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Above the odds

Morales and the Beavers are proving the critics wrong

Posted: December 14, 2008 8:58 p.m.
Updated: December 15, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Oregon State senior wide receiver Shane Morales catches a pass over Arizona State defender Omar Bolden on Nov. 1 in Corvallis, Ore. Morales caught two touchdown passes in the game.

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Oregon State was crashing the party and Shane Morales was doing everything he could to make it happen.

The former Valencia High standout has started for the Beavers all year at wide receiver, his success a microcosm of the team as a whole.

"We're diamonds in the rough," Morales says. "We are picked at the bottom of the Pac-10 every year."

But this year the 6-foot-1-inch, 209-pound senior helped take Oregon State to the doorstep of its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1965 by having his best year in college.

Morales remains humble about his accomplishments.

"I'm just a regular guy who worked hard," he says. "I was told I was too slow."

Former Valencia head football coach and current athletic director Brian Stiman remembers Morales' senior year well.

His coaches were raving about his potential, but the scouts weren't listening.

"'He's not fast enough, he's not quite big enough,'" Stiman says of the scouts' comments. "We heard it over and over. ‘We're recruiting better players.' It made absolutely no sense to me because we had played some of the best teams in the United States."

In the 2004-05 season, Morales caught 66 passes for 970 yards and seven touchdowns and the Vikings advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division II championship game, falling to Mission Viejo.

"For the first five games he played on every special teams, every offense and defense and never left the field," Stiman says.

He would tell Morales, "'You have to be out there. You are too good.'"

The young receiver credits the coaching he has received along the way from Stiman, current Valencia head coach Larry Muir and the coaching staff at College of the Canyons, where he played for a year before transferring to Oregon State.

But at the end of the day, Stiman credits Morales the person.

"He was full of energy," Stiman says. "For the game of football, it is perfect. ... He was a lot of fun to coach, a great character kid."

Now he is in the national spotlight and still enjoying the game.

"Everyone is friends with everyone," Morales says. "Me and James Rodgers and Sammie Stroughter, we're always cracking jokes and having fun."

He has caught 49 passes for 664 yards and eight touchdowns, the top scorer among OSU receivers.

In historical terms, Morales' eight trips to the end zone ties him for fifth all-time with Chad Johnson for most touchdowns in a season and gives him one more than T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Mike Hass ever achieved in a given year.

The opportunity to play where other football greats came from is not lost on Morales.

"To even get mentioned with those names is an honor," Morales says. "Look at what T.J. and Chad are doing in the league."

Moreover, in their season opener against Stanford, Morales caught 13 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown.

He was only once catch away from tying Oregon State's record for most catches in a game, set by Hass on Sept. 25, 2004.

For a player and team fighting for respect, this season above others has garnered attention.

Oregon State started out the year by playing three of its first five games against opponents who will play in Bowl Championship Series games in January - No. 8 Penn State, No. 6 Utah and No. 5 Southern California.

The definitive moment came on Sept. 25 when the Beavers shocked the nation and upset then-No. 1 USC 27-21, putting them in the driver's seat for a trip to Pasadena on Jan. 1.

"Being a part of that was amazing," Morales says. "It was surreal. Everyone stormed the field. No one gave us a shot. It is fun to prove everyone wrong."

After a series of hard-fought games, their groundbreaking return to the coveted Rose Bowl came down to their bitter rivalry game with the Oregon Ducks.

"I knew they had a rivalry but I was oblivious as to how big it was," Morales says. "The state is torn apart."
Morales referred to Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., as "one of the loudest places I have ever played in."

Now ranked No. 17 in the BCS poll, Oregon broke the hearts of Oregon State and all of Beaver Nation in its 65-38 shellacking of the Beavers on Nov. 29.

The loss dropped the team to third in the Pac-10, sending the season-long underdogs to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, where they will play Pittsburgh on Dec. 31.

The Panthers beat Oregon State back in 2002 at the Insight Bowl.

It remains OSU's lone loss in its last six postseason appearances.

With the injury to wide receiver James Rodgers, who suffered a broken collarbone in their game against the Ducks, the Beavers will rely more on Morales.

Head coach Mike Riley believes he will be up to the challenge.

"Shane has developed into one of our go-to receivers," Riley says. "He has had an outstanding season and made some terrific catches for us in clutch situations. He will play a huge role in the Sun Bowl."

Throughout his development, the message has been clear.

"You have to be gutty," Morales said. "My senior and junior year in (high) school, we were always the small team. But we wouldn't back down. You just come in with the mentality that (they) may be bigger or stronger but we are going to hit you in the mouth."

pputignano@the-signal.com


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