Bowl games can be a celebration for a successful season, as well as a going-away party.
The Oregon State football team hopes to have both when the Beavers take on Texas at the Alamo Bowl on Saturday.
Seniors Markus Wheaton and Jordan Poyer, the heart and soul of the team this year, will play their final game for the Beavers.
Poyer, a cornerback, is the most highly decorated defensive player in program history. He was named a first-team all-American by The Associated Press, Sporting News, Walter Camp Foundation and Football Coaches Association of America.
A defensive leader who guided teammates through action on the field and the weight room, Poyer also provided an emotional push when needed.
He produced on the field with seven interceptions — two shy of the single-season school record — seven breakups, a forced fumble and a sack.
“The one thing that stayed the same with Jordan is he always stayed competitive," defensive coordinator Mark Banker said. “He’s the ultimate competitor. The thing he added to himself is the experience factor, knowing how to play to his strengths. I can’t say enough about his leadership and play-making ability."
Wheaton, a receiver, holds the OSU career receptions mark with 244 and can break the single-season receptions record with four more against Texas.
Two more touchdown receptions and he takes over the OSU single-season mark in that category.
“Markus is a great example of growth," coach Mike Riley said. “He’s been talented, but because of his character he didn’t stop there with the talent. He grew as a person and embraced college. He’s done it all. I’m really proud of him and admired how he has grown."
Poyer’s story is another example of Riley finding a diamond in the rough.
A standout at Astoria High, Poyer didn’t get any major college offers because coaches had questions about his ability since he played against small-school competition.
“It’s a great story, and I don’t know if I’m surprised," Riley said. “As you watch him grow, you know he’s a good player. It’s really neat for the city of Astoria. I don’t know if they’ll have another one like him."
Poyer quickly became a factor for the Beavers as a true freshman on special teams, returning kicks and covering returns.
He moved from safety to cornerback and learned the nuances of the position to become one the most highly-rated players at his position. NFL Draft Countdown ranks him as the second-best cornerback in the April draft.
“I’ve always dreamed about playing at this level and the next level since I was young," Poyer said. “And now that the opportunity is finally here I’m motivated to keep going and working."
Wheaton came to OSU as a speedy receiver from Chandler, Ariz., but needed to figure out how to run routes and catch passes.
It was a slow, steady process as he learned behind James Rodgers.
“I felt I’ve grown so much under coach Riley, (Jay) Locey and (Brent) Brennan," Wheaton said. “I was raw when I came in. I could run a bit, but that’s all I could do when I first came in. With the help of all those guys I’ve turned into a great receiver. But I still have a lot of work to do."
Wheaton is considered the 10th-best receiver available in April by NFL Draft Countdown.
Both players have one more game together after the Alamo Bowl — the Jan. 26 Senior Bowl, the premier postseason all-star game that invites only the top draft prospects.
Right after the Alamo Bowl, they are going to special training facilities to prepare for the Senior Bowl and probable invites to the NFL Combine, where top prospects work out for NFL scouts.
“I am really looking forward to what happens after the bowl game," Wheaton said. “But we have this game first we want to win."
For now, they plan to spend the last week with the Beavers celebrating their season and careers.
“Me and him have come a long way," Poyer said. “I look up to Markus Wheaton. He’s a great guy and player. We both push each other. It’s going to be fun to see what happens after the season. Hopefully we get to play each other."