Beaver football looks to maintain last season’s success ahead of the 2023 football season


Jason May

DJ Uiagalelei is seen speaking with the media following a March spring practice inside of Reser Stadium. Uiagalelei is a transfer from Clemson University and a former 5-star.

Ryan Harlan, Sports Writer

While the start of the 2023 college football season is just over six months away, the Oregon State football team has kicked off their offseason with high intensity. 

On March 7, 16, and 18, Beaver football started with spring football practices, following the 2022 season where the Beavers finished with a 10-3 record and an SRS Las Vegas Bowl Victory.

Now the Beavers are tasked with building upon last season’s success ahead of the 2023 football season. The end of a season brings upon times of player departures, either for the NFL draft or to the NCAA transfer portal, on both sides of the ball.  

“The theme is always about improvement spring ball wise and that’s no different from year one to year six, we got to improve and need guys to develop and get better,” said head coach Jonathan Smith on how the team plans to build on last season’s success. “Even the guys that are returning starters, potentially, they have areas to take a step, we want to get better during the spring.”  

One of the first steps to that improvement is replacing the departure of key contributors to the team last season for the Beavers they lost starting tight end Luke Musgrave to the NFL Draft along with defensive backs Alex Austin and Rejzohn Wright. 

Wright and Austin started at cornerback for the Beavers throughout the season before declaring for the NFL Draft, while Musgrave only started two games for the Beavers before being sidelined due to a knee injury. 

The Beavers also lost starting inside linebacker Omar Speights as well as quarterbacks Chance Nolan and Tristan Gebbia to the transfer portal. Gebbia transferred to Ohio State University and Speights transferred to Louisiana State University.  

However, even with losses from the roster to the transfer portal, Smith and the coaching staff have been able to bring in talent to help bolster the talent on the roster on both sides of the ball including a former five-star quarterback whose commitment to the Beavers is one of the highest rankings in school history. 

Former Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State after playing three years for the Tigers. 

During his time at Clemson, Uiagalelei started two years for the Tigers and filled in admirably at times for who would turn out to be the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, Trevor Lawrence, but struggled this past season, being benched in favor of his backup Cade Klubnik to start the Orange Bowl. 

Ultimately, with the decision to hand the starting position to Klubnik going forward, Uiagalelei looked for a fresh start elsewhere. 

“First of all, I think Clemson was a blessing. I thank all of the people there. I had great teammates, great coaches, and great people around there. But ultimately, I wanted to go somewhere that was going to maximize my talent at quarterback. I wanted to go somewhere that was a little bit different,” Uiagalelei said. 

The decision to leave Clemson was difficult for Uiagalelei, particularly the connections that he had made during his three years there at Clemson, but felt that coming to Oregon State would give him the best opportunity to succeed at the next level in the NFL. 

“It was a feeling. Before I put my name in, I felt like this was one of the places I wanted to come to. I kind of knew that if it ended up putting itself on the table,” Uiagalelei said. “It’s a pro-style offense and had everything I was looking for. I wanted to go somewhere that was going to maximize my potential, maximize my strengths as a quarterback. I felt like Oregon State was the right place to go, so I appreciate them.” 

Uiagalelei had done his homework on the Beavers before putting his name into the transfer portal and scouted the Beavers offense and liked what he saw, deciding he wanted to come to Corvallis. 

He reached out to the team to let them know he was interested, but with the Beavers locked in with preparations for the Las Vegas Bowl in December, Uiagalelei didn’t hear anything for around two weeks. 

“Going through the process, this was one of the top schools I wanted to come to, it’s the school that I wanted to be at, for a little bit I didn’t know if that would be the case,” Uiagalelei said.

It wasn’t until former OSU running backs coach A.J. Steward heard about Uiagalelei’s interest in the Beavers and put him in touch with offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren and Smith. 

From those conversations, Uiagalelei mentioned how he liked the structure of the offense for the quarterback position and that it reminded him of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers offensive play calling. 

“I told Coach Lindgren I liked the way he called plays. I liked the different stuff they did under center and felt like it was a great system for me to learn from, and to be able to grow my game of football by understanding the different checks and different stuff that they’re going to have you do in the NFL,” Uiagalelei said.   

After a few phone calls, Uiagalelei committed to the Beavers sight unseen, which was a departure from soaking in the recruitment process when he was one of the top high school quarterbacks in the country in 2019. 

“I didn’t need to see the place. I’d been in college for three years. I didn’t care about what the campus looked like or whatever certain campus I went to,” Uiagalelei said. “The biggest thing I wanted to talk about was the scheme, the coaches, what their plan was to use me, and how they’re going to push me to be the best quarterback I can be.”

Another reason for Uiagalelei’s commitment to Oregon State was the players that were returning on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, including defensive back Kitan Oladapo, who reached out to Uiagalelei when he committed to Oregon State. 

Uiagalelei’s brother Matayo plays defensive end at the University of Oregon, which didn’t play a role in DJ Uiagalelei’s decision to come to Oregon State. Uiagalelei joked that he would’ve played anywhere in the country, even in Alaska. 

“I guess it was just a bonus coming to Oregon State, my brother is at Oregon, so that’s also super cool that my brother’s 45 minutes away, I get to see him a lot,” Uiagalelei said. 

The rivalry series game between Oregon and Oregon State will have more significance in the Uiagalelei household this year with both brothers at rival schools, Uiagalelei added that he’s excited to play against his brother in November. 

There are plenty of challenges with joining a new team but for Uiagalelei the transition to the team, it’s been relatively smooth. The main challenge has been learning a new playbook, including the time it takes to study film, and the playbook, and having time to get in tune while throwing to receivers.

Teammates and coaches have both praised his eagerness to learn and improve every single day in practice. 

“He’s still getting used to the offense, getting into his groove, he’ll dominate once he does that,” said sophomore running back Damien Martinez.

Uiagalelei added that he’s leaned on teammates and coaches to help him learn the plays along with practice and film study. 

“It’s been great. The quarterbacks in the room: Ben, Travis, and Dom have been helping me and Aidan [Chiles] out a lot. We have guys that have been through this offense. It’s been good just being able to pick their brain and for them to help us,” Uiagalelei said on his transition. “Every day I feel like it’s getting better and better. Every single day we have a new install, so learning the install, and then going back and watching the film to learn from it.” 

Other additions to the team involve changes to the coaching staff as a familiar face to Beaver fans rejoins the team as a coach. 

Former Oregon State linebacker Avery Roberts has been hired as a graduate assistant, allowing him to begin his coaching career back where he played in his college career. 

The Beavers also welcome a new running backs coach in Keith Bhonapha as he replaces coach Steward who left to go coach at Baylor University to take the same position. 

Bhonapha recently served as the running backs coach at Boise State University and has familiarity with Smith from their time together at both Boise State and the University of Washington. 

“I think for me getting the opportunity to work with coach Smith again and seeing the culture that was built. I’ve seen this team and program get better year after year,” Bhonapha said. “I was at a great place in Boise State and a place I care about a lot, it was not an easy call but at the end of the day, I wanted to put both programs in the best situation. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of Oregon State.” 

The plan for the Beavers in the offseason is to evaluate players as an opportunity to show how much they’ve improved in the program and reps during scrimmages. This will allow coaches to figure out position battles at cornerback, kicker, wide receiver, quarterback, etc.  

Freshman standout quarterback Aidan Chiles, Uiagalelei, and quarterback Ben Gulbranson each have gotten plenty of experience with calling offensive plays during this period and will likely see a fair amount of playing time in the spring game. 

On special teams, punter Josh Green will not be available until training camp and his backup Max Walker will handle punting duties in spring camp. Smith mentioned that there is an open competition at kicker with Everett Hayes’ struggles last season. 

The time in spring camp will also allow Smith and the coaching staff to see how players have adapted to position changes in the offseason as both Makiya Tongue and Riley Sharp have done so in the offseason. 

Beaver football will play its annual spring game on Saturday, April 22 at 10:30 a.m. in Reser Stadium, and admission is free to the public.

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