According to Oregon coach Mike Bellotti who commented on the Duck’s recruiting progress around the team’s appearance in the Seattle Bowl on December 30, Oregon is doing very well, having received more player verbal commitments by that point than in past years. Bellotti along with other university personnel are precluded under NCAA rules from publicly discussing recruiting in detail including the mention of specific players’ names until after the players have signed their Letters of Intent. That makes assessing Oregon’s recruiting efforts prior to signing day somewhat difficult. What is known is only what the recruiting services and media can ferret out as they call prospective recruits and ascertain whether the players have given verbal commitments to sign with a particular school. Even the confirmation of such commitments isn’t a sure bet as verbal commitments are non-binding and teenage kids often change their minds. For example, last year Oregon was able to get no less than four players to de-commit at the last minute from other schools and sign with the Ducks including Albert Toeaina and Chris Solomona changing their minds from Washington, Marques Binns from California and Haloti Ngata from BYU. On the flip side, the Ducks lost Chaz White to Arizona State.
Even trying to determine how many recruits Oregon will take is somewhat of a mystery as the Duck coaches are reticent to say for during this time of the year the team’s roster can be very dynamic. Under NCAA rules a Division 1 team cannot take more than 25 new scholarship players in a given year nor exceed a total of 85 total scholarships on the team. The 2002 Media Guide lists 17 departing seniors. But, that doesn’t account for players that leave or are dismissed from the team prematurely such as Willie Walden last fall or Onterrio Smith and George Wrighster, who both reportedly are leaving early for the NFL draft. To further complicate things there are those players that didn’t get in last year and who may now be eligible under what is termed a “gray shirt” and also there are those players who might take longer to clear the NCAA such as Terrance Whitehead this last fall. Finally there may be walk-on players already on the team that now deserve a scholarship that will count against the 85 scholarship player limit. As near as I can figure, given all of these circumstances and the generalities in which Bellotti has spoken in the past concerning the potential size of this class, I think the Ducks will have 21-23 scholarships to give in a recruiting class of 23-26 players including a few gray shirts as a hedge against some players not gaining NCAA academic clearance.
One thing all of the recruiting experts agree on is that the Ducks are presently in the position to have a very good recruiting class, perhaps the best ever.
“Early in the process they were in on a lot more (highly ranked) players than they have been in the past,” says Greg Biggins, a recruiting analyst for Student Sports and Pacwestfootball.com. “That helps a lot. Now it’s just a matter of closing those guys. Last year they came in second on a lot of the same type of high profile players. This year Oregon’s involved with a ton more players.”
“Yeah, I think Oregon is doing better this year,” says Allen Wallace, publisher of SuperPrep Magazine. “Oregon shows up a lot more (mentions of the school by players listed in SuperPrep Magazine.) But, the truth will be known later this month. Right now they are well positioned to have a super class but it all depends on how well they close on the ranked players and that is a big question mark right now.”
So who are those ranked players Oregon has to corral? The following represents a partial list of players who are highly ranked by the recruiting services, uncommitted and either have visited or are planning an official visit to Oregon between now and signing day.
Lance Broadus, LB, 6-2, 220, 4.5, William Taft High School, Woodland Hills, CA, Visit: 11/15/02
Rudy Burgess, WR, 175, 4.5, Desert High School, Edwards, CA, Visit: 1/10/03
Kyle Caldwell, 6-3, 265, 4.6, Saquaro High School, Scottsdale, AZ, Visit: 11/29/02
Maurice Drew, RB, 5-8, 190, 4.4, De La Salle High School, Concord, CA, Visit: 1/10/03
Chad Green, DB, 6-0, 175, 4.4, Birmingham High, Van Nuys, CA, Visit: 1/10/03
Lynell Hamilton, RB, 6-1, 193, 4.4, Edison High School, Stockton, CA, Visit: 10/18/02
Doug Langefeld, DL, 247, 4.4, Reedley Junior College, Reedley, CA, Visit: 10/19/02
Junior Lemau’u, DL, 6-3, 236, 4.8, Polytechnic, Long Beach, CA, Visit: 1/10/03
Mathew Malele, DL, 6-0, 302, 4.9, Carson High School, Carson, CA, Visit: 9/6/02
Stephone Robinson, WR, 5-10, 180, 4.4, Mullen High School, Denver, CO, Visit: 12/6/02
Devin Stearns, WR/DB, 6-2, 175, 4.4, Junipero Serra High School, Gardena, CA, Visit: 11/2/02
Josh Tauanu’u, DL, 6-2, 280, 5.0, Polytechnic, Long Beach, CA, Visit: 1/10/03
B.J. Vickers, WR, 6-3, 207, 4.5, Venice High School, Los Angeles, CA, Visit: 10/18/02
Add these players to Oregon’s current verbal commitment list of 14 players and the Ducks would undoubtedly have an outstanding 2003 recruiting class.
