From 1A to Pac-12 starter

Garrett Martin, Sports Contributor

Safety Gabe Ovgard has made his impression when playing opportunities present themselves

When the Oregon State football team takes the field Friday in this year’s Civil War game, all eyes in southern Oregon will be on walk-on free safety Gabe Ovgard.

The redshirt freshman from the small town of Klamath Falls has been turning heads as of late after a pair of strong defensive performances including an interception two weeks ago off of one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, Cal’s Jared Goff. Ovgard followed up with an impressive eight-tackle game Saturday against the Washington Huskies.

“You’ve got to love it,” said Oregon State cornerback Treston Decoud. “He worked hard, he made a couple of plays, and now he’s starting.”

Defensive backs coach Derrick Odum couldn’t be happier with Ovgard’s adjustment into a more important defensive role.

“I think (Ovgard) has done a real nice job,” Odum said. “He hasn’t had very many reps until recently. He’s really cares about learning (and) does a great job of taking notes at meetings. He really wants to master it so he can go out there and play to the best of his abilities.” 

It has been quite the journey for the 5-foot-10 190-pound safety to climb to the top of the Oregon State depth chart.

Ovgard’s road to being an NCAA Division I starter began at TRIAD, a small 1A private school in Klamath Falls, where he was a three sport athlete in track and field, basketball and football. After three years he transferred to the larger Klamath Union High School to compete at a higher level. 

Ovgard’s high school resume boasts six individual track and field state championships, numerous all-league honors in basketball and football, and two all state selections in football. 

The continuous support that Ovgard has received from his hometown has been there from the beginning, but is at an all time high after his recent play. 

“It has been great from day one,” Ovgard saif. “I’ve had people that believed in me even before I did, but it has definitely increased.”

Ovgard’s sudden popularity has lead to something that he is still getting used to – the media. He has taken part in more interviews and received more media attention in the past few weeks than he has in his whole life. 

“Gabe’s responded great,” Decoud said. “Just like he’s supposed to. He’s not cocky. He’s a quiet person. He does what he has to do and that’s what I love about him. He’s just a great guy.”

When he arrived as a walk-on in Corvallis, Ovgard was listed as a wide receiver. He redshirted his first year and practiced on the scout team throughout the season which allowed him to improve on every aspect of the game. 

“It was huge,” said Ovgard. “I got bigger, stronger, faster and smarter.”

Ovgard made the switch to defense last spring and after impressing coaches in practice, earned a spot on special teams and eventually worked his way into a very limited defensive role. 

Ovgard’s time came in Berkeley during a Pac-12 matchup against the Bears when the injury bug bit the Oregon State secondary. Justin Strong, Devin Chappell and Adam Soesman all went down in the second half. Ovgard was next in line.

Ovgard found himself lined up against a quarterback who is considered to possibly be the best in the country and a top prospect for the upcoming NFL draft. The Golden Bear’s quarterback Jared Goff wasted no time and went after Ovgard on his first play from scrimmage. He made Goff pay with a beautiful diving interception near the sideline. But he didn’t stop there; Ovgard showed off his athletic ability and knack for getting to the ball to finish the game with eight tackles. 

Playing in Friday’s Civil War game is a dream come true for Ovgard, but he knows how important the game is moving forward.

“It’s so surreal,” Ovgard said. “I want to finish the season on a high note. As a team we want to win. We want it bad. A win on Friday would give us something to pick up our heads about as we go into the offseason.”

On Twitter @GarrettMartin40

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