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For OSU coach Bray, 2000 Civil War sparked a journey

CORVALLIS — Trent Bray was at the 2000 Apple Cup. Seemed like the proper place for a Washington State commitment to be.

Earlier that day, though, Bray had chatted with his father, Oregon State defensive coordinator Craig Bray, about the No. 8 Beavers’ upcoming Civil War matchup with fifth-ranked Oregon. Craig “was stressed out like you couldn’t believe,” Trent recalls with a smile today, as OSU prepped to face star quarterback Joey Harrington and crew.

Craig’s defense went on to intercept Harrington five times, including three picks from little-used safety Jake Cookus. The Beavers won 23-13 to clinch a share of the Pac-10 title and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.

And Trent was hooked.

That game — the magnitude, the excitement, the result — was a key part of Trent’s decision to flip his commitment to OSU, where he went on to star as a linebacker from 2002-05 and carve out a spot in the program’s record book. And that choice to become a Beaver led to the relationships that ignited his coaching career, first on former OSU coach Dennis Erickson’s staff at Arizona State and now back with Mike Riley in Corvallis.

“Absolutely, I’ve thought about that quite a bit,” Bray said. “The best decision I ever made was coming to Oregon State, not only playing-wise and playing here but just the people I’ve met.”

Erickson left OSU for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers after Bray’s redshirt freshman season in 2002, a development he acknowledges today “didn’t seem like a good thing” at the time. But he quickly saw the value of learning under two different staffs.

Bray morphed into an All-Pac-10 player and finished his career sixth in OSU history in tackles with 337. One of his favorite memories? The 2004 Civil War, where “good buddy” Bill Swancutt erupted for three sacks, one forced fumble, an interception and a 17-yard reception on a fake field goal as the Beavers simultaneously clinched a bowl berth and stopped the Ducks from reaching the postseason.

And after being cut by the Houston Texans in 2008, Bray heard from the man who had first signed him as a player.

Erickson hired Bray a graduate assistant at ASU, where Craig was also the defensive coordinator. Then after a one-year stint as the linebackers coach with the UFL’s California Redwoods, Bray went back to Tempe to hold the same position. Trent worked closely with his father, learning the attention to detail needed to formulate game plans and teach proper technique.

“It’s one thing to be told what to do. It’s another to come up with what you’re going to tell someone to do,” Trent said.

“I picked up a lot — stuff I really didn’t even know when I was coached by (my dad) ... He’s so conscious of being in the right spot, alignment, assignment, execution and being demanding of those things. I think those were his best qualities.”

Then in 2012, the other coach Bray played under at OSU brought him aboard — and back to Corvallis.

Riley hired Bray as a graduate assistant, then promoted him to full-time linebackers coach the following season. He’s helped develop guys like the Beavers’ trio of senior starters in Michael Doctor, D.J. Alexander and Jabral Johnson. Riley also sees the importance of having guys on staff like Bray, who have experienced the intensity and tradition of the Civil War on the field to then pass onto the players who aren’t from the state.

“Trent is a good example of the guys that understand what the passion for this game is and the excitement for this game,” Riley said. “Because young guys never get it, right? Unless they grow up here.”

Bray occasionally catches himself thinking about being back at his alma mater — and that 2000 Civil War that helped spark his decision to become a Beaver in the first place — during his quiet drives home.

He never exactly expected to spend so many years in Corvallis. But he enjoys the town. He enjoys his players. He enjoys working for working for Riley.

He also, of course, relishes games like the one today, where the Beavers have a chance to knock off their heavily favored rivals.

Bray has now experienced the Civil War as an engaged spectator, as a relentless player and as a fiery coach.

How does his current role compare? In a word: Stressful.

“You think about it more and you’ve got no control,” Bray said. “As a player, you get to go out there and play. As a coach, you gotta coach them and hope that they go out and do it.”