Portland Tribune: PSU football recruiting attracts "respectful, tough" players
Author: Jeff Smith
Posted: February 8, 2016

On a television set in Boise, Idaho, Kenton Bartlett sat in an anchor’s chair with two hats before him.

On his right, a green Portland State University cap. On his left, a black hat from the University of Idaho.

When prompted by the sportscaster, the 6-3, 235-pound linebacker didn’t hesitate. Bartlett proudly reached for the Vikings hat and placed it on his head, choosing a FCS out-of-state school over a FBS program from his home state.

“Came down to the coaching staff and the relationship I had with them,” Bartlett said on the live KTVB broadcast. “The coaching staff has been there for me since Day One. They were the first school to offer me.”

Bartlett, a conference defensive player of the year and a first-team all-state selection in Idaho, helped illustrate the improved reputation of the Portland State football program after the Vikings’ stirring 9-3 season in 2015 that ended with a home playoff game.

Bartlett was one of 16 players who signed with Portland State on Wednesday’s National Signing day. The group consisted of 13 high school players and three transfers, including safety Chris Hayes from Oregon State.

One word kept coming to Portland State football coach Bruce Barnum’s mind when he looked at the names of his committed players.

“Tough,” Barnum said. “They’re all tough, tough kids.”

Barnum, the FCS national coach of the year, specifically looked for the combination of physicality and personality to blend into the “Barney Ball” culture he created after his first season as head coach.

“It’s a tough group that fits into this program,” Barnum said. “I already think I have a tough football team, and now it’s even tougher with these guys. They’re all a bunch of blue-collar kids that will fight you in the alley. And those same guys are going to treat their mom right and talk to her the right way. That’s who is on this list.

“Respectful, tough and full of humility. They’re all what Portland State is all about.”

Six recruits went to Oregon high schools, including offensive lineman Tommy Laverde of Lincoln High and safety Steffen Jacobsen of Wilson High.

The Vikings also signed a pair of teammates from Grants Pass High in linebacker Dylan Hanley and defensive tackle Anthony Del Toro. Linebacker Avery Jones of Valley Catholic High and offensive lineman Moustapha Toure of Horizon Christian High round out the list of local signees.

Laverde, a 6-5, 285-pound three-sport athlete at Lincoln, did all he could to help persuade recruits to choose Portland State and has already formed a tight relationship with several of his future teammates. About 10 of the signees are on a group text message, which has been filled with emotion-filled notes these past few days.

“We’re getting very close with another,” Laverde said. “It’s a great group of kids. Everyone is getting excited.”

Of the 16 signed players, 10 are expected to play defense. Barnum made it clear early with his staff that the biggest needs to fill will be on the defensive side of the ball.

“Defense, defense, defense. We needed defense,” Barnum said. “Linebackers, safeties and defensive ends were a priority, and we accomplished our goal in a big way.”

Bartlett, Hanley and Jones were among five linebackers in the recruiting class. The linebacker group also included Mason Vega of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and Taylor Biaggi, a safety/linebacker who transferred from Santa Rosa (Calif.) College.

The 6-2, 285-pound Del Toro, a first-team all-state selection at Grants Pass High, was the lone defensive tackle signed, and Portland State loaded up in the secondary. Cornerback Montre Brown (Tacoma, Wash.) and defensive back Ryan Wood (Peoria, Ariz.) joined safeties Hayes and Jacobsen to comprise a group that Barnum raves about.

“These guys fly around on the field and are just tough as nails,” Barnum said. “We’re not going to be missing many tackles with these guys. They’re all long, fast and aren’t afraid to hit somebody.”

Barnum’s offensive recruits included three linemen, two tight ends and one quarterback.

Davis Alexander, a 5-11, 180-pound quarterback from Gig Harbor, Wash., committed to Portland State the day after Barnum shed his interim coach label and was rewarded with a five-year contract.

“He fits our system to a T and can find ways to keep a play alive when something breaks down,” says Barnum, comparing Alexander to returning starting quarterback Alex Kuresa. “Runs the ball well and has a really strong arm. Very excited to have him on board.”

Barnum is also thrilled with the size he’s bringing to the tight end and offensive line positions. Daniel Giannosa is a 6-8, 250-pound tight end from Modesto, Calif., and AJ Ruffin is a 6-5, 250-pound tight end from Tacoma.

The offensive line trio of Toure (6-6, 310), Laverde (6-5, 285) and Korbin Sorensen (6-6, 275) bring a blend of athleticism that will allow Barnum the flexibility to move them around to different positions on the line as needs arise.

“They’re long, they’re tall, they have great feet -- linebacker feet basically,” Barnum said. “They’re just dudes.”

Collectively, the 16 new Portland State “dudes” make up a class that Barnum is elated with, and he said he’s not done. He wouldn’t be surprised if five other recruits eventually join this class.

“It’s not over. It never stops,” Barnum said. “This is the end of this cycle, but I still have some guys I’m after. There will be more. Today is just the beginning of signing day.”


2016 Portland State Recruiting Class

Davis Alexander, QB, 5-11, 180, FR, Gig Harbor, WA (Gig Harbor HS)

Kenton Bartlett, LB, 6-3, 235, FR, Boise, ID (Centennial HS)

Taylor Biaggi, S/LB, 6-2, 205, JR, Windsor, CA (Windsor HS/Santa Rosa JC)

Montre Brown, CB, 6-1, 180, FR, Tacoma, WA (Wilson HS)

Anthony Del Toro, DT, 6-2, 285, FR, Grants Pass, OR (Grants Pass HS)

Daniel Giannosa, TE, 6-8, 250, FR, Modesto, CA (Big Valley Christian HS)

Dylan Hanley, LB, 6-3, 225, FR, Grants Pass, OR (Grants Pass HS)

Chris Hayes, S, 6-1, 185, JR, Los Angeles, CA (Westlake HS/Oregon State)

Steffen Jacobsen, S, 6-2, 200, FR, Portland, OR (Wilson HS)

Avery Jones, LB, 6-3, 200, FR, Sherwood, OR (Valley Catholic HS)

Tommy Laverde, OL, 6-5, 285, FR, Portland, OR (Lincoln HS)

AJ Ruffin, TE, 6-5, 250, FR, Tacoma, WA (Wilson HS)

Korbin Sorensen, OL, 6-6, 275, FR, Kennewick, WA (Kamiakin HS)

Moustapha Toure, OL, 6-6, 310, FR, Abidjan, Ivory Coast (Horizon Christian (OR) HS)

Mason Vega, LB, 6-3, 220, FR, Rancho Cucamonga, CA (Los Osos HS)

Ryan Wood, DB, 6-2, 195, JR, Peoria, AZ (Sunrise Mountain HS/Glendale CC)

(Photo, top, by Pamplin Media Group/Dan Brood: Steffen Jacobsen (19), celebrating a Wilson Trojans score in the 2015 playoffs versus Tualatin, is one of several local players to sign with Portland State football.)