Duck Down … Next Man Up!
By now, we’ve all heard of the unfortunate ACL injury Bralon Addison suffered in Spring practice, and it appears to be season ending. Injuries are an unfortunate reality of sports, especially football, and everyone has to deal with them. While there are plenty of reasons to be upset about Oregon losing their best and most accomplished receiver, don’t start writing this team’s obituary quite yet!
Oregon has adopted quite a few mantras in the past few years, and while “Win The Day” certainly attracts a lot of attention, “Next Man Up” also rings true within the program. Whether a player gets injured, suspended or something else, it seems the Ducks are usually up to the challenge and rarely miss a beat. Some of Oregon’s best all-time players were originally asked to step in with very little, if any, notice. In fact, the Ducks have such a proven track record when it comes to replacing key players, that it almost makes you happy everything hasn’t gone according to plan.
Oregon’s first game under then newly-minted head coach Chip Kelly provided quite possibly the strongest example of the “next man” stepping up.
After a disastrous start to the season, losing 18-9 at Boise State, running back LeGarrette Blount compounded the defeat by sucker punching Broncos defensive tackle Byron Hout, earning himself an indefinite suspension. One game into the season Oregon’s prospects weren’t looking good.
Not only had they been shut down in the season opener, they were without their potential Heisman Trophy candidate at running back. Left with no other options, the Ducks turned to an undersized, redshirt freshman from Texas named LaMichael James.
Suddenly becoming a focal point of the Oregon offense, James rushed for more than 1500 yards in his first year, and ended that season by leading them to the Rose Bowl, and winning the Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year award.
In fact, as many of us know, he closed his career in Eugene as Oregon’s all time leading rusher, and is one of the best football players the program has ever produced. Needless to say, if there’s ever an example of Oregon’s ability to plug someone new into the action, and not miss a beat, James is it.
While not exactly having been thrown into the mix without warning, there is another prominent player at Oregon that is not only responsible for much of the team’s success, but also had his career fast forwarded due to circumstances outside of his control.
In the 2010 season, Oregon chose Darron Thomas to quarterback their offense. All he did that first season was go undefeated and lead his team to the BCS National Championship game, where Oregon lost a heartbreaker to Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers (still hurts to type that).
The next season, Thomas guided the Ducks to another excellent result, winning Oregon’s first Rose Bowl in more than 90 years.
Following that season, Thomas surprised many by announcing that he would forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft. While he enjoyed a stellar collegiate career, many were surprised by this decision as he was not highly rated by most NFL draft scouts.
Nonetheless, Oregon had an opening at quarterback, and in stepped a tall, quiet almost to a fault, an inexperienced redshirt freshman from Hawaii named Marcus Mariota. Funny how things work out huh? Mariota wasn’t exactly asked to suddenly step in, but his career certainly started earlier than expected, and he has surely carried the torch for Oregon’s offense quite well.
While James and Mariota are excellent examples of “next man up,” there are several less-frequently mentioned players that have also been of great importance to Oregon’s success over these past few seasons.
In recent years, key players such as Colt Lyerla, John Boyett and Cliff Harris have all missed games for various reasons. But for every key player missing time, there’s another player who has stepped up and became a big-time contributor in their own right.
When Harris, who at the time was a potential first-round talent at cornerback, was excused from the program following the 2010 National Championship game season, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu stepped in and carried the mantle as Oregon’s new lockdown cornerback. While not as experienced as the previous examples, one premiere player was out, and another stepped in. Ekpre-Olomu is entering this season as arguably Oregon’s best defensive player, and as a leader both on and off the field.
Lyerla, during this past season, missed the Tennessee game for undisclosed reasons. One of Oregon’s most explosive players, Colt was replaced by true freshman Johnny Mundt.
In his first career start, Mundt gained more than 120 receiving yards, while also scoring twice. Entering 2014, with Lyerla having left the program, Mundt and Oregon’s other tight ends will assume the workload.
Lastly, Boyett, a preseason All Pac-12 member according to ESPN, missed the remainder of his senior season after just two games, as a result of knee surgeries. Following his absence, Avery Patterson stepped up and performed admirably. Patterson’s own career suffered a tough knee injury, but his senior year ended with him earning Defensive MVP of the Alamo Bowl.
The moral of the story is that injuries are a part of football and there just isn’t a team that does not have to deal with them. Oregon caught a tough break when Addison went down, but all is not lost. If there’s a team that can plug in someone new, it’s the Ducks.
If there’s a silver lining with this injury, it’s that it happened now. With a whole offseason to prepare, there’s every reason to believe that someone will step in and be the Next Man Up.
Top photo by Gary Breedlove