A successful passing game has been instrumental for the Oregon State football team’s dramatic turnaround this season.
Even with the drama surrounding who would start at quarterback each week, the air attack carried on.
No matter if Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz threw the ball, receivers were open, particularly Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks.
Their ability to be make plays comes from their talent, but they attribute their production to receivers coach Brent Brennan to get it out of them.
“Coach B, he brings the young life to you, running around with you,” Cooks said. “He’s so enthusiastic. He is always behind you, always running behind you. He’s like a fly. Wherever you go, he’s going to be with you. You just love to have a coach like that.”
Brennan, who is in his second season with the Beavers, played at UCLA from 1993-94 where he helped the Bruins win a conference title and reach the Rose Bowl.
He made his coaching mark at San Jose State from 2005-10. When OSU coach Mike Riley was looking for a young up-and-coming coach with a passion for recruiting, he gave Brennan a call.
“Brent has really good expertise in technique in how to play the position, the craft of the position,” Riley said. “And he’s a great guy who stays on the detail of it and doesn’t let them rest or slack off. He stays on them to perform. He pushes them to be the best they can be.”
Brennan was able to help former standout James Rodgers, who was coming off knee surgery, in his senior year.
He didn’t baby him and Rodgers went on to set the school record for career receptions with 222.
That record didn’t last long.
Wheaton’s strong showing the last two seasons propelled him to the record (224) in the last game of the regular season.
“He brought more tools and excitement,” Wheaton said of Brennan. “He’s pretty strict and a great coach. He does a little of everything. He sharpens up our routes, how we catch the ball and what we do after the catch.”
Wheaton has been playing well all season. He has 88 catches, averages 100.6 receiving yards a game and has scored 11 touchdowns.
With four catches in the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl against Texas, he will pass Rodgers (2009) for OSU the single-season reception record. Two more receiving TDs and he’ll pass James Newson (2002) for that single-season mark.
“We have great kids here, that’s unique,” Brennan said. “With coach Riley and the staff philosophy of recruiting, it makes it fun to come to work when you like the people and kids you are coaching. It’s a bonus if you win a bunch of a games. Fortunately for me, they recruited some talented players before I got here.”
Brennan is also helping Cooks develop. A sophomore who Wheaton says will pass all his record, Cooks has 64 receptions, averages 93.3 yards a game and has five TDs this season.
“It has been fun coaching those two,” Brennan said. “They play really well, but they are supper motivated. They are the easiest guys to coach because they want to work hard. It makes it all fun.”
Then there are young upstarts in Richard Mullaney, Micah Hatfield, Malik Gilmore and Kevin Cummings, who are expected to play a bigger role next season.
“I think it’s really exciting,” Brennan said of the future of the receivers. “We are going to lose a great player, leader and person in Markus, but the other guys have all played in games (except for Gilmore, who redshirted). They all made plays in games. You can see them in a practice environment elevating themselves. I’m excited about the future of the group. Hopefully, we can have a good recruiting class at that position to add to that group."
Besides being a great motivator, Brennan makes players feel at home since most of them are from out of state.
There are several get-togethers with his family for a home-cooked meal and fun spent with his children.
“My kids worship them and they are so good with my family,” Brennan said. “We create an extended family for them.”
Brennan believes their comfort level leads to success. Players work harder for a coach who looks after them on and off the field.
“We have a great relationship, both individually and as a group,” he said. “We do a bunch of stuff off the field to be tighter, kind of family. In order for me to push them, they have to trust me. It takes time to build that trust.”