Two years ago, four Arroyo Grande High football players were filling up highlight reels and leading the Eagles to a feat they hadn’t accomplished since 1998 — a CIF-Southern Section division title.
Now, those players are engrossed in the workmanlike task of trying to break into the lineup at the elite level of FBS football where the competition for playing time is intense.
The question of when Seth Jacobs, Garrett Weinreich, Brent Vander Veen and Garrett Owens will play isn’t certain yet. But it figures that at least one of the four will get called upon this season and maybe more.
Three of the former Eagles standouts sat out as redshirts in 2012 — Jacobs as a linebacker at Oklahoma State and Weinreich, an offensive lineman, and Vander Veen, a quarterback, both at Oregon State.
Owens enrolled at Oregon State in January and thus was considered a greyshirt with redshirt status still an option for him to go along with four years of eligibility.
At the moment, it appears that Jacobs may be the first to take the field as a backup linebacker, “getting a good number of reps,” he said in a recent phone interview.
Jacobs also practices with the Cowboys’ special teams.
As a true freshman, Weinreich was slated to be in the Beavers’ 10-man offensive line rotation and be on the travel team. But he dislocated his kneecap, an injury he still hasn’t fully recovered from. He estimates that he’s about “70 or 80 percent” healthy right now approaching their Aug. 31 opener against Eastern Washington.
Vander Veen is slotted behind two quarterbacks — Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz — who started last year and likely will need more time to develop before seeing the field..
Owens may redshirt this season or wait his turn behind junior kicker Trevor Romaine, the Pac-12 Conference’s most accurate field-goal kicker in 2012.
Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen is still close with all four former Eagles and said he’s constantly asked about their college progress.
Goossen said when one of the local standouts is on the field, “a lot of TVs will be tuned in.”
“We’re a relatively small community, and people love seeing the success of local kids,” Goossen said. “It’s fun to see their maturity and hear about their experiences. They’re the same kids they were in high school deep down inside. I appreciate that more than anything. They’re humble, hard working.”
Each of the four, currently in the throes of summer camp, took time to speak with The Tribune about their development at the college level.
At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Jacobs has run a 4.53-second time in the 40-yard dash.
His speed and versatility — he recorded 151 tackles and 926 yards of total offense as a high school senior — likely will land him one or more special teams, increasing his playing time besides playing linebacker.
“I’m practicing at outside linebacker,” Jacobs said. “I’m behind two seniors, so basically, I’m second string. I can play either weakside or strongside linebacker. I’m just working hard and doing the best I can. Redshirting last year allowed me to mature and grow as a person and to get myself situated with college football as well as having my academics straight.”
Jacobs and Owens shared The Tribune’s County Player of the Year honor their senior seasons.
One adjustment Jacobs will have to make, besides the increased speed and power of the college game, is spending more time in pass coverage.
“I would say the Big 12 (Conference) is pass-heavy,” Jacobs said. “The pass coverage is extremely important for a successful defense. Stopping the run is important, too, but you have to be a complete player.”
Jacobs was mentioned in a Bleacher Report article on five Oklahoma State players to watch in 2013. Bleacher Report correspondent Ricky French wrote: “It won’t be long before this guy becomes a name Cowboys fans think of fondly.
“I envision (defensive coordinator) Bill Young using Jacobs in a (strong safety) Lyndell Johnson-like role, coming off the edge to disrupt the quarterback, while making big plays in coverage.”
With size (6-6, 305), sheer strength and football acumen, Goossen expected Weinreich, who had a number of pancake blocks in high school, to be the first of his group of star recruits to see the field.
Weinreich was on the fast track to translate his game to the college level when he twisted his left knee during training camp last August, an injury that has since led to three surgeries to stabilize the kneecap.
“I wasn’t walking for two months,” Weinreich said. “I’ve spent a lot of time building my muscles back up. It feels good now, but it takes time to build it back up to where I was.”
Weinreich has participated in most drills so far this summer except line scrimmages. He then proceeds straight to the training room for treatment.
“I’m still recovering,” Weinreich said. “I’m doing all the lifts and runs and working on the different movements that O-linemen do. I’m thinking I’ll be back (to full health) soon. I’ll just have to wait and see.”
Weinreich said the biggest adjustment to the college game is how fast it is.
“And even if you get hurt, things go on with or without you,” Weinreich said. “You gotta just be patient and wait for your opportunity.”
Brent Vander Veen
A pure athlete, Vander Veen was a three-sport star for the Eagles in football, basketball and baseball.
He was The Tribune County Player of the Year in basketball as a senior.
At 6-4 and 210, Vander Veen has ideal size for quarterback, a strong arm and good mobility. As an Arroyo Grande senior, he had 2,422 yards passing and 20 touchdowns.
Behind Mannion and Vaz, who led the Beavers to a 9-4 record and an Alamo Bowl berth last year, Vander Veen said he gets one repetition in practice to every two reps for Mannion and Vaz. Vander Veen is listed third on the depth chart.
“The difference between college and high school is that you have to read the defense on the fly a lot more,” Vander Veen said. “In high school, you pretty much can read the defense beforehand and know where you’ll throw it.”
The Beavers run a pro-set offense with lots of play-action and dropback passing from under center.
Vander Veen said his learning curve has involved a lot of film study. Having a year to observe as a redshirt was beneficial.
“I learned a lot in spring ball,” he said.
Practices pack plenty of pressure because of the competition for playing time. Like his other former teammates, Vander Veen still talks to Goossen.
“Coach Goossen taught me a lot, on and off the field, including how to deal with pressure,” Vander Veen said. “He said that I have everything that it takes. I just have to trust in myself.”
In high school, Owens kicked a 57-yard field goal against Templeton, and sometimes in practice these days, he “messes around” with teammates and steps it back to 60 yards out.
But it’s his consistency with short-range kicks that he’s trying to nail down. And, like with all kicking, having a tough mentality is a must.
“All kickers who are successful are mentally strong,” Owens said. “I try to feed off that. I get advice from the coach to be confident and trust my stuff. We trust all the things we do in practice.”
Owens is still waiting to see what will happen with his playing status this year. He may play the year out. He may redshirt.
But he’s likely a couple of years away from a legitimate opportunity for a starting role given that Romaine made 16 of 18 field goals last year and is a junior.
But when the time comes, Owens will be ready.
“You have to go out there to compete,” Owens said. “In practice, you give it your all. Off the field, you’re buddies. But on the field, you hammer down. Everybody is fighting for a spot.”
Goossen said his four former stars were “uber-competitive” in drills and weight-lifting at Arroyo Grande. Nobody wanted to lose, and that pushed others to get better.
Hundreds of miles away from their hometown, fighting for their chance at college football glory, Owens said he remains close to Vander Veen and Weinreich, as well as Jacobs from afar.
“We’re all great friends,” Owens said. “It’s nice to have someone you know from back home here (at Oregon State). And it’s great to be able to drive back home together on breaks.”