Over the past five recruiting classes, dating back to the 2009 recruiting class, Oregon leads the nation in an unregistered recruiting category – percentage of prospects signed that make it to campus. Contrast that with South Carolina, which will reportedly have eight players of 24 signed to this class who are not eligible.
In Oregon’s case, this is not by some stroke of luck or happenstance but by design. The Ducks, despite not being a traditional power, have risen to the top of the college football world on the wings of a high flying offense, the picture of fashion and the fleet feet of a talented group of