Jordan Poyer has become the poster child for how the Oregon State football team develops athletes.
Coach Mike Riley and his staff can go into the homes of recruits and show them the path Poyer followed, and stress the message that they too can be a successful athlete for the Beavers.
A senior cornerback from Astoria, a small fishing town in northwest Oregon, Poyer has developed into one of the top NFL prospects at his position.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper rates him the No. 2 senior corner for next year’s draft.
The team’s defensive leader, Poyer is a shutdown corner who plays man-to-man coverage every play. He is also a dynamic kickoff and punt returner.
He’s also an aggressive gunner on kickoffs and punts. Poyer’s type of versatility on defense and special teams well-served a teammate like Brandon Hardin, who developed into a third-round NFL draft pick.
“Jordan has just done everything he could do for a football team,” Riley said. “He is as competitive a person I’ve been around and does anything to get better.”
Poyer was under the radar since he played at a small high school. He excelled as Oregon’s 4A offensive and defensive player of the year and played for USA Football’s 2009 Junior National Team. Still, questions lingered about how good he was based on the level of competition he faced at Astoria.
When the only scholarship offers he received were from regional FCS schools, Poyer decided to attend an Oregon State summer camp in hopes of getting noticed.
The Beavers liked him, but still considered him a project since he didn’t compete against high-end competition on a regular basis. The coaches debated whether to offer him a scholarship or have him walk on.
“I came into Division I football not knowing what to expect,” Poyer said. “People were telling me I couldn’t make it at Division I football, and it happened. I heard that I didn’t play at the level other guys played. But I just wanted to go somewhere and play to show I could.”
OSU over-recruited and planned to delay Poyer’s enrollment a term as a greyshirt. When some recruits didn’t qualify academically, Poyer was able to join the team at the last minute.
Soon after training camp began, Riley realized Poyer possessed the tools to play as a true freshman. He ended up playing on all the special teams and eventually returned kickoffs.
He showed the athletic ability to cover receivers as a safety by the end of his freshman season, so he moved to corner during bowl preparation as an experiment.
Poyer learned the nuances of the position as a sophomore. He earned second-team all-conference honors as a first-year starter last season. He had four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, and 12 pass breakups.
Poyer felt more free playing corner because of his athletic ability, compared to safety where he needed to be more disciplined in technique.
“It’s time for him to take an even bigger jump,” Riley said. “He’s played a lot of good football and done a million things. You can tell he’s seeing things quicker. He has made great plays anticipating stuff. It’s all enhanced with the experience he continues to gain.”
Reaching this point came from hard work. Poyer was dedicated in the weight room to improve his size, speed and agility, and learned about proper nutrition.
“That was one of my biggest steps since high school, I learned about nutrition and how to take care of my body,” Poyer said. “And now I’ve grown into my body a bit.”
Poyer added 12 lean pounds and strength, and enters camp at 6 feet, 190 pounds.
The lesson of being a high-profile athlete was learned this offseason. He was charged with second-degree trespass when he entered a local bar that he had been kicked out of before he was 21. Those charges were dropped, but there were some anxious moments.
Poyer found it frustrating being singled out, in his mind, because of who he happens to be.
“It’s difficult being an athlete in a small town,” Poyer said.
However, those lessons will serve him well under the potential NFL microscope.
Poyer still has plenty he wants to accomplish this season, including helping the Beavers back to a bowl game after a two-year hiatus. And he hopes to keep proving he deserves to move on to the NFL.
“I still have people telling me I won’t make it at the NFL level,” Poyer said. “So I just want to make myself the best I can. I’ll work hard and live up to my dreams.”