Comparing Duck Legends Past and Present: Who Can Shake Up the Record Books?
The University of Oregon has played host to some truly great football players throughout its history. During the last century of Oregon football, from the time of Shy Huntington’s East-West Tournament teams (the precursor to the Rose Bowl) all the way through the reign of Mike Bellotti, each era of the program has seen numerous players climb their way up the school record books.
While many legendary Ducks did great things during their time in Eugene, the Oregon football program’s success has exploded over the last few years to levels never previously imagined possible, among the top programs in the nation. Under Head Coach Chip Kelly, the Ducks have reached three consecutive BCS bowls, the only team in the entire country to accomplish this feat.
Statistical phenoms such as LaMichael James, DeAnthony Thomas, and John Boyett have rapidly vaulted up the school record books during the program’s recent ascension to the college football elite. With this recent pattern of success that the Ducks look to continue for some time, Oregon football’s record books should be seeing many fresh faces with each new cycle of athletes coming to Eugene to compete alongside the nation’s best.
Here are some of the top marks in the Oregon football record books; some long-standing, some recently re-written, and some under threat of being overrun by the next generation of Ducks.
All-Purpose Yards (Career) – Current Leader: LaMichael James, 5,869 (2009-2011)
LaMichael James may have only just recently left the University of Oregon, but he will remain one of the greatest players to ever put on a Ducks uniform for years to come.
James was one of the most exciting and explosive players in the history of college football, tallying a record 34 runs of at least 30 yards. He surpassed 200 all-purpose yards in nine different games throughout his career, and reached at least 150 total yards in 19 different games. After watching him play at such a high level for the last three years, it seems impossible that anyone could ever surpass his all-purpose yardage total of 5,869.
Enter DeAnthony Thomas, a.k.a. the Black Mamba. The 5’9″ 173-pound speedster tallied a jaw-dropping total of 2,235 all-purpose yards as a true freshman in 2011. He was the only player in the country to record more than 400 yards in rushing, receiving, and kick returns. Projecting his future production based on his first season, Thomas is on pace for 8,940 career all-purpose yards.
Even if Thomas ends up deciding to take his talents to the NFL a year early, he is still on pace to crush the career record established by his predecessor with 6,705 yards. The scary thing is that Thomas’ touches should only increase in 2012, meaning expectations are that he can improve on his freshman campaign, a tall order for any player in the country let alone a 2nd year sophomore.
With the departure of James, Thomas is expected to spend more time in the backfield in 2012, sharing carries with senior Kenjon Barner. He should still be valuable, however, catching passes out of the slot and in the return game as well.
Receiving Yards (Career) – Current Leader: Samie Parker, 2,761 (2000-2003)
Samie Parker was, at least statistically, one of the greatest receivers Oregon has ever seen. Not only are his career stats impressive, so too were his raw intangibles – he was one of the fastest athletes in Pac-10/12 history. Parker is the school’s current all-time leader in receiving yards and receptions, and his 16 catches against Minnesota in his final game at Oregon in 2003 remains the single-game record at the U of O.
Until 2010, Parker alone held the school record for single-season receptions at 77, but now that mark is shared with Jeff Maehl. Blessed with top-notch speed, he was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2004, playing for five different NFL teams, followed by stints in the CFL, AFL, and UFL.
Looking at Parker’s 2,761-yard career total, it is hard to imagine any current Duck ultimately breaking that record any time soon, particularly under Chip Kelly’s high-octane run-first spread offense with so much focus on the running backs. Junior Josh Huff currently has the best chance to match Parker, but following a disappointing sophomore year he will need two stellar campaigns to approach Parker’s notch in the record books.
Huff disappointed in 2011 with only 31 catches for 430 yards, and his career 733 yards requires two 1,000-yard seasons to threaten the record, a total he has not come close to yet. Huff may also be held back some as a result of his own actions, possibly facing disciplinary repercussions for his off-season DUI charge.
Even so, Huff has shown flashes of excellence in his first two years in Eugene, and it’s not ridiculous to think of him potentially eclipsing 1,000 yards receiving during each of the next two seasons should he remain healthy, able to focus on football, and if the coaches call his number often.
