The young running backs on the Oregon State football team have made people take notice of them.

Coach Mike Riley hasn’t written off freshmen Malcolm Marable or Terron Ward just because of their youth when it comes to finding someone, or a few people, to replace Jacquizz Rodgers.

Older running backs Ryan McCants, Jovan Stevenson and Jordan Jenkins have the advantage in experience, but the freshmen might earn some playing time as role players in the fall.

“They both have some stuff,” Riley said. “Terron Ward is very football savvy. Malcolm has great quickness and cutting ability.”

Ward is a greyshirt freshman, which means he was part of last year’s recruiting class and delayed enrollment until winter. The reason was the Beavers had too many recruits for the amount of scholarships available.

He signed late, a little after signing day. No other college was interested in the 5-foot-7, 190-pounder from Antioch, Calif., who was a star for the storied Concord De La Salle High program.

Ward was the Bay Area News Group East Bay and Player of the Year, but heard the same line as Rodgers: that he was too short to be a good back.

“I loved how they have a tradition of small backs here,” Ward said. “They give love to small backs.”

Part of the delay in his signing was his parents didn’t come on his visit to OSU. They weren’t OSU fans since his older brother, T.J., played cornerback for the Ducks and went on to the NFL.

When the Beavers became his only option, they looked into the school and adopted the orange and black.

“This place reminded me of De La Salle,” Ward said. “The whole team is a brotherhood.”

Ward displayed hard-nosed running, sure-handed catching and blocking during spring practice. The big thing is the blocking. He’s not afraid to do it.

The reason Rodgers rarely left the field the last three seasons was because he could do it all. Ward will be compared to Rodgers early because of that, and his compact but thick build.

Rodgers even endorsed Ward when asked about who looks good to replace him.

“Terron stands out,” Rodgers said. “When you are a freshman you are scared to block, but when you watch the blocking drills he gets his nose in there.”

Riley speaks highly of Ward, and is looking into how to use him this fall. He could be a third-down back if he doesn’t win the job outright.

“He has done very well for a freshman who entered this in the winter,” Riley said. “He’s an excellent runner, a good catcher, a good blocker. I think he’ll make some noise for this running back job.”

Marable is similar to Ward in that he’s only 5-7, 166 pounds. He, too, has shown advanced athletic ability. in 2009 rated him a three-star athlete and 11th-best all-purpose back in the nation out of Bishop Alemany High in the Los Angeles area.

His advantage on Ward is he redshirted with the Beavers last season. Marable has a basic understanding of what the coaches want.

“I feel a lot better now,” Marable said. “Last year I was thrown in there in camp. I was just learning the plays as fast as I can. It was nerve-racking. I’m fighting for a job now, but it’s less stressful. It’s a lot better.”

His spring has been steady. Rushing and receiving have been easy. Marable’s speed and quickness are his strength.

But what about that blocking?

“The blocking isn’t my strength,” Marable said. “It was easier in high school because the guys were not as big, of course. Now I have to get all the technique down. That’s going to help me.”

Whatever way Riley decides to go with his running backs, he at least knows there are two underclassmen for the future, and maybe the present.

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