CORVALLIS, Ore. — Michael Doctor has been playing football at Oregon State for so long, teammates often call him "Grandpa."
Actually, Doctor is hardly a senior citizen at the age of 23. The fifth-year senior outside linebacker considers the nickname a compliment.
"I am one of the oldest guys on the team," Doctor said with a laugh after Tuesday's practice. "I do get that here and there. I take that as guys horsing around, a sign of respect."
Doctor sustained a season-ending ankle injury in the second game of the 2013 season against Hawaii, and was granted a fifth-year of eligibility by the NCAA primarily because he had not utilized a redshirt year.
There is much to like about his game. A 6-foot, 233 pounder from Tulsa, Doctor has excellent sideline-to-sideline speed, and the ability to be at the right place at the right time.
"He knows the defense like the back of his hand," sophomore offensive lineman Sean Harlow said. "He's super physical. He's a super smart player. I know he's about to go off this year."
In 2012 Doctor led the Beavers in tackles, and his 185 career stops is most among current OSU players.
"That leadership out there is key for the defense," said senior outside linebacker D.J. Alexander. "Somebody that has been here for so long as Doc, we joke with him all the time and (call) him 'Grandpa.' But I love it. He talks stuff to us and it helps us out."
At the suggestion of senior middle linebacker Jabral Johnson, the entire starting linebacker corps shaved their heads before fall camp.
The chrome dome look received a thumbs up from OSU coach Mike Riley, who acquired his baldness naturally.
"They all look good in it think," Riley said. "I guess they're trying to copy me."
As for having Doctor healthy and back in the lineup as a co-captain for the second year in a row?
"Michael is a great story, great player in this program, great person in the program," Riley said. "He's progressed tremendously. He's already graduated, so he's just in great shape. Really proud of him."
Doctor graduated spring quarter with a degree in human development and family sciences. He'll be taking two classes fall quarter – yoga and Pilates – which gives him more time to focus on football.
While it was difficult to miss most of the 2013 campaign, Doctor's absence pushed Johnson into the starting lineup, giving the Beavers three returning starters at linebacker.
"It humbled me last year," Doctor said. "I took the game from a whole different perspective last year and it helped me out as a player. Right now I feel really good and just ready to get going."
OSU has much depth at linebacker, but the unit took a hit Tuesday with Riley's announcement that sophomore outside linebacker Darrell Songy had been suspended for the year "for violating athletic department rules."
Songy could use 2014 as a redshirt year, and return next season "if he stays on track."
"If we can do this right there's a little bit of silver lining to this down the road," Riley said, adding "life is all about choices and how they can change your life in the blink of an eye. That's what happened here."
Sophomore middle linebacker Rommel Mageo (seven starts) and sophomore outside linebacker Caleb Saulo (two starts) received considerable playing time last season, and the addition of sophomore linebacker Kyle Haley, a transfer from Golden West Community College in Huntington Beach, Calif., adds depth.
Alexander also dealt with injuries last season, missing the first two games with a knee injury, and the USC and Boise State game (Hawaii Bowl) due to a neck injury. Alexander still had a career-high 63 tackles and two sacks.
Johnson played in every game last season and was second on the team in tackles behind strong safety Tyreque Zimmerman with 94.
Doctor, Alexander, and Johnson could mark the return of "Linebacker U" at OSU.
"We've got chemistry and experience out there now," Doctor said. "We want to bring that Linebacker U. We've got (linebackers) coach (Trent) Bray, a great coach to lead the way."
Gary Horowitz writes for The Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore.
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