There is only one ball to go around so competition remains fierce for who gets the opportunities to make a play, and the Ducks have a big group of young, but unproven talent. Redshirt freshmen Devon Blackmon, B.J. Kelley, and Tacoi Sumler will likely see a good amount of playing time in 2012, yet with no in-game experience it is difficult to gauge how much that potential can turn into production.
Even so, while at first glance Parker’s numbers seem daunting, in reality an incoming freshman need only average 690.5 yards per season over a four-year career in order to become Oregon’s new all-time leader in receiving yards. While that kind of consistency over a four-year career is rare, it is not beyond reason to think that one of these young studs could achieve this.
Passing Yards (Career) – Current Leader: Bill Musgrave, 8,343 Yards (1986-1990)
Bill Musgrave was one of the best quarterbacks ever to play at Oregon, and his achievements go well beyond the numbers, as his impact on the program’s changing culture is immeasurable. His abilities didn’t have the wow factor of an Akili Smith or Joey Harrington, but he knew how to lead a team to victory.
In Musgrave’s four-year career as Oregon’s starting quarterback, the Ducks didn’t record a single losing season. Musgrave’s biggest feat, however, may have been leading the 1990 Ducks to a 32-16 victory over eventual Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer and #4 ranked BYU.
On the current roster, sophomore quarterback Bryan Bennett showed what he is capable of while Darron Thomas was injured in 2011, throwing for six touchdowns, 369 yards, and no interceptions. If Bennett were to win the starting job in 2012, he would still have three years of eligibility to attempt to surpass 8,343 career yards, meaning he would need to average 2,658 yards over those three seasons.
To put this in perspective, Darron Thomas surpassed that total in both 2010 and 2011. In Bennett’s limited play he has shown glimpses of being a potentially more accurate passer than Thomas, as has freshman wunderkind Marcus Mariota in his extremely limited play, throwing for 202 yards in the 2012 spring game.
With little tangible evidence of their full abilities, it is difficult to estimate that either Bennett or Mariota could possibly threaten a 4-year starting passing legend like Musgrave. Still, Bennett would have three years as a starter to match the record, and Mariota would have four, requiring an average of only 2,086 yards through the air per year over those four seasons. Far more likely, the two talented quarterbacks may cancel each other out, splitting time on the field.
Career Rushing Yards – Current Leader: LaMichael James, 5,082 (2009-2011)
Rushing yards (Single-Season) – Current Leader: LaMichael James, 1,805 (2011)
LaMichael James was by far Oregon’s best statistical running back ever. In only three years, he demolished Derek Loville’s career record of 3,296 yards, a record Loville set despite splitting carries with multi-talented fullback Latin Berry. It appeared as though Loville, who played from 1986-1989, could be challenged by some of the successful four-year players that followed such as Sean Burwell, Jeremiah Johnson, or Terrence Whitehead, but injuries or splitting carries left all short of Loville’s record until LaMichael James came along.
In his first year in 2009, James racked up 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns on his way to making the Freshman All-American team. In 2010, James was a Heisman Trophy finalist and Oregon’s first Doak Walker Award winner, accumulating an astounding 1,731 yards and 24 total touchdowns. Slowed somewhat in 2011 by injury, he still recorded a ridiculous school record of 1,805 yards on the ground, amassing a career total of 5,082 rushing yards in three years, nearly 2,000 more yards than Derek Loville’s previous record.
Had James decided to return for his senior year he would have almost certainly surpassed Charles White’s 6,245 yards to become the Pac-12’s all-time leading rusher. James was a special talent, and his record seems pretty safe…for the time being.
Kenjon Barner is a rare find and a perfect fit for Oregon’s system as well, but the time spent backing up James leaves him with only one year as the primary starter. Barner has totaled 1,856 yards on the ground and 20 rushing touchdowns, leaving him far behind James on the all-time lists, but within reach of Loville’s record for #2. Barner would need to achieve an unprecedented total of 3,227 yards in 2012 to eclipse James’ career total, averaging roughly 230 yards per game.