Getting kids to visit Oregon, its beautiful campus, spectacular facilities and safe and endearing community is perhaps the most important key to the Duck’s recruiting success. Oregon coaches have commented in the past that once they can get a player to visit the likelihood they will sign the kid increases significantly. Each year Oregon typically extends approximately 50 official visits to prospective recruits and their families.
“When kids visit Oregon there is a lot there to change their minds or solidify Oregon as their favorite,” says Biggins. “But, in the past it’s always been tough for them to get the top players to visit. They have a big selling point with the best facilities in the Pac-10 Conference. This is the first thing I hear out kids’ mouths (returning from a visit) is that the facilities are ‘unbelievable.’”
Another recruiting edge Oregon may have is the Duck coaching staff, which is known for running a clean, nurturing environment, providing high graduation rates and for successfully developing raw football talent.
“Based on the rankings of their past recruiting classes, it really is a credit to their coaching staff that they are such a great program,” says Biggins. “The coaching at Oregon is a huge part of their success.”
“Kids are reacting to Oregon’s increase in stature,” says Wallace. “That is what is allowing Oregon to go after higher profile players. Oregon is being much more aggressive in seeking out bigger fish. But part of the price of going after better prospects is that you may not land them. Oregon is going to be involved in some nail biting recruiting battles this year with other national power programs.”
One of those contests was decided against the Ducks this past week when Ryan Gilliam, a standout athlete from Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Florida gave his verbal commitment to Florida State. Oregon came in second place. Gilliam had visited Oregon December 13 and had raved about his visit, but apparently in the end that wasn’t enough for him to venture cross-country to play for the Ducks.
“Enlarging Oregon’s recruiting base nationally is a good thing,” says Biggins. “This year they’ve had guys tripping from Florida, from the Midwest. It takes more time and effort but if you get just one guy it’s worth it.”
One question I have is whether the way Oregon finished their season, losing six out of their last seven games including the Seattle Bowl, has had any negative effect upon their recruiting efforts.
“No, I really don’t think the recruits react nearly as dramatically to wins and losses as the fans do,” says Wallace. “They are much more focused on themselves particularly once a program has achieved a certain status as a power program which Oregon has.”
Biggins isn’t quite as sure as Wallace. “I think they’ve lost a little bit of momentum because of it,” says Biggins. “I haven’t heard the same kind of buzz about them as I did going into the year.”
Some people have speculated that because the Ducks struggled this year and because they are such a young team with many holes to fill that recruits should be interested in choosing the Ducks as they may more easily find early playing time.
“The flip side of that coin is that the program is dealing from a position of weakness,” says Wallace. “I don’t believe that is the best argument for selling your program particularly for a top program.”
“Oregon has a great program because they have been good over the long haul,” says Biggins. “I don’t think this past year exposes flaws that have finally caught up to them. If something were going to catch up to them it would have happened long before now. Oregon simply has a young team and for the first time in a long while they didn’t get the production out of their quarterback that they are used to.”
In past years Oregon has come into the last month of recruiting with fewer player commitments than other Pac-10 schools and therefore has had to close in a rush. If Oregon can continue to close strong this year and build upon the standout players they already have committed, they could garner a nationally ranked Top-25 class according to the recruiting services.
“Two to three or four guys can make a massive difference to your team,” says Wallace.
Players who have reportedly already given Oregon verbal commitments to attend the school:
Jordan Carey, Ath, 6-0, 198, 4.4, Capital High School, Tacoma, WA
Johnny DuRocher, QB, 6-4, 205, 4.8, Bethel High School, Spanaway, WA
Victor Filipe, DL, 6-5, 290, 5.0, Highland High School, Salt Lake City, UT
Milvon James, RB/DB, 5-11, 180, 4.4, Fremont High School, Los Angeles, CA
Jerome Johnson, LB, 6-1, 246 Dorsey High School, Los Angeles, CA
Dan Kause, TE, 6-3, 245, Servite High School, Anaheim, CA
Brady Leaf, QB, 6-5, 215, 4.7, CM Russell High School, Great Falls, MT
Paul Martinez, K/P, 6-2, 195, San Ramon Valley High School, Danville, CA
Dante Rosario, LB, 6-3, 190, 4.6, Dayton High School, Dayton, OR
Garren Strong, WR/DB, 6-3, 190, 4.5, Homestead High School, Cupertino, CA
Ray Tago, DL, 6-3, 275, 4.8, Long Beach CC, Long Beach, CA
Josh Tschirgi, OL, 6-4, 275, 5.1, Skyview High School, Vancouver, WA
A.J. Tuitele, DB, 6-0, 190, 4.5, Banning High School, Wilmington, CA
Marc Walker, CB, 6-0, 18-0, 4.5, San Francisco CC, San Francisco, CA