Imagine walking into Autzen Stadium for the first time on a Saturday afternoon. What do you experience? Are you overwhelmed by the sixty thousand fans screaming “O?” Do you feel lost in a sea of green and yellow jerseys? Or are you intimidated by the opposing team? These consuming feelings are pressed upon young freshmen each new season.
Going from a top senior talent under the Friday night lights to an inexperienced freshman on a team almost doubled in size, can be intimidating and, for some, unbearable. However, he who rises to the occasion and pushes through the intense feelings, experiences one of the greatest moments of his young life. Taking your game to the next level is both challenging and rewarding. But how, exactly, is this accomplished? I enlisted redshirt freshman and OLB Ivan Faulhaber for help, and he gives us an inside look at the transition from high school to college level football.
Faulhaber is from Eugene. As a starting linebacker and slot receiver at Sheldon High School, Faulhaber grew up watching, studying and longing to be a part of the high-flying Oregon Ducks football program. In high school football, it is not uncommon to find top players on both sides of the ball. Rest assured the competition level in college doesn’t give this same leeway. Faulhaber explains, “The competition is a lot higher. You come from your high school where you’re one of the top players on the team to being a lower-level player when you arrive. But once you get the hang of it, competing gets easier.”
The “pre-game jitters” are only the beginning. From the moment you step onto the practice fields, you know it’s time to go to work. Everyday is an opportunity to improve and prove just what you are capable of, especially for a freshman. Faulhaber describes the atmosphere on a Saturday morning before a game: “Well before the game, it’s all seriousness. Guys are listening to their music, talking calmly amongst others, and just trying to focus on the game. It’s all business for us.” The very tactics that are used as recruiting tools also give off a quivering vibe. Whether it’s the new Hattfield-Dowlin performance center, the dedicated fans, or the Nike endorsements, there is a lot of pressure on young athletes to perform.
Finding a balance between school work, social life and football is easier said than done. And while these same demands are present in high school, every one of them is heightened in college. Faulhaber says that the toughest part of this transition was “… getting used to it all. We treat this like a job, spending up to 6 hours a day at our facility. So with all that time consumption, it makes it hard to do other things like schoolwork and hanging out with friends — something I was accustomed to.” Dedication and confidence are the minimum requisites, there is no room for doubt.
However, support is not limited on the Oregon Ducks roster as the upperclassmen and coaching staff are what draw young athletes, including Faulhaber, to become a Duck. “The team has a family-like atmosphere and vibe to it,” Faulhaber says, “… fitting in and feeling welcome is easy.” Being able to rely on your teammates and call them family makes the process of going from the big shot in high school to the little brother in college less problematic.
Not only is a supportive team crucial for anxious freshmen, but also having a particular role model on the team acting as a guide can benefit the changeover. For Faulhaber, that personal connection is with senior Tony Washington, starting DE for the Ducks. Ivan has this to say of Washington: “He does everything with a purpose and has a great work ethic. He has really started to push people harder in this offseason to get the whole team ready for the regular season.”
“Win The Day. Stay in the present. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Remain calm under pressure and look to your teammates.” This represents the legacy Chip Kelly left behind for the program and players to continue on. The Oregon Ducks work as one unit on the field and as a family off the field, welcoming the incoming freshmen with encouragement and motivation, knowing that they hold the future of the Ducks’ dynasty.