He would only need 1,440 yards on the ground to match Loville’s total, however, a number easily achieved by James in each of the last three seasons, putting the two teammates squarely at the top of the list.
Barner could also challenge James’ single season record of 1,805 yards. He gained 939 rushing yards in 2011, about half of James’ record, on only 152 attempts in a backup role. With expectations for his workload to increase significantly, that record could be under threat as long as Barner remains healthy.
Scoring (Career) – Current Leader: LaMichael James, 348 (58 Touchdowns)
Scoring (Season) – Current Leader: LaMichael James, 144 (24 Touchdowns-2010)
On top of his unbelievably high all-purpose and rushing yard totals, James scored more points for the Ducks than any player in school history, flying past the previous career scoring leader, Oregon kicker Jared Siegel (2001-2004). James also obliterated the previous single-season school record for points scored, set by kicker Nathan Villegas in 1998 (117).
James ranks tenth all-time in conference history with 348 career points, and second all-time in the Pac-12 with 53 rushing touchdowns. He scored multiple touchdowns in 17 different games, and scored three touchdowns in nine different games.
However, James’ seemingly insurmountable records may not be as untouchable as they appear. DeAnthony Thomas is coming off of a truly amazing freshman season, and if he can remain healthy and consistent, he should be able to surpass James’ scoring marks. In 2011, the Black Mamba racked up seven touchdowns on the ground, nine through the air, and two more on kickoff returns, totaling 18 scores (110 points).
If DAT continues at this torrid pace, his projected career scoring totals over a healthy four-year career will be 72 touchdowns (432 points), destroying James’ career mark. If he improves on his 2011 season at all, not only could he break James’ single-season total as well, but he may end up totaling scoring numbers that may never be rivaled. With steady improvement, he may even threaten the NCAA record of 468 career points, set by Travis Prentice, Miami of Ohio’s running back from the late 1990s.
Thomas isn’t the only one theoretically within reach on the current roster, as Kenjon Barner has a shot as well. To tie James’ total, the senior would need to tally 31 total touchdowns (186 points), in 2012. That, of course, would be a monster year for any player, but it is not unheard of, as last year Wisconsin’s Montee Ball racked up 39 touchdowns. It would be a monumental task and unlikely with Thomas sure to get the ball more often as well, but the potential is there to exceed his predecessor’s tally.
Tackles (Career) – Current Leader: Tom Graham, 433 (1969-1971)
Tackles (Season) – Current Leader: Tom Graham, 206 (1969)
Tom Graham was a defensive standout on teams best remembered today for the combination of Dan Fouts and Ahmad Rashad in the offensive backfield. His 433 tackles in three seasons is not only a school record, but it is a total that looks to be nearly unbreakable by any current Oregon player.
To put it in perspective, Graham averaged 144 tackles per season over his three-year career (this was in the era when freshmen were not permitted to play varsity football). In 1969 alone, he tallied a school record 206 tackles, including five games where he made at least 20, his highest single-game total a ridiculous 41 stops. He was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 1972 NFL Draft, and played for four different teams over a 10-year career.
While the 2012 Ducks have several excellent ball-hawking defenders, it will be nearly impossible for any of them to break Graham’s tackle records. Senior safety John Boyett, who has started since he was a freshman, is the only player who really even comes close, with 276 total tackles to his credit. Boyett has never exceeded 17 tackles in a game, and would require 158 stops this year to surpass Graham’s record.
While Graham’s astounding 433 tackles record may never be caught, for non-linebackers at Oregon Patrick Chung is the all-time leader at 384, a record that is still very much within reach for Boyett, needing 92 stops to assume the lead.
Clearly, Graham is on a pedestal all by himself, having set a record that will probably never be reached again with the amount of players that are rotated in on defense today, even by a four-year starter.
Interceptions (Career) – Current Leader: George Shaw, 18 (1951-1954)
George Shaw was one of the greatest multi-talented athletes Oregon has ever seen. He played football and baseball for the Ducks from 1951-1954, an All-American in both sports. In an era when athletes played on both sides of the ball, Shaw starred on both offense and defense as the starting quarterback and defensive back.
