John Boyett, and the Great Duck Safeties

Josh White Men of Oregon: Players and Coaches

John Boyett

I finally went back and watched the entire Rose Bowl again. (Yes, I realize the game was over 2 weeks ago, and I know the Ducks are in the thick of basketball season with a competitive team, but I am still thinking football.) So many great plays, and so many players made an impact and contributed in that game. But a few individual performances, like that of safety John Boyett, really stood out.

It is still difficult not to smile ear to ear thinking about- or getting to write the words- “Rose Bowl Champion Oregon Ducks”.

A few of the numbers from the game have received some press, specifically: 155 yards 2 td’s on 2 carries (77.5 ypc average) for De’Anthony Thomas, LaMichael James for 159 more, 345 yards rushing as a team. Darron Thomas had another efficient game completing 17-23 passes for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns in his final outing. Regarding the latter 2 players, I will have to watch replays of the Colorado game and the 2nd half of the ASU game in the offseason to get used to what the Ducks will look like without DT or LMJ in the backfield.

Darron Thomas

**(Mandatory Darron Thomas Side bar) ** Much has already been written and will continue to be about Darron’s time and considerable accomplishments as a Duck, about his surprising decision to declare for the NFL draft, and whether or not his throwing mechanics and footwork are good enough, etc.

All that I want to do is thank him for everything he has done for the Oregon team, and wish him the very best of luck in the NFL and in life beyond the football field. Darron is a tough competitor, he is a confident leader and proven winner. I wouldn’t bet against him no matter what the future holds, and have respect for a man pursuing his dreams.

It is still difficult at this point to truly reflect on and fully realize his contributions to the program. For now, I’ll just say that from the moment he stepped on the field against Boise State until the clock hit zero in Pasadena, he pretty much kept me on the edge of my seat with each snap. The Ducks played really fast, won A LOT of games and scored A LOT of points. What an exhilarating ride it has been. **(End Mandatory DT Sidebar)**

OK, Back to the Boyett story- Some of the Rose Bowl numbers on the defensive side of the ball were equally impressive. John Boyett was all over the field and tied a Rose Bowl record with 17 tackles. He denied would-be LeGarrette Blount style hurdles, and punished floral pattern red & white clad ball carriers. He helped hold a Wisconsin receiver in a MMA style pin while Michael Clay recovered a critical Terrance Mitchell forced fumble, and somehow managed to avoid a timeout by staying on the field for the final play when it looked like he needed a standing 8 count. While watching #20 dominating in his 2nd Rose Bowl appearance- and 3rd BCS game in as many years- I could not ignore one recurring thought: As far as the safety position is concerned at Oregon, few players have had the impact of John Boyett.

Boyett forces a Chris Polk fumble

Boyett graduated from Napa high school early and redshirted in 2008. He burst on to the scene in 2009, when TJ Ward suffered an injury. He went on to be the first freshman to lead the team in tackles since records were accurately kept in 1969. In his 3 full seasons, he has averaged 92 tackles each year. He has amassed 9 interceptions, 7 tackles for loss, defended 29 passes, has blocked 2 kicks, and has only missed 1 game.

He was named to the Freshman All-American team, All-Freshman Pac-10, and 2nd team All-Pac-10 in 2009. He was a 2nd team All-American and 1st team All-Pac-10 in 2010. He was named to the 2nd team All-Pac-12 last season. Boyett has shown up for the big games- posting double-digit tackles in the ’10 Rose Bowl, ’11 BCS National Championship, and the ’12 Rose Bowl.

A senior next year, John Boyett will have a chance to add to his already impressive resume. He will be the centerpiece of the defensive backfield that will need to replace Eddie Pleasant, but has promising youngsters in Terrance Mitchell, Troy Hill, and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu returning at cornerback.

What makes him so good? Well, Boyett does a little of everything. He combines keen ball-hawking skills in pass coverage with the ability to also be the punishing enforcer over the middle, stop the run, and he can cut-tackle like a torpedo in the open field. With what he has accomplished to this point, in just about every way it can be measured, John Boyett is already among the best in Oregon history at his position. When it is all said and done, will he finish his career as THE best safety?

Boyett makes a leaping interception against UCLA

Video of some 2010 John Boyett highlights:

Through the power of the internet- and with a little help from my friends- I compiled a list of some of the great safeties in Oregon history. Enjoy!

(in reverse-chronological order)

TJ Ward- The former walk-on who played at power house De La Salle High during their historic 151 game win streak. Ward could cover ground quickly and became known for his crushing, hard hits. He was named as a 2008 Pac-10 honorable mention selection, but missed several games with injury his senior season of 2009. In 2010, he was drafted in the 2nd round, #38 overall by the Cleveland Browns.

I could literally watch this hit on a constant loop:

Patrick Chung- The Kingston, Jamaica native enrolled at Oregon in 2004 at just 16 years of age. After redshirting his first season, Chung earned a spot on the freshman All-American Team and Pac-10 honorable mention as a freshman and sophomore. He was named to the All-American and All-Pac-10 teams as a Junior and Senior seasons. Chung’s 51 career starts are an Oregon defensive record. He was 2ndround pick of the New England Patriots in 2009.

