Discover more from Bald Faced Truth by John Canzano
Canzano: Waiting on the future amid college football's uncertainty
A deep dive on Oregon State QB Aidan Chiles.
Aidan Chiles was in third grade when he was assigned a research project. He came home and immersed himself in learning everything he possibly could about bighorn sheep.
Their natural predators.
“That kid fell in love with animals during that project,” his mother, Nikki, told me.
At age two, the same kid could throw a spiral with a Nerf football. And when he jumped off a play structure at the neighborhood park Nikki’s friends saw the way her son landed and told her: “That boy of yours is going to be an athlete.”
Chiles, 17, is now a freshman quarterback at Oregon State. I sat down with his parents, Nikki and Adrian, early last week for a conversation about their son’s talent, his timeline, and how much patience they’ll have with the process.
That was all before the Pac-12 Conference splintered into oblivion on Friday. And so what we have now is a more complicated story involving a talented player and a college football landscape that just got dumped on its head.
“I feel like what the Beavs are going through right now, my son has been through individually,” Nikki said in a follow-up on Tuesday. “He’s had doubters, he’s had people colluding against him because of all the politics in high school sports yet he was patient, he worked on his craft, and he came out on top.
“I see the exact same situation here.”
Rival Oregon and Washington announced they’re headed to the Big Ten in 2024. The move triggered a conference-wide domino-effect that sent the Arizona schools running into the Big 12’s arms along with Utah. On Tuesday, Cal and Stanford entered into exploratory talks with the ACC.
The Beavers — along with Washington State — are trying to figure out where they’ll play after this season. Rebuild the Pac-4 together? Join the Mountain West Conference? Can those two schools hold on and find better footing in the next round of realignment?
OSU faces these questions while coming off a 10-win season and a $162 million stadium renovation. It has a pile of talented players. But how uncertain does that all feel for the family of a young player?
“My son is locked in and looking forward to this season and looking at what’s in front of him and as long as he’s good and keeping focused we are too,” said Nikki.
Aidan Chiles is 6-foot-3. He left OSU’s spring game billed as the future of the football program. Jaydon Grant, a former Beavers defensive back and team captain, stood beside me on the sideline late in that scrimmage, observing his old team. Grant, an all-conference defensive back, watched Chiles slice up the defense and called him “special” at the end.
“You see what I see?” Grant asked me. “Look at the way the ball comes out of that kid’s hand.”
Chiles has been through some adversity as a player. His struggle to be seen and stay healthy in high school is well documented. His junior year, Chiles struggled to get snaps at Los Alamitos High School where his prep coaches were drooling over Malachi Nelson, a five-star USC commit.
Chiles eventually transferred 20 minutes away to Downey High where he immediately emerged as a gifted prospect. He beat out a returning senior, only to see the season end due to a fractured wrist. While healing, Chiles battled depression. But a year later, he roared back with a senior season that included 3,350 yards and 38 touchdown passes.
As Beavers’ coach Jonathan Smith likes to tweet: “Dam right.”
Funny how things work out, isn’t it? Smith appears to collect three-star and four-star players who have battled adversity. Maybe those recruits find him. Maybe he looks for them. But as you survey Oregon State’s roster, you’ll observe a quarterback room that includes Chiles alongside returner Ben Gulbranson and transfer DJ Uiagalelei.
Gulbranson was a three-star recruit out of high school. He overcame a shoulder surgery his freshman season and went 7-1 as a starter last season. Uiagalelei was the No. 1-ranked pro-style passer in his recruiting class, ahead of C.J. Stroud. Ohio State’s Stroud had a great season and became the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft. Meanwhile, Uiagalelei got benched at Clemson, lost confidence, and is now trying to make a comeback in Corvallis.
There’s some good moxie in that QB room, isn’t there?
I’ve wondered for a while how Smith will navigate the upcoming season. Redshirt Chiles? Probably. Likely. But as Grant said to me on the sideline during the spring game: “If Chiles is ready and is the best player, how do you not play him?”
That question will be settled in the coming weeks. Uiagalelei appears to be the most experienced option. Maybe he’s the Week 1 starter at San Jose State. Or maybe it will be Gulbranson, the proven commodity. But Chiles has the most upside in the bunch. Can you keep him happy? While on the sideline? Particularly in a world that includes the transfer portal and NIL?
I asked his parents.
“Oregon state is our squad,” his mother told me, “if our son is playing — or not.”
Nikki Chiles, Aidan’s mother, is an administrator who works in education. She has a rich history in the classroom as a teacher. His father, Adrian, is a physical education teacher at a middle school in Southern California.
“We’ll be at every single game this season,” his mother said.
When Aidan was 11, he got to attend an NFL Honors event. He and his younger brother, Aaron, bumped into New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and struck up a mini-friendship. Brees went out of his way to give the young quarterback some advice and posed for a photograph.
“He loves Drew Brees,” Adrian Chiles said. “The Saints became his team because of that.”
His mother reminded me on Tuesday that her son doesn’t turn 18 until Sept. 12. He’s still young. His time will come. All that. Aidan Chiles has overcome some struggles, been injured, suffered setbacks, battled obstacles, and his parents have watched it all.
Said Adrian: “We tell the kids that you take it one day at a time. You do what you love, you learn. When your time comes — it comes. You can’t run to it, you gotta let it come to you.”
Said Nikki: “My son has had to learn that it’s so much sweeter when it’s your time instead of rushing it.”
Oregon State reached out to the Big 12, but had only light conversations, per a source. It spoke with the ACC, but those talks never got serious. The Big Ten doesn’t seem interested in the Beavers. So it feels like OSU’s most likely options currently are joining the Mountain West Conference or rebuilding the Pac-4.
We’ll learn more about what’s going to happen with Oregon State in the coming days. The Beavers are facing an uncertain future while preparing for a promising football season. But I keep thinking about that little kid who did the school report on bighorn sheep.
More than 750,000 years ago the species crossed the Bering land bridge from Siberia into Alaska. Those bighorn sheep migrated thousands of miles on hoof, overcame disease, survived over-hunting, flirted with extinction, but found a way.
Aidan Chiles could probably tell you all about it.
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