Within every football weekend coaches fight two battles. One is the opponent across the sidelines, and the other is the battle for the future.Two weeks ago the Ducks brought in a stellar group of prospects, and from that group a couple of program changers, Ellis McCarthy and Shaq Thompson, became Oregon leans, while two pillars of a sterling defense, Jeremy Castro and Texas linebacker Bryce Cottrell, gave verbal commitments on their way home. The Autzen and Eugene experience closed the deal for these two, and in the years to come, Webfoot fans will be delighted by the legends these quick, relentless athletes create, a couple of 100-tackle sack monsters who’ll elevate the play of an entire unit.
But recruiting is a relentless game for coaches too. Every week there’s a round of visits, phone calls, emails and contacts. Even quiet periods involve intense hours of evaluations, close decisions and plans. Who gets on the plane and where do they go. The national championship of five years from now is decided in the film study, text messages and Tweets of right now. Chip Kelly doesn’t Tweet, but he does everything else superbly. He and his staff have a tremendous knack for connecting with the right kids, and the uniforms, atmosphere and environment at Oregon do the rest. Tucked in the beautiful Willamette Valley a long way from the recruiting hotbeds of Southern California, Florida and Texas, the Ducks last two recruiting classes ranked ninth and tenth. That’s marvelous work.
Winning the future is uncertain and delicate. Coaches have to project 17 into 22. Is this the man-child with the right stuff, the right look in his eye, the right frame and makeup to succeed 2500 miles from home? One famous coach used to look at a kid’s shoes, looking for big feet and hands, indicators a young man would grow. Chip Kelly’s process is famously comprehensive.
Late in the week of every home contest Bob Rickert of the Oregonian’s Duck blog runs an informative list of this week’s visits. For Washington State, Oregon will bring in safety Reggie Daniels of Chandler, Arizona and cornerback Kevin Seymour, both top-flight prospects who look great in green and yellow, or anthracite and blur. Dwayne Sanford, a lithe and sought-after receiver from Ohio, 6-5 and gifted, also makes the trip. But the biggest prize may be athlete Randy Uzoma, a two-way wunderkind from Canoga Park High School in Canoga, California.
All these kids are very good, but Uzoma stands out as a Chip Kelly player: he’s fast and smart. The 6-2, 205-lb. wide receiver and safety runs a 4.47 40 and has a 3.6 grade average, the kind of dual threat combination an fast-talking, innovative coach loves. Uzoma has offers in hand from UCLA, San Diego State and Nevada, but Oregon’s the place for him. He’d thrive in the spread offense, making plays in space. At the Long Beach SPARQ camp in April he posted a rating of 130.26 in testing, which translates to fast, strong and quick; he can run, jump and shift direction like only a few athletes in the country can, able too to toss the power ball 45.5 feet. That’s explosive power and rare ability. Uzoma caught everybody’s eye.
On the field, he’s a player who makes the difficult look easy. He’s rangy and gifted, the one who immediately stands out, then winds up with the ball in the end zone. Watch in play three as he stays with a block downfield, screening off his man completely from the play, a well-rounded, play-every-down-hard approach that suggests he’ll thrive playing for Scott Frost. Uzoma ranges high for the football and reaches for it at its highest point, very agile in traffic or with a defender on his hip. He has good body control and instincts, such a gifted athlete that he runs the 100, 200, high jump and long jump in the spring. He and Oshay Dunmore will fight some famous battles in practice, each sharpening the other. Straight-line fast and still learning, Canoga Park’s daunting weapon trusts his speed, blowing by smaller and slower players with just or cut or two. He’s a gamebreaker who expects to get in the end zone, a hunger that’s infectious, perfect for a offense that scores in two minutes or less throughout the season.
In your mind’s eye you can see Uzoma lined up wide opposite Devon Blackmon, B.J. Kelley, and Tacoi Sumler with De’Anthony Thomas in the backfield, and you wonder who defenses are going to cover, frantically pointing at one guy and another three precious seconds before Bryan Bennett or Marcus Mariota pull the trigger. If Lane Kiffin wasn’t so arrogant and annoying, you’d feel sorry for him. There’s no way to game plan for this kind of excellence, especially when coached by the smartest guy at the clinic.
The only difficulty is that at UO Uzoma can’t wear number six; the Ducks already have one of those, but what partners in sublime De’Anthony Thomas and Randy Uzoma will be. It boggles the mind, the well-crafted and handpicked eliteness, fleet feet in space at all five spots, with a quarterback who can pick apart defenses running or passing. As good as they are now, the Webfoots of the future are scary, spiderwebs and gruesomely-carved gargoyles for defensive coordinators try to inch up the creaky stairs of the PAC-12 standings. Most will run back down like little girls, dropping their princess wands in the barkdust, wailing for mamas who never believed in them.