Pointing as if directing traffic, Oregon State middle linebacker Joel Skotte shouts instructions to his teammates as they line up against the offense during a recent practice.
“Right, right, right.”
It’s a run. Defenders swarm to the ball and stop the play for a short gain.
A sophomore from Bend, Skotte is looking to fill the gap in the middle left by Feti Unga.
Making defensive calls is a prime requirement for a middle linebacker and Skotte does not shy away from the responsibility.
“He kind of has a natural leadership to him,” linebackers coach Trent Bray said. “Even when he was a young guy in the games last year, he still made calls and talked to people. As a young guy, usually that’s the last thing to come, is that confidence to talk to people and make calls because you’re worried about being wrong. He doesn’t have that.”
Skotte spent most of the 2012 season on special teams.
It’s a big jump to a starting spot, particular middle linebacker.
The position requires quite a bit of communication, the physical ability to take on big blockers and the mental acuity to make quick reads.
“It’s a challenge to step in there so early, but it’s already starting to feel right and I think our guys are already starting to listen to me a little bit,” Skotte said. “I think we’ve got a lot of leaders on defense so it doesn’t require me to take over completely, but I think I’m ready to step into that leadership role, slowly but surely.”
Skotte will use fall camp to sharpen his read skills. To know when to attack the line of scrimmage or stay back so he can track down an outside run or be ready for a pass.
“I think the main thing is my reads, make sure those are good,” he said. “Make sure my assignments are right. A lot of film study, a lot of preparation each week. That will definitely help me help our team to win. And also keep a starting job for me.”
Unga was a top run stopper for the Beavers. His size, at 248 pounds, enabled him to take on run plays near the line of scrimmage.
Skotte was listed at 235 last season, so he knew he had to put on some pounds.
He added 10 pounds and kept his body fat the same percentage in the process.
“I put on some good weight in the offseason,” Skotte said. “I’m up to about 245 now, so I feel good at that weight and I feel comfortable I can step in that role as a run stopper in the middle.”
Bray said Skotte has improved his athletic ability and is moving better than he was at the lighter weight.
“You want a guy inside that can handle the guards and the interior linemen.,” Bray said. “What he’s done is not only got heavier, but he’s gotten leaner. That’s the biggest thing. While he’s gained weight, he’s managed to put on more muscle and lose fat and that’s really shown up in the way he’s moving.
“He’s a good athlete. He’s not like Michael (Doctor) or D.J. (Alexander). He moves well, he bends well and he runs decent. So if he can get his keys down and learn to play fast, he could be more than adequate.”
Skotte has meshed well with Alexander and Doctor, the starting outside linebackers.
They spend time together and Skotte said he’s working on building their trust on the field.
Doctor said Skotte pays attention and makes sure the small details are done right.
“Joel Skotte’s coming in really nicely,” Doctor said. “The chemistry is there. He practiced with us all last year and then he got a chance to start with us during spring ball. So he has a big head’s up on everything.
“He’s faster and also he’s a big boy who can hit people.”
Growing up in Oregon, Skotte had a goal of playing for the Beavers.
Now he’s on the brink of starting.
“I remember, it was in middle school or before, we were in the Truax as a little kid right before the games and I was thinking, ‘Man, it would be cool to play here,’” he said. “It’s always been a dream and if I work hard enough, I’ll make it come true this fall.”