The undefeated Oregon State football team travels to 18th-ranked USC on Saturday, and it will be a de facto homecoming for the three Arroyo Grande High alums on the roster, who are all expected to dress in the first game of the season back in their home state.
“It’s awesome,” third-year sophomore offensive lineman Garrett Weinreich said. “It’s always good to be somewhat close to home.”
The 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 contest will be shown on ESPN, and word is a group of family and friends in Eagles blue and gold is expected to be on hand.
Weinreich’s classmate and roommate, Brent VanderVeen, said he’s not going to let being a three-hour drive from the school he quarterbacked to a 2011 CIF-Southern Section Western Division championship affect his preparation or mindset.
“It’s just another game,” he assured. “We’ve got to come out and execute.”
Unfortunately for the trio of Weinreich, VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Garrett Owens, playing time in Saturday’s game is not as guaranteed as it might have been as recently as a week ago.
When the Beavers’ season began against Portland State on Aug. 30, all three were trending up the depth chart with Weinreich (left guard) and Owens (kicker) in the starting lineup and VanderVeen the immediate backup at quarterback behind entrenched starter and fifth-year senior Sean Mannion.
But when head coach Mike Riley released the latest depth chart for Saturday’s game, there were some changes — with the entire trio affected.
Weinreich started the Portland State game but missed the following two because of a nagging knee injury that had already cost him his entire freshman season.
“I’ve been through a lot worse,” Weinreich said in a phone interview last week. “I’m not sure if anything else can break me, you know?”
The 6-foot-6, 312-pounder from Pismo Beach returned to practice Sept. 18, but has been working with the second unit and is listed behind senior Roman Sapolu on the depth chart.
VanderVeen, who was praised by Oregon media during training camp for his improved command of the huddle and accuracy, had cleanly beaten out Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio for the backup job heading into the season.
“It felt good, because me and Luke both had a good spring and fall camp competing, and it was kind of a relief to know,” VanderVeen said. “But it’s still a competition, and I still have to come out every day and play well.”
Now there is an “OR” between their names beneath Mannion, and Riley confirmed to The Oregonian on Tuesday that Del Rio has surpassed VanderVeen as the primary backup.
Owens was given the kicking duties prior to the Portland State game when incumbent Trevor Romaine left the team indefinitely for what turned out to be academic eligibility problems.
He was thrust right into action, setting an Oregon State record with seven field goal attempts in his first game, making five. On the year, the co-Tribune Player of the Year in 2011 alongside former teammate Seth Jacobs — a starting linebacker at Oklahoma State — has made 6 of 8 field goal attempts and all seven PAT tries.
But Owens’ season hit a rough patch of its own when he was suspended for last week’s game against San Diego State for what Riley described as “violating athletic department policy.”
Romaine returned to handle kicking duties in the 28-7 win over the Aztecs, making all four PAT tries and not attempting a field goal.
Owens, who declined requests to be interviewed, has since been reinstated, but he and Romaine now have the same “OR” between their names that VanderVeen and Del Rio do, and the competition is considered open heading into Saturday.
For two of the three, this marks the second time they’ve returned to California with the Beavers. Weinreich played special teams in last season’s wins at San Diego State and Cal, and VanderVeen was listed as the No. 3 quarterback at the time.
Owens, however, was a greyshirt, meaning this marks the first time he is available for a college game in his home state with an Oct. 25 game at No. 16 Stanford also looming on the schedule.
The Beavers (3-0) received five votes in the latest Associated Press poll and could go a long way toward cracking the Top 25 with a positive result on the road against the No. 18 Trojans.
The trio’s playing prospects for Saturday aren’t as promising as they once were, but being back in the Golden State — with friends and family watching — could be just the cure.
“I’m pretty sure all of my family is coming and some high school teammates as well,” Weinreich said. “They all have supported us for a long time — it’s just great.”