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OSU hopes new faces take it places

Anderson, Jackson are keys for Beavers, who this year are starting with a low-key approach

CORVALLIS ' Those wondering how far the Oregon State football program has come need only look at the fare put out for a summertime tradition dubbed Media Day.

When Dennis Erickson took over the Beaver program in 1999, cold cuts on dinner rolls comprised the menu, with chocolate chip cookies rounding out the two-course meal.

Flash forward to Wednesday following two bowl games, a Heisman Trophy campaign and prominent national exposure, and the spread is much different.

Chicken served up as many ways as you can think of, along with hamburgers, hot dogs, chili, three different salad areas and a dessert table rivaling that of a family gathering during the holidays.

So what does all this have to do with the Beavers' expectations heading into the 2002 campaign? Nothing.

But, then again, there was very little else brought out Wednesday that was more noteworthy for a team sure to carry the slogan Time will tell into January.

Oregon State entered last season on the heels of a Fiesta Bowl drubbing of Notre Dame and with Heisman hopeful tailback Ken Simonton, starting quarterback Jonathan Smith and half of a potent defense all back for another go-round.

Then came a selection by Sports Illustrated to finish No. 1, and a rush of Beavers willing to believe the hype.

What followed was a first-game drubbing by Fresno State and a 5-6 season no one seems to have an answer for.

Not surprisingly, the Beavers are far more cautious this time around.

Obviously we were disappointed in how last year ended, said Erickson. Hopefully we can make things right this fall, and I'm sure we will.

Oregon State returns 16 starters on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, as well as place-kicker Ryan Cesca and punter Carl Tobey. Still, the Beavers were only ranked No. 35 in the preseason USA Today/ESPN coaches poll.

But you won't hear cries of no respect from this bunch.

What happened to us last year brought a lot of recognition to Oregon State and showed people we do have a football program, Erickson said of the preseason hype. It's nice to be recognized, there's no question about it. But as far as our ability to focus on what we need to get done, it's nice to not have those kind of distractions this year.

Even if his team is only picked to finish fifth in the Pac-10 Conference.

I don't care where we're picked, said Erickson. You're gonna have to earn it anyway, so it doesn't make any difference where you start.

What the Beavers learned the hard way last year, however, is that it makes a big difference how you start.

Losing 44-24 at Fresno State on national TV put OSU in a tailspin the Beavers struggled to get out of all season.

If All-American senior cornerback Dennis Weathersby and his fellow defenders have their way, the script will be flipped in 2002.

This year, we have to do what's expected of us right out of the gate, said Weathersby, one of nine returning defensive starters. I expect us not to make the same mistakes we made last year in the early season. We're going to come out more hungry and want to be dominating early instead of having someone dominate us.

That will be all the more vital on defense because the offense is relying heavily on two sophomores ' quarterback Derek Anderson and tailback Steven Jackson.

Both were impressive in limited action last season, and each will need some games under their belt before fully being able to stretch their wings and fly.

Anderson, a 6-foot-6, 235-pound gunslinger, played in five games last year as a true freshman, completing 17 of 41 passes for 263 yards and one touchdown. Jackson (6-2, 227) was the Beavers' second-leading rusher behind Simonton with 390 yards and five TDs on 74 carries.

They haven't played as much as some people, but they're very talented and we'll see how they develop as times goes on, said Erickson.

Derek has all the physical tools and has a great work ethic and will get better with experience.

I'm excited to see him perform. He's going to have good days and he's going to have bad days, that's just how it is. You've just got to get over the bad days and learn from it, and that's going to happen to him all year.

To keep Anderson's confidence level up, Erickson plans to trim down the playbook in the early stages.

We've gotta be able to cut the offense down so that he's very good at some of the things, and then continue to increase what we can do with him, said the coach. Obviously, being successful running the football should make it easier for him, and I have no doubt in my mind Steven Jackson can get the job done.

The same goes for Jackson, who apparently has little trouble looking in the mirror.

I feel I'm one of a kind, said the former Las Vegas star, adding that his goal is to rush for 1,000 yards and win the Pac-10 rushing title. I believe I'm an all-around back. I'm just not a power back or a speed back. I believe I possess all the skills you'd want a running back to possess. I'm a triple threat. I can run past you, run through you or around you. It doesn't matter to me.

And neither does the idea that he and Anderson are the Beavers' key question marks heading into the Aug. 29 opener against Eastern Kentucky.

All the question mark means is that they haven't really seen us, he said. It really gives us a boost and something to look forward to and prove to people that just because we're young doesn't mean we can't play the game.

And beyond all the hype, the one common denominator regarding Wednesday's proceedings was that this group wants to be known for what it does on game days and not for the talk in between.

I'm just ready to get camp out of the way and show the nation what we're made of, said Jackson, echoing many of his teammates' feelings. On Aug. 29, we're going to go out there and prove to everyone that we're back.

But, of course, only time will tell.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail