Tales from Akili Smith Era: Best Kept Secret & Biggest Key to Smith’s Success

The Akili Smith Era was a special time at Oregon.  Many fans remember Smith for his arm as well as amazing ability to scramble.  Aside from Smith were also great rushers such as Reuben Droughns, Saladin McCullough who rumbled past opponents.  However, such success never could have been achieved without one of the most under rated offensive line units in Oregon history.   Upon Smith’s arrival, the 1997 offensive line had to replace all five 1996 starters, but met the challenge as they progressed to greatness with the rise of Smith to pave his way to stardom. The 1997-1998 O-Line was by far overlooked and overshadowed by more known stars of the late 90’s.  Therefore, FishDuck would like to honor a true unsung hero/anchor of that line who remains very active in the Eugene community to this day, serving the Eugene Police Department.  Fishduck is proud to welcome 1997-1998 starting tackle Michael Klews.

 

1994 CINDERELLA SEASON: TRUE FRESHMAN KLEWS:

Klews saw playing time very early on in his career.  In fact, he started as a true freshman the 1994 Rose Bowl season.  Due to upperclassmen injuries, Klews would start the fourth game against Iowa when Oregon put a stop to a 1-2 start and began its run for the roses.

“The Iowa game was important to me for many reasons; much because my mother came up.  I didn’t tell her (or anybody) I was starting, and she had no idea until suddenly she heard my name announced over the PA as the left tackle.  It was so nerve-wracking. I had a horrible game–but I played and got better from there.  For the rest of the year I didn’t start, but I got time here and there to improve.”

Klews would go on to see playing time as a reserve and special-teams lineman.  In 1995 when Oregon had great upperclassmen depth at the line, he would take advantage of his redshirt year while undergoing knee surgery and training to improve his game.  He returned to see periodic playing time as a redshirt sophomore in 1996, and then in 1997 would make a big difference as a junior.

BECOMING A STARTER/ANCHOR OF LINE

In 1997, there were lots of gaps and voids that Oregon fans worried might effect their season. Oregon’s five senior veteran line unit of over three years all graduated.  Along the offensive line, gone were five stalwarts: four-year starting center Mark Gregg, NFL-bound left tackle Paul Wiggins, left guard Bob Baldwin, legendary right guard Tasi Malepeai, and reserve tackle Willy Rife.  Lone veteran returnee David Weber’s career was cut short due to injury, meaning each lineman had huge voids to fill.  Klews was well up to the challenge, and his leadership showed.  Essentially starting right tackle, he rotated all positions of the line aside from center throughout the year to pave way for the success of Saladin McCullough and Akili Smith’s success.

“There’s nothing like starting!  I had a unique role; in that I never actually had one particular set specific starting spot (such as always being Right Guard, Tackle, etc) rather was a starter that was moved around.  I was more of the ‘starting utilitarian lineman.’  Wherever there was a hole, they put me into it.  During practice, I actually had to write ‘odd/even’ on my shoes (wrote on athletic tape on shoes) just so I could remember if I had to pull on one play or not!  (Not to pat myself on the back, but…) I think it does take a special person to do that and transition so quickly.  I enjoyed the variety; knowing I wasn’t going to move onto the next level, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy what you have.

That was one of the reasons I loved the Nevada game of that year (the second game of 1997.)  I played all four positions (minus center) in that game successfully.  That earned me captain spot for the next game and honorable mention for gameball.  The Nevada game was a real turning point of that year.  It was really close and was a pretty tough game.  On one drive, we started out at the one yard-line, and had a 99 yard drive.  It was pretty tough, but I think that game helped us out and started the ‘come-together process.’

Klews was a starter for the remainder of his career.  In 1997, Oregon went 7-5 and went on to beat Air Force in the Las Vegas Bowl.  In 1998, Senior Klews and the O-Line paved way for Akili Smith’s 32 touchdown passes and Reuben Droughns’ great success as a newcomer.  After a 5-0 start, only injuries to the key backs prevented Oregon from doing better than the berth in the Aloha Bowl, but memories remain to this day of the great Akili Smith/Reuben Droughns era, which never could have been accomplished without the great leaders like Klews along the line.

My final game in the Aloha Bowl.  When I finished that game, I literally took my cleats and hung them up.  I never regretted one moment of not continuing to play.  I had one offer from NFL Europe; but I was done and wanted to go to something else.  I watched so many previous guys struggle to continue; I didn’t want to be in that same position and wanted to quit on my terms.

GETTING TO KNOW KLEWS, OREGON CAREER AND BEYOND.  QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH MICHAEL KLEWS:

Q.  What coach were you the closest with?

Neal Zoumbukos

A.   Neal Zoumbukos (then-Offensive Line Coach.)  He was probably THEE most inspirational person here.  Some of the things he taught all of us are SO applicable in the real world.

