Commentary

Oregon State's Stroughter stronger than ever after tragic year

Updated: April 28, 2008, 12:00 PM ET
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Football has slowed down for Sammie Stroughter. And so has life.

Such a combination suggests that the Oregon State receiver will recover the form that earned him preseason All-American honors a year ago before a black fog of personal tragedy and depression descended upon him.

[+] EnlargeSammie Stroughter
AP Photo/Matt York Sammie Stroughter says his difficult season was a humbling experience.

Stroughter ultimately missed the majority of the 2007 season -- and earned a medical redshirt season from the NCAA -- because of a lacerated kidney suffered against Arizona State in the season's fourth game. But that turned out to be a peculiar sort of blessing, not the burden that weighed heaviest upon him.

That terrible load was an offseason of emotional turbulence that left one of the Pac-10's most dynamic athletes wondering if he wanted -- or could -- continue to play.

Much has been written about how the death of two uncles who helped raise him and the subsequent passing of Jim Gilstrap, the Oregon State coach who recruited him, drove Stroughter into a depression that pushed him to take a leave of absence from the football team during preseason practices.

But it was more than that. Even before that emotional gauntlet began, he felt overwhelmed by the trappings of his budding stardom. Those tragedies then lit a fuse inside him. The loss of his primary male role models made him feel alone and vulnerable, and he further intimated last week that he felt like some tried to insinuate themselves into his life and take advantage of him. "There are people out there who are sharks," he said. "If they want you, they will come and get you."

Beavers coach Mike Riley and his assistant coaches noticed shortly after spring practices ended in 2007 that something was wrong. Stroughter's funk ran counter to how he'd carried himself over the three previous seasons. This was a good student and a team leader who suddenly couldn't even carry on a conversation.

"There's a real joy to this kid, and all of the sudden that was missing," said Riley, who used the terms "sad," "scary," "troubling" and "mysterious" to describe the experience of watching his star's transformation.

This wasn't just a case of the blues. Stroughter needed counseling and medication. Even when he opted to return one game into the season, he wasn't close to his old self. That's why the lacerated kidney turned out to be, in Stroughter's words, "destiny."

The injury allowed him to step back. And open up. An ongoing process of healing began.

"It was a humbling experience," Stroughter said. "It was a learning point in my life that I will never forget. It was like the Lord is giving you something and then saying, 'In order for you to be as special as I want you to be, you have to slow down.'"

It was a humbling experience. It was a learning point in my life that I will never forget.

-- Sammie Stroughter, on his difficult 2007 season

Off the field, at least.

On the field, Stroughter looks like his old self this spring: the 6-foot, 190-pound game-changer who caught 74 passes for 1,293 yards and returned three punts for touchdowns in 2006.

With him as the first option, the Beavers' passing attack -- which was mostly horrible last year -- should improve significantly with whoever wins the quarterback competition between Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield.

Couple that with his graduation in December, and Stroughter now envisions a happy ending for his story.

"Now, you could even take football away from me," he said, "and then watch me still be successful and happy."

Ted Miller is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ted at tedmillerespn@gmail.com.

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