Watch Chung go all “beast mode” on the Michigan Offensive lineman:

JD Nelson- A tough, instinctive tackling machine that was a true iron man for the Ducks. The 2005 Pac-10 2ndteam All-Pac-10 selection played 90 snaps against Wazzu, and was on the field for 80+ plays in 9 of 12 games of that great season. Nelson would regularly record double digit tackles, and had an interception against Oklahoma in the Holiday Bowl.

Keith Lewis- One of the most outspoken players on this list, Lewis was also one of the great safeties to play at Oregon. The 2003 All-Pac-10 selection was a 6th round NFL draft pick in 2004 by the San Francisco 49ers.

Michael Fletcher- One of the great trash talkers of all time, the 4 year starter from Compton, California played bigger than his 5’10” 209lb would suggest. The hard hitting safety and special teams stand out recorded 6 interceptions at Oregon. During a long and productive career in the CFL, Fletcher won a Grey Cup and was named to the 2005 CFL All-Star team.

Chad Cota- The Ashland native was a key piece of the original gang-green defense, and was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the 7th round of the NFL draft. He played for 4 teams in his 8 year professional career including the Rams, Colts, Saints, and Panthers. He had a critical interception that helped seal the NFC West title and was named to the Panthers 10 year anniversary team.

Eric Castle- Born in Longview Washington, Castle grew up in Lebanon, Oregon. He was part of a gutsy group of players to lead Oregon out of a 27 year bowl game hiatus, and on to that sparkling ’89 Independance Bowl win. Since that 27-24 classic over Tulsa in 1989, the Ducks have gone to a bowl game in all but 4 seasons, including 14 of the last 15. Eric Castle was selected to the 1991 All-Pac-10 team, and drafted in the 6th round by the San Diego Chargers.

Anthony Newman- Among the highest-profile in state recruits of all time from Beaverton came to Oregon despite an offer to play major league baseball. A three year starter, Newman was selected to the 1987 All-American honorable mention and the All-Pac-10 first team. The multi-talented athlete grabbed 3 interceptions in the ’86 Civil War game. He was selected in round 2 (#35 pick overall) by the L.A. Rams and recorded 21 career interceptions during his 12 year pro career with the Rams, Saints, and Raiders. Selected to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, Newman has run a foundation offering free football camps to young player and has worked as a commentator for the Oregon Sports Network.

George Shaw- Known more for his play as a quarterback, George Shaw also excelled in the defensive backfield for the Ducks. He led the nation in 1954 with an astonishing 13 interceptions. His UO record 18 career interceptions still stands as most all time. The Portland native became the 1st overall pick in the 1955 NFL draft to the Baltimore Colts. After breaking a leg, he gave way to a rookie named Johnny Unitas. He was traded and was the starter for the Minnesota Vikings for the first half of the 1st game in franchise history, before being benched at half time for another would-be great rookie: Fran Tarkenton.

George Shaw was the #1 pick in the 1955 NFL draft

Woodley Lewis- The tight end and DB was drafted in the 8th round of the 1950 NFL draft. The Los Angeles native was selected to a pro bowl his first year, and went on to an 11 year career in the NFL with the LA Rams, Chicago Cardinals, and Dallas Cowboys.

Jake Leicht- Played halfback and DB for Oregon, and was drafted in the 10thround of the 1946 NFL draft. Leicht recorded 5 interceptions and 2 touchdowns in his 2 seasons with the Baltimore Colts. A 2 time All-Pacific coast conference selection, earned All-American honors while leading the nation with 10 interceptions in 1945.

Jake Leicht skies over his lineman to block a kick- a lost special teams technique that,well, just looks awesome. The NCAA should seriously consider bringing this back.

Charles A. “Shy” Huntington- A 3 sport athlete (Football, baseball, basketball) and former coach for all 3 sports for the Webfoots almost single-handedly won the 1917 Rose Bowl for the Ducks. Running and throwing for touchdowns as a QB, and intercepting 3 passes as a safety on defense. As a head football coach from 1918-1923, Huntington lead the team to a 1919 Pacific Coast Conference Championship, and a birth in the 1920 Rose Bowl (7-6 loss to Harvard) He had a 26-12-6 overall record.

*Honorable Mention: Jairus Byrd- True, Byrd primarily played corner for the Ducks, but his big time exploits at safety in the NFL are more than enough to earn him a spot on this small time list. The 2006 Pac-10 co-Freshman of the year started 37 games at Oregon intercepting 17 passes, and accounting for many other big plays on defense and special teams including some game changing ones as a punt returner. He was a Pac-10 honorable mention pick in ’06 and ’07 and made the 1st team in 2008. His first year in the NFL, the 42nd overall draft pick was named to the All-Rookie team, the AFC Pro Bowl team, and the All-Pro NFL team. Despite playing in only 11 games due to injury, his 9 interceptions in 2009 were 5 more than the previous NFL rookie record.

Jairus Byrd was a great cover cornerback for the Ducks

How would you “rank” these players? Did we leave someone out? Leave us a comment!

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