Arik Armstead Has A Chance To Change Oregon Football Forever

Armstead during his public debut at Oregon's Spring Game


Haloti Ngata entered Oregon in 2002 as the most prolific defensive player in the history of the school, tasked with taking the program to the next level as the next generation of Oregon athletes following in the wake of the unprecedented success of the Joey Harrington-era.

By the time he left in 2005, following his junior year (which included a redshirt year in 2003 after a knee injury in the first game)” he was a consensus All-American, a legendary figure in Eugene, and a  first-round Draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens.  While Haloti’s career shined, the team’s success on the field did not justify all that he brought to the field.  A 30-18 record during Ngata’s tenure doesn’t exactly scream franchise changing as expected.

The results on the field mixed, it would be easy to proclaim that the signing of the #1 overall talent in the country does not automatically result in forever altering an up-and-coming program. However the after-effects have been noticeable, a consistent uptick in recruiting experienced in the time since Ngata declared himself a Duck.

On April 29, 2012, the Oregon Ducks signed Ngata version 2.0, the most physically- imposing athlete since the massive Ngata terrorized the Pac-10 and this time, the effects could be felt throughout the program. Arik Armstead, all 6-8, 280 pounds of freakish athleticism, chose the Ducks after receiving offers from almost every other program in the country.

Armstead, who will also play basketball at Oregon for coach Dana Altman, is entering Oregon while the program is at an all-time high, and his presence could be the transformation that Chip Kelly has needed to etch in stone Oregon as a national powerhouse, not just the Johnny-Come-Lately in the BCS conversation.

What has become evident to anyone watching a n Oregon game in the past decade is that while the offense has been spectacular and the defense fast and scrappy, the defensive line has been left behind, relying on make shift lineups of loveable role-players such as Devon Long, Brandon Bair and Taylor Hart.

Oregon needs a DeAnthony Thomas-type impact on the line, someone who makes Oregon the destination spot for the big-uglies, where it is often said games are won and lost, in the trenches.  When Ngata came in 2002, Oregon was fresh off the Fiesta Bowl win over Colorado, and a sparkling #2 finish in all polls, but it was still far from being thought of as a major player in College Football.

Gentle Giants

For all of the havoc that Ngata wrought on opposing offenses (and hopefully Armstead will bring), there seems to be something else that they share in common; They’re big teddy bears off the field. Ngata, who has a child with wife Christina, says having children changed his life–and the way he plays the game–forever.

He now plays for his teammates more than himself, and if he can clog the gap and allow his linebackers to get a cleaner look, then he will do it. Armstead, cut from the same mold physically, seems to share the same characteristics and mentality.  Armstead seems to have a quiet confidence about him, but it’s controlled.

Ngata was a terror for Oregon's defense during his tenure at UofO

Ngata came from a Mormon background, and he has a good head on his shoulders. He works with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) after his mother, Olga, died from Diabetic complications in 2006 while Ngata was at the UofO.  Ngata credits his cool demeanor off the field for the incredible talent and motor on it.

According to the Oregon coaching staff, Armstead only needs to be told how to do something one time, and he has it down, he took in coach’s advice, and then immediately put their lessons into action.  Does that sound familiar? It should, since it’s the same thing we heard last year about DeAnthony Thomas. He turned out to be pretty good, right? It’s similar to what has been said about Marcus Mariota.

If Armstead as a true freshman can understand his responsibilities and play with confidence, thus allowing his natural skills to take over, then Oregon will be seeing something special, another instant impact player like DeAnthony Thomas last year, and Ngata in 2002.

The downfall of being so hyped at only 18 years of age, not much is yet known in the public about Armstead the individual beyond his on-field achievements, but if he is as mentally strong and in character as he already is from a physical standpoint then Oregon will have found something special.

