorified scrimmage.
But regardless of whether he sits out, Woods has a clear goal as he looks toward 2013 and beyond.
"There have been some Hall of Fame guys here, some great guys. I want my picture on the football truck, I want to be part of that legacy," said Woods, referencing the Beavers' equipment truck that travels to each road game and is adorned with images of OSU running back greats Jacquizz Rodgers, Steven Jackson, Ken Simonton and Yvenson Bernard.
Woods had developed a big brother type of relationship with Rodgers, the Beavers' last great running back out of Texas who checks in frequently with Woods.
"He just wants to see me meet my potential," said Woods, who knows he'll only reach that if he adds 10 more pounds of muscle to his 200-pound, 6-foot frame. "But potential is only a word if you don't do anything with it. He's making sure I take this seriously."
The Beavers' ground game could also get a boost in the fall with incoming freshmen Damien Haskins (5-9, 215 pounds) and Lawrence Mattison (6-1, 225), but at this point they are unproven commodities. That means Woods and Ward have to be ready to shoulder the load.
Woods might be the first stringer, but Ward has also stood out this spring. The 5-7, 200-pounder hasn't gained any weight but his frame is noticeably different and it's obvious he's spent time in the weight room trimming fat and adding muscle.
Last week, Ward declared that the plan is for him and Woods to rush for at least 1,000 yards apiece, which would be a first in school history. The closest any Beavers have come was in 2000, when Simonton totaled 1,559 and backup Patrick McCall chipped in 658.
"We've got big dreams," said Ward, and that's fine with Riley, who smiled when told of Ward's ambition.
"I'll take that."
Ward has become a crucial player on every Oregon State special team and says the demand of switching from one special team to another so quickly during practice helps him in the running game when he has to read and react to defenses.
"If you know what you're doing in football, it's so much easier," Ward said. "Last year it's not that I didn't know, but I got confused sometimes. It's so much better now, and with me and Storm getting most of the reps, it's mentally draining, which will make us stronger when the season gets here."
Ward and Woods watch film with the offensive line twice a week, studying their calls and learning what they can do better when a play breaks down. And though they will be the first to say they'd like OSU to run the ball more — and not have Riley lament what could have been — they're not trying to tell the coaches what to do.
"We're not in Riley's ear like that but I know for me, when I do get the ball in practice I'm trying to show him I am durable, I am capable of getting a first down on third-and-short," Woods said.
"I'm capable of changing a game."
Notes: Woods spent most the day on the sideline, wearing a hat, carrying a practice script and giving coaching advice, looking like a wannabe Riley. "He can't get used to that," Riley laughed. "I'm anxious to get him back." ... Redshirt freshman safety Kendall Hill, who sat out in 2012 as he rehabbed a torn ACL in his left knee, hurt his right knee early in Tuesday's practice and was on crutches in the afternoon. ... Backup cornerback Mishawn Cummings has left the program.