CORVALLIS — Oregon State coach Mike Riley threw some cold water on the seemingly-improving Sammie Stroughter situation this week when he said he didn't expect the senior wide receiver to play this season.

CORVALLIS — Oregon State coach Mike Riley threw some cold water on the seemingly-improving Sammie Stroughter situation this week when he said he didn't expect the senior wide receiver to play this season.

Stroughter had made a surprising return to the practice field Saturday, after missing much of fall camp while dealing with grief issues. The school had announced four days earlier that Stroughter was taking a leave of absence from the team.

The third-team All-American has been at practice every day since, working with the scout team, but Riley warned not to read too much into that.

"This is all on (Stroughter's) time, and it will be his time and his family's decision," Riley said. "There are no parameters on his return. ... I am sticking with what was said at first, that I am not anticipating him playing in games this year, but I've been surprised already."

OSU officials have asked the media not to approach Stroughter, whose only public statements have been released through the university. Riley did say Stroughter has been ruled out for the Beavers' season opener Thursday night against Utah and that he isn't sure whether Stroughter will remain in school.

Junior receiver Chris Johnson will start at split end in Stroughter's place and will be backed up by true freshman Darrell Catchings, who Riley had hoped to redshirt but now says will play. Another true freshman receiver, James Rodgers, will also see time against Utah.

Sophomore walk-on Taylor Kavanaugh will take Stroughter's place returning punts. The 5-foot-10, 181-pound Kavanaugh is a graduate of Portland's Lincoln High.

Kavanaugh will have another important job: holding the ball on field goals and extra points for kicker Alexis Serna.

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DOUBLE-DUTY FOR SERNA: Alexis Serna will add punter to his growing kicking repertoire when Oregon State opens with Utah.

The senior kicker, already Oregon State's all-time leader in field goals and winner of the 2005 Lou Groza Award, will take over the job that was vacated when touted sophomore Kyle Loomis left school early this month. Serna has made 62 field goals in his career — and an OSU-record 106 straight extra points. He hasn't punted since high school, but Oregon State coach Mike Riley has complete confidence in Serna.

"He's the one who came to me right after Kyle Loomis decided not to play and said, 'I want to punt for this team,'" Riley said. "Now I think he's done very, very well. He's got one year to be a punter, he's got a big future as a place-kicker, beyond Oregon State, and he wanted to do it, and he's been very consistent and that's what I've liked the most. He hits the ball with as much consistency as any guy we've had."

Having one player do both the kicking and punting has been rare at Oregon State. Doug Stuckey did it in 1996; Jim Neilson handled both jobs during the 1984 season.

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EXTRA POINTS: Oregon State looks to extend its streak of 22 straight home wins against nonconference opponents when Utah visits tonight. The record stretches back to 1996.