CORVALLIS, Ore. — It’s bowl or bust for Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz.
The Santa Monica High School product is preparing to begin his second year as the starter and can’t help but expect big things following a so-so 5-7 season.
“We’re going to have a better year than last year,” Katz promised. “Not making a bowl game, that was tough on us. It was a long off-season.”
Katz, who threw for 2,401 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2010, also steps into an enhanced role on offense in the wake of the departure of standout running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who will suit up for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons this season. With no Rodgers, OSU’s coaching staff sees Katz as a signal caller up to the tall order.
“I think he’s grown up,” Offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf said of the redshirt junior. “He’s more mature handling the stress of the position and expectations.”
Langsdorf said that Katz has developed as both a player and leader since arriving on campus after a standout career at Samohi. Katz has assumed the role of undisputed leader of the offense in more ways than one, he added.
The most visible change in Katz from last year has been his willingness to be more outspoken during summer practices. Langsdorf said that Katz wasn’t the type to let teammates have it when something went awry.
“He’s more vocal,” he said. “It’s important to be a vocal leader at that position.”
Langsdorf applauds Katz’ progression in that category and anticipates it being a factor in his development as a quarterback.
That growth was slowed a bit during spring workouts. Katz broke his right wrist during the Civil War with cross-state rival Oregon during the last game of the season. He underwent surgery, limiting his participation in practice until the beginning of the summer. Langsdorf said that in that short time, Katz has been sharp during workouts and shows no lingering effects of the injury.
Katz said that the time away was hard to bear, but he’s made up for lost time — and snaps — during summer training camp.
While Katz is finally healthy, the same can’t be said for some of his key teammates. James Rodgers, his primary target early last year, was sidelined with a major knee injury mid-season that may force him to miss significant time this fall. Katz is hopeful that Rodgers — Jacquizz’ older brother — will return early this season, but Langsdorf isn’t quite as optimistic. He said that there is no time table for Rodgers’ return.
Minus two major contributors from the Beavers’ recent past, there will certainly be more heaped on Katz’ shoulders.
Without a marquee running back, OSU is expected to air the ball out with more regularity. That suits Katz fine, whose arm has been touted as one of the strongest in the Pac-12, if not the nation. A writer with ESPN compared Katz to Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, a QB with a cannon strapped to his shoulder. Mallett now plays for the New England Patriots.
That strength coupled with improved accuracy should all play out well for the Beavers, Langsdorf believes.
Another X-factor will be Katz’ ability to run the ball, something he was known for during his time at Samohi. Langsdorf has tweaked the offense to include more quarterback carries, a facet he thinks will disrupt opposing defenses, giving the Beavers another threat.
“We’re going to try and take advantage of all of Ryan’s abilities this year,” Langsdorf said. “We want our quarterbacks to be throwers first,” he said, “but if they can run, that’s a bonus.”
Once the Beavers take the field on Saturday for their season opener, Katz won’t be the only former Samohi Viking in orange and black. Senior linebacker Cameron Collins is expected to be a factor on defense after switching over from safety in the offseason.
Having a high school chum to hangout with was big for Katz when he began his career in Corvallis.
“Cam was one of my best friends in high school,” Katz said. “It’s great to see another Samo guy up here.”
To really make things interesting, Katz will be facing a Sacramento State team that has his successor at quarterback for Samohi on the opposite sideline. Garrett Safron is a backup quarterback for the Hornets. The two exchanged jabs on Facebook in the days leading up to the matchup.
“We joked about it when the game came out on the schedule,” Katz said. “It gave us something to talk about.”