 Q.  What did your position coach teach you that sticks out the most?  

A.    Essentially, if you dwell on what happened before–you’re going to screw up the next play and then the plays to come down the road.  That’s obviously geared towards football, but it becomes so true in life… if you on the past, you are screwing up your present and potentially your future as well.  I’m now what’s called an FTOS (Field Training Officer Specialist, teaching new cops.)  One thing that I teach my recruits is the concept of ‘next play.’  Where as, if you realize you screwed up and say ‘okay, next play, move on…’ you have the opportunity to have good things happen.  If you put 100% into it, (even if it’s wrong) good things will happen.   That’s what ‘Coach Zoomer’ taught me.  [For example, football, if us linemen missed the block on the linebacker, go for the block on the safety.]

Q.  Could you talk about your head coach and the type of relationship you had with him?

A.  Bellotti was also my recruiting coach; he’s the one who actually came to my house and recruited me to come to Oregon (while still offensive coordinator.)  He’s the one who showed me what Oregon had to offer.  For the most part, he and I always got along on a personal level.  I remember my freshman year, having all of his kids at practice.  After practice was over, I’d play along with Luke and Sean in the grass and have a good time.  I really enjoyed that.  Years later (2008) when I went through surgery, he actually called my hospital room out of nowhere just to check up on me (I didn’t know he even knew!)  I didn’t always agree with what he did as a coach (but didn’t understand at the time why decisions were made) but I was a player.  You think you’re more important that you really are; but looking back, I respect and appreciate him for the man he is and coach he was.

Q.  What did you do after you graduated from Oregon?

A.  Graduated in 1999.  I then went and worked for Jerry’s for a while, as a door and window stocker.  (I’d hang from the door being such a big guy, to prove its durability!)  I then worked for a security company to supervise several sites, followed by the hire with EPD.  

Q.  What was it like to leave the team and make a life beyond playing for the Ducks?

A.  It is so different not being part of a team.  A lot of places (employers) say they are a team; but the reality is that their definition is incomplete.  If you ask people what a team is, they’ll usually say a group of individuals working towards a common goal.  In my opinion, that’s only a partial definition of a team.  The second crucial part that people overlook is a group of individuals where each individual is willing to self-sacrifice himself for the betterment of the whole team.  We can’t all be quarterbacks.  Away from the football team where you have assigned positions, everybody wants to be the star.  Everybody wants to be the “quarterback.”  The reality is that you can’t have 11 QBs; you have to have linemen; the blocking back; the people laying the foundations for that one QB to shine.  In the real world, people hog that limelight.  It’s a REALLY hard lesson to learn.  I try to emphasize it to my recruits, that we (as cops) are linemen of the world, and never going to get the pat on the back we deserve.  It’s crucial to know that, and be okay with that.

Q.  Something unique about your life?

A.  MIRACLE OF FATE!  January 7, 1997:  I was fortunate enough to take a Sociology class.  I had no need for it, but just took it; when in walked this beautiful lady.  Turns out, that would be my future wife!  We met that day (1-7-1997) in the class I had absolutely no need to take.  Talk about fate!  I now how three beautiful children; one was born 9-’99, one 3/’03, and 4/’04!  Ironically, January 7, 2002; a lifetime goal of mine was achieved when I was hired with the Eugene Police Department.  Somehow, January 7 is an important date; my badge number is even 107!  I almost feel my current job, as a police officer is a continuation of my football career in many ways, given I now have a greater community to protect!

WHERE ARE THEY NOW:

Michael Klews remains in Eugene to this day with his wife Janel and three children.  A police officer for the past 11 years, Klews enjoys his career of keeping the streets of Eugene safe.

“I loved playing, I really did.  I don’t think I realized how much until I stopped.  15 years later, you hear all these people in awe of you, but it was just a natural progression; I played a small role in this progression of Oregon Football.”

Klews strives to continue to become a better person each day.  He patrols the streets of Eugene so fellow citizens can feel safe.  In addition, he has worked in crash scene investigation for a number of years now, and has the goal to become certified in crash scene investigation (requiring special class training and certification.)  Klews is certainly up for the task thanks to the great lessons he learned at Oregon that shaped him into the man he is today, as he moves forward as a husband, father, and community servant.  Klews may not know it, but he is an hero in Oregon football history for his great protection for Akili Smith & company.  More, he remains a true hero to this day for protecting folks in a bigger way, putting his life on the line daily so Eugene civilians can sleep soundly at night.

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Dave Melo

Dave Melo

Dating back to his childhood in 1993; Melo has gone to Duck games, practices, and gotten to personally know generations of Oregon Football players. He is a historical stat genius of Oregon football, particularly knowledgeable of the seasons of his childhood/youth years from 1994-mid 2000's. A big Duck football fan, Melo is known by many former players as the "Stats Guy" for remembering statistics of games and each Oregon team through the years. Melo also has had a personal tradition over the years of e-mailing a list of former players during football season on anniversary dates of milestone victories in Duck history. The tradition continues with a large e-mailing list that grows each year, and to a much larger audience as Melo joins Fish Duck to share his passion of Oregon Football history that got the Ducks to where they stand today.