Oregon has the offense.  They now have the defense to go along with it, whether or not Oregon experiences an instant impact from Armstead.  If he can live up to the hype though, it could send the ducks into the next stage of college football, though following in the wake of a Rose Bowl championship and a trip to the national championship the year prior, there is not much higher that the program can possibly climb. Oregon has won 34 of its 40 games under Chip Kelly. The program, once thought of as Nike’s shiny toy, has thrust itself into the spotlight for its play on the field more than its antics off it.

Heading into the season opener against Arkansas State, expectations are as high as ever.  Arik Armstead entered spring ball as the highest-rated defensive recruit since Ngata, and did not disappoint one bit.  What Armstead does on the field will be vital, but how he carries himself off the field may be even more important for the future of the program with the expectations of being an ambassador for the future of Oregon football.

Passing the Torch

It is difficult not to draw parallels between Ngata and Armstead, the two highest rated defensive players to ever enter Oregon. Both players entered their careers at Oregon following wildly successful eras(Ngata came in after Joey Harrington, Armstead enters post LaMichael James). Ngata has come and gone, and now its Armstead’s time. It seemed fitting that Haloti Ngata was seen standing on the sideline during the spring game, being interviewed while Armstead made a spectacular play, plowing over Hamani Stevens and causing a fumble by Marcus Mariota.  Coincidence, or a sign that something big is coming?

Ngata was spectacular, his towering presence a void that has never truly been filled since his early departure. Armstead’s time is now. Offensive skill players are flocking to Eugene at a record rate, and there seems to be no sign of Oregon’s ability to recruit elite athletes slowing down. Armstead has been the lone missing piece in achieving the ultimate goal, an overpowering defensive line. A dominating career by the baby-faced defensive end could make it cool for game-changing D-line prospects to come to Oregon. Then–and only then–will Oregon be able to stand toe-to-toe with the traditional SEC powers known for great defensive lines. It remains pure speculation as to if Armstead’s presence will inevitably lead to Oregon’s first BCS national championship, however the aftershock of his decision to come to Eugene could be the final piece needed to complete the puzzle.

From all accounts, he’s a great kid with a mean streak on the field. If Armstead has a Ngata-type career on the field, Oregon will reap the benefits for years to come, because now recruits–and the rest of the country–are watching.

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Joel Gunderson

Joel Gunderson

Joel Gunderson grew up in a small town, where the only thing he did for fun was worship the Oregon Ducks. He later moved to Eugene, where he studied journalism at the U of O. After working in radio, he married the woman of his dreams and settled down. Joel now spends his days studying Journalism and the fine world of grammar, all the while worshiping the ground that Charles "Chip" Kelly walks on! Follow him on twitter @gundy85

  • worldwidewebfoot

    We saw what a top defensive lineman could do in the Auburn game in 2011.  Nick Fairley was, as everyone says now, “awesome.”  Let us hope that Arik can do as well wearing the green and yellow.

  • guest

    Good piece, Haloti is a favorite of mine. A few things: 1) Haloti was also fortunate to play with Igor Olshansky whose contribution to the line is missed. Maybe not THE game changer but was a monster 2) Haloti did not found JDRF, but I think he contributes to it. It is 40 years old!

    • Thank you for reading!
      Igor was a junior when Haloti arrived in 2002, the only year the two got to play side-by-side, and Haloti was hobbled through much of the 2002 campaign with a leg injury, starting only sporadically as a true freshman.

      2003 was going to be on paper the best D-line in Oregon history, in fact to this day it’s hard to argue otherwise. However Haloti tore his ACL in the first quarter of the first game (at Mississippi State) and was gone for the year. So in reality, Haloti Ngata only got to play alongside Igor Olshansky for a very limited amount of time in 2002.

      The 2003 defensive line was stacked with NFL-caliber talent.
      Igor Olshansky
      Haloti Ngata
      Chris Solomona
      Junior Siavii
      Quinn Dorsey
      Victor Filipe
      Robbie Valenzuela
      Devan Long
      Darius Sanders
      Matt Toeiana

      Of those, I believe only Valenzuela and Filipe didn’t get a shot at the NFL. All others at least had camp invites, or are still playing professionally be it NFL or arena league. Too bad that Ngata’s injury occurred only a couple minutes into the season, it would have been great to see what they all could have done if Haloti had been in the mix as well.

