When he was in grade school, Cory McCaffrey recalls, he went to the University of Oregon football team's autograph day one year.
"The first guy I wanted to get an autograph from was Joey Harrington," McCaffrey said of the quarterback who starred for the Ducks in bowl victories over Minnesota, Texas and Colorado and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
Not only did McCaffrey get the autograph, he still has it, which gives you some feeling for what it means to the Portland State junior running back from Sisters and his teammates with local connections to be playing the fifth-ranked Ducks in Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
"It's been something I've wanted to do since I was a kid," said senior defensive end Travis Beckley, a Thurston graduate who also grew up cheering for Harrington, this year an analyst on the Oregon Sports Network telecasts, as his favorite Duck.
Offensive tackle Dustin Waldron, the Marist High School grad, was a fan of defensive lineman Haloti Ngata in his younger days and went to Duck games "all the time. ...
"It's going to be a great experience," Waldron said. "I look forward to being in front of a hometown crowd. It will be loud."
But as New Mexico learned, losing 72-0 in the season opener in Autzen, it might not be fun, though the Vikings profess not to worry about that.
"It's going to be an awesome challenge for us," said Beckley, a PSU captain who will be making his 25th straight start in the Oregon game. "I don't fear it at all. Not one bit. I have a lot of confidence in our team and our defense that that's not going to happen to us."
Beckley was on the sidelines as a redshirt when Portland State lost to Oregon 55-12 in Autzen in 2006. The Vikings are 0-9 all-time against Pac-10 schools, 0-3 all-time against Oregon, and have played Pac-10 teams regularly over the past decade, always on the road; they lost 34-7 at Oregon State last year, and 54-9 at Arizona State earlier this month.
"When you get in a game like that, with previous experience, it kind of calms you," Waldron said. "Against OSU last year, I was a little bit nervous, thinking those guys would throw us around and beat us up. After that didn't happen, you feel a lot more calm playing schools like that."
Said McCaffrey: "It's an opportunity to show up, win or lose. If we play a good game and we don't make any mistakes, I think everyone will be pretty satisfied if we can execute the way we're supposed to."
McCaffrey will be in the middle of whatever the Vikings try to do offensively, having been moved to running back under first-year head coach Nigel Burton after two years as a seldom-used slot back in the passing attack of coach Jerry Glanville.
Understand that McCaffrey brought tremendous credentials as a running back to Portland State. At Sisters, he set a state record, rushing for 8,460 yards in three seasons, including 2,925 yards and 46 touchdowns as a senior. His 114 career touchdowns set an Oregon prep record, and he led the Outlaws to a pair of Class 4A title games - a loss to Siuslaw at Autzen Stadium in 2006, and a loss to Waldron's Marist team at Reser Stadium in 2007.
And yet McCaffrey said he's not bitter about playing out of position for two years, or losing a possible redshirt season for token action as a freshman.
"It's all been a learning process," he said. "It would have been best if I could have redshirted, but I also got a lot of experience and exposure those first two years. Even being in the slot, I learned a lot about picking up defenses, and understanding defensive schemes, better than I would have at running back. So I took a lot from that."
Not that the experience was easy.
"There were times that I was definitely down and really, really questioning my role on the team," McCaffrey said. "But I had a lot of support from family and friends and they said to stick with it, and it turned out for the better, so I'm really glad I stuck it out and stayed motivated."
McCaffrey learned over the winter that Burton wanted to move him to running back, and the adjustment didn't take long. "After the first couple of snaps it was ‘Oh, OK, this is what I'm used to, this is normal for me,' " he said.
Waldron, who described his former Sky-Em League rival as "a speed, juke guy," said the Vikings have embraced a new regime and a new offense, moving from Glanville's run-and-shoot to Burton's more balanced pistol offense.
"I think we were ready for a change," Waldron said. "Everyone has responded to it real well. No one was upset about having to go from passing every play to learning how to run block. ... When a team doesn't know if you're going to throw or run the ball, it's definitely an advantage."
In last weekend's 41-33 win over UC Davis, McCaffrey rushed 15 times for 116 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown run; in two games, he's accounted for 158 yards rushing and receiving.
"He's been absolutely outstanding in making the transition," Burton said. "He brings a level of quickness that's different. His ability to change directions, his burst. ... Especially when you're making the transition from the run-and-shoot to the pistol, he gives you that home-run hitter."
Saturday, McCaffrey will take a swing against an Oregon defense that's allowed one touchdown in two games.