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Thursday, March 12, 2009
A cup of joe with Keaton Kristick, who's eyeing the Rose Bowl

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Popeye has his spinach. Oregon State linebacker Keaton Kristick has his coffee.

And it's fair to say his aggressive, attacking style -- see 14 tackles for a loss in 2008 -- comes off as fully caffeinated.

"I'm a coffee fiend. I love coffee. I can't go a day without coffee," said Kristick, sounding a bit like he's already had a cup or three.

 
  Jesse Beals/Icon SMI
  Linebacker Keaton Kristick believes the Beavers' front seven will turn some heads this fall.

It's not unreasonable to guess a young man leaving the warm, sunny climate of Fountain Hills, Ariz., for the, er, less warm and sunny clime of the Northwest would adopt coffee as a crutch to get through the dark days of a Corvallis winter.

But Kristick came to coffee before that. He had to get up early in the morning to drive a long distance to attend his private high school, St. Mary's in Phoenix.

It was there that Kristick, obviously fully awake on the football field, was first noticed by Oregon State assistant Mike Cavanaugh.

The Beavers were first and they were tenacious recruiting him. He was their type of guy -- a good athlete operating mostly under the radar who clearly loved playing the game. 

While most other interest in Kristick came from the Mountain West Conference, Arizona State and Northwestern also made pushes.

Kristick never seriously considered the Sun Devils, though, which apparently annoyed then-coach Dirk Koetter.

"I wanted to get out and experience something new -- I wanted something green in my life," Kristick said. "Dirk Koetter didn't like me too much after that. I'd see him after games and I ran into him like three or four times [in Scottsdale]. He worked out where I worked out. There was small talk. It was kind of funny. Kind of uncomfortable."

Speaking of comfort -- and lack thereof -- the Beavers 2008 season can be largely summed up by two disparate experiences in Reser Stadium.

First, the stunning win over then-No. 1 USC, which ended up costing the Trojans a shot at the national title and began the Beavers' quest for their first Rose Bowl since 1965.

"We just believed we were going to do it all along," Kristick said. "Our stadium is kind of a trap to a lot of teams. You come in and don't expect much. It gives us an opportunity to hit you in the mouth when the game starts. After that game, the tide turned on our season. Our team was a lot different from that point on."

The second experience was less pleasant: A 65-38 Civil War shellacking delivered by Oregon, which piled up 694 yards in front of stunned Beavers fans. The defeat ended up costing Oregon State that Rose Bowl berth.

"We weren't jelling well, I guess," Kristick said. "We tried a lot of things on defense and none of them really worked. We got frustrated and the points started tacking on."

Yet both experiences -- as well as the dominant, redemptive defensive performance in the 3-0 Sun Bowl win over Pittsburgh -- should help the Beavers this year, Kristick said.

He believes another Rose Bowl run isn't out of the question.

"Last year, we saw how close we could get to the Rose Bowl," he said. "I think now we know what it will take to get there."

First things first, though. When spring practice starts on March 30, the Beavers will need to replace their entire secondary and a pair of defensive ends, Victor Butler and Slade Norris, who combined to produce 44.5 sacks in their careers.

So is the defense rebuilding?

"A little bit, yeah, especially in the defensive backfield," Kristick said. "But we've got a lot of experience coming back on the front seven. I guess you can consider it a rebuilding, but I think we're going to turn some heads."

He said he believes powerful defensive tackle Stephen Paea and linebacker Dwight Roberson will have star turns next fall, and cornerback Tim Clark and safety Suaesi Tuimaunei will lead the green secondary.

And, of course, Kristick will be in the middle of things, wide-eyed, caffeinated and making plays.