    • Strahmy30

      Joel never claims that Haloti founded the JDRF, he simply said that he works with them ever since his mother died in 2006

      • guest

        Misread that piece (I think I read the “his” on the line below in a somewhat dyslexic manner. Apologies.

  • Kyle

    Great article on Armstead.  I think that everybody needs to face reality on recruiting D-lineman though.  In the current espn 150 there are 13 kids that meet that big athletic d-line criteria.  This is 270lbs or more.  I am not talking about speed rushers but big athletic lineman.  Of the 13 only one is from the west coast, two from the North East and the rest are from the South.  That is why we will never be a dominate recruiter for defensive tackles.  I hate to say it but the SEC has a huge advantage here. 

    • Dillinger113

      We must also note that ESPN’s rankings are just like any other organization’s rankings. They rank a recruit based on how many programs and which programs are recruiting them and not really on how good they potentially may be. The PAC (most notably the california schools) has had great success in recruiting D-linemen. If they can do it then Oregon definitely can too given the recent success and momentum.  

    • J10eff

       the SEC has won all their BCS title games in the trenches. Its true. D-lines is where the championships start.

  • Mike West

    AA will have an impact.  I see him as a DT more than a DE though.   I hope Allioti moves him around in order to take advantage of his bulk and agility.   That could neutralize an opponent’s most effective Tackle or Guard.  

    For instance, last year Matt Khalil dominated our DL.   AA would have been an effective counter to taking away USC’s advantage that entire game.   I’m hoping AA will allow us to take away aspects of an Offense’s game. 

    If AA could anchor that DL, and give Allioti opportunities to apply more pressure on Offenses, we will have a monster year.   If that is the case, we might see another year of being ranked the number one team in the country.

  • phlduck

    IMO he looks like Reggie White on the field. He doesn’t look as physical as Reggie was, but he has the size and athleticism. I got to see him twice this spring in practice and he was rag dolling Euscher around easily. I mean literally throwing him into the QB, which is basically the same thing to Hamani in the spring game. There just aren’t very many guys with his combo of size and athleticism, he is undoubtedly a 6’8″ 295lb ATHLETE. Someone commented that he is more of a DT than DE. IMO, if he is more of a LT than a DE, but that’s another story. I think there will be situations where he plays DT like on 3rd and long, etc but when you have an athlete that has that kind of talent and speed you put them on the edge. It’s why DE’s are the highest paid players on the Defensive side of the ball. I just can’t stop being reminded of Reggie when I watch Arik though

  • Oregon65

    Armstead will only be great if the supporting cast is. Ngata had Olshansky to even out the double and triple teams keeping opposing Offense’s honest. Hopefully Armstead will have his wing man to succeed and avoid injury. 

    •  Ngata played with Olshansky for only a couple games his freshman year (2002). Olshansky left after 2003, and Ngata missed all but about 5 minutes of 2003 due to a knee injury.

      As fans we all WANTED to see Ngata and Olshansky line up alongside each other, but aside from a couple games in Ngata’s freshman year, we never got to see it.

    • Joel Gunderson

      Hopefully with the latest recruiting class, our D-line could be solid all the way around…someone like DeForest Buckner could be a steal and help wreak havoc opposite Armstead.

  • Douglasmai

    This will be the best Dline we have ever had at D-line with or without Armstead, and the future looks bright, Balducci is one thats not being talked about here but make sure of one thing here he will be great by the time hes done here, the kid has the it factor and his motor never stops. So along with Buckner, Armstead, Balducci, Heimuli, and Hopefully Vanderoes, this will be a line now and the future that will stand up to any SEC team with our offence were gonna see domination from the Pac 12 and I aint talken SC either.