As a quarterback, he broke Norm Van Brocklin’s record for single-season passing yards. On the defensive side, not only does he hold the career interception mark at 18, but did so largely thanks to a remarkable single-season tally of 13 interceptions, also a school record. Shaw became the first overall selection in the 1955 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts, and was the starting quarterback for the franchise until an injury led to his backup, Johnny Unitas, assuming his starting role.
While impressive, Shaw’s interception record is theoretically in reach, and likely would have been surpassed by Jairus Byrd had he chosen to stay for his senior year. Currently the closest player is John Boyett at nine career interceptions, needing 10 more in 2012 to beat Shaw. That would be a very tall order, but last year NC State cornerback David Amerson totaled 13 interceptions, and UCLA’s Rahim Moore had 10 back in 2009, so it is not beyond reason for Boyett to have a shot.
Terrence Mitchell, a sophomore cornerback, is another player who looks to have a bright career ahead of him. Mitchell picked off only two passes as a redshirt freshman last season, but showed flashes of brilliance. He stepped up when the Ducks needed him in the absence of All-American cornerback Cliff Harris, as he was assigned the difficult task of covering LSU’s excellent wide receiver Rueben Randle in his first career game.
Mitchell should continue to cover opposing teams’ top wide receiver, so quarterbacks should challenge him regularly. That means he will get plenty of balls thrown his way, or in other words, plenty of opportunities for interceptions. Because Mitchell has three years as Oregon’s number one cornerback ahead of him, there is no reason to doubt that, barring injury and with steady improvement, he could possibly break Shaw’s interception record.
Sacks (Season) – Current Leaders: Nick Reed (2008) and Ernest Jones (1993), 13
Sacks (Career) – Current Leader: Nick Reed, 29.5 (2005-2008)
Getting to the quarterback takes finesse and skill, but more than anything it requires endless tenacity. For the Ducks, no two players have shown the necessary grit to get to the quarterback more than Nick Reed and Ernest Jones.
Nick Reed was an absolutely relentless pass-rusher who earned All-American honors as a senior in 2008 when he tallied 13 sacks, never giving up on a play regardless of being undersized for the position. A current member of the Minnesota Vikings, after previous years with the Seattle Seahawks, he is Oregon’s all-time sack leader with 29.5.
Ernest Jones was an unstoppable force every time he blitzed from his outside linebacker position in Oregon’s 3-4 defensive scheme. He reached 13 sacks in 1993, an otherwise disappointing year for an Oregon Ducks team that finished 5-6. A beloved player for his ability to always disrupt the backfield, Jones spent six years in the NFL on four different teams, including playing for his former Oregon coach Rich Brooks with the Rams.
Reed and Jones may be at the top for now, but likely not for long with Dion Jordan set to dominate in his senior year. Jordan is freakishly athletic, standing in at 6’7″ and 245 pounds with terrifying 4.4 speed, earning him comparisons to Baltimore Ravens all-pro and former Arizona State standout Terrell Suggs. The so-called Preying Mantis tallied 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss last season as a junior, garnering all-Pac-12 honors.
Although defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti likes to regularly rotate fresh legs into his front seven, Jordan definitely has the ability to top 13 sacks in 2012, both due to his talents and the likelihood that he will get plenty of opportunities to attack with teams having to keep pace with Oregon’s offense being forced to throw more often.
Even if he does not reach Reed’s total of 29.5 sacks, the Preying Mantis should find himself near the top of the all-time list by the end of the year, considered one of the top defensive linemen in the country.
While the Oregon football program has a long and rich history of standout players, the school record books will likely have to be rewritten after some of these current Ducks are done in Eugene. Offensive and defensive stars such as Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas, Dion Jordan, and John Boyett all have the potential to top the individual accomplishments of former players, becoming school legends in their own right.
There is no reason to expect any drop off in performance from Oregon in the coming years. Whenever a school claws their way up the national polls and competes for a national championship, inevitably new statistical stars and school legends are born. With Oregon expected to compete for a shot at a national championship in 2012, look for these current Oregon standouts to continue to produce at a nationally elite level, pursuing not only team goals but etching their names in the record books alongside the greats before them who paved the way.