DJ Uiagalelei scouted the Oregon State Beavers, watched video of each of their games last season, fell in love with their pro-style offense and decided that Corvallis was where he wanted to be.
So he put his name in the transfer portal, let the school know he was interested, and waited to hear back from coach Jonathan Smith and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren.
And waited. And waited. And waited.
Two long weeks went by. Multiple schools reached out to the dynamic former five-star quarterback. But he didn’t hear a peep from the Beavers.
“It didn’t really matter to me if they got back in a month,” Uiagalelei said Thursday afternoon. “I feel like it was a good place for me.”
Finally, former OSU running backs coach A.J. Steward caught wind of Uiagalelei’s interest, and dialed him up. Oregon State was knee-deep in Las Vegas Bowl prep, Steward explained, but he would put the Clemson transfer in touch with Lindgren and Smith immediately. After a few phone calls, Uiagalelei had heard enough.
Three years ago, when he was one of the best high school QB prospects in the nation, Uiagalelei soaked in the recruiting process, taking visits to Alabama, Auburn and Clemson. He relished the once-in-a-lifetime experience. This time around? Uiagalelei committed to the Beavers sight unseen.
He said he didn’t care what the campus of his future school looked like, whether it was located in a big city or small town, or even if it was close to his younger brother, Matayo Uiagalelei, at the University of Oregon. This, he said, was about football, about Xs and Os, about fit.
“For me, it was kind of like a business decision,” Uiagalelei said.
“I told all the coaches and (other) people I talked to, I said, ‘It didn’t matter if I was going to play in Alaska or if I was going to play down to Florida.’ I wanted to go somewhere that was going to put me in the best position to maximize my talents and was going to help me to (grow) as a quarterback.”
Uiagalelei spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since entering the portal, answering questions from a cluster of reporters gathered in the corner of Reser Stadium. With construction noises echoing around the stadium, the 6-foot-4, 21-year-old introduced himself and exchanged handshakes with each reporter before the interview session started, then explained his reasons for coming to Corvallis.
He was enamored with the Beavers’ pro-style offense. He loved the way Lindgren called games.
He liked the talent that was coming back from a 10-win season, including a veteran offensive line and plenty of offensive weapons at running back and wide receiver.
He felt like Oregon State would “be a good fit.”
He didn’t have connections to the school. He didn’t possess an intimate knowledge of the Beavers’ playbook. But when he thought about what was missing from his game, what went wrong at Clemson, what it would take to help him reach the NFL, he had “a feeling” Oregon State was the missing link.
“I did my homework,” he said. “And I told Coach Lindgren, I like the way he called plays, I like the different stuff they did under center. The offense they run here is kind of like San Francisco or the old L.A. Rams when they had Jared Goff. They’re kind of similar to the (Sean) McVay offense and (Kyle) Shanahan. Different stuff like that. And for me, that’s what I told him. I felt like it was a great system for me to learn from and to be able to grow my game.”
As for Clemson and what went wrong, Uiagalelei didn’t divulge details, saying only that it “was a blessing” to play three years at a nationally ranked program filled with “great teammates, great coaches, great people.”
He said it was a difficult decision to leave, not because of football, but rather the relationships and friendships he built during a formative time in his life.
“That was the hardest part,” he said. “Leaving the people you care about.”
After filling in impressively as a freshman for future No. 1 NFL draft pick Trevor Lawrence, Uiagalelei started two years at Clemson. But he struggled during his sophomore year, throwing more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine), and was temporarily replaced multiple times by freshman Cade Klubnik during his junior year. After Uiagalelei’s shaky start in the ACC championship game against North Carolina, Klubnik took over and guided the Tigers to scores on four consecutive possessions on the way to a 39-10 victory.
Afterward, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Klubnik would be his starter in the Orange Bowl, and Uiagalelei entered the transfer portal in search of a fresh start.
Three months later, on Thursday, Uiagalelei went through his fifth spring practice at Oregon State, taking reps with the first-team offense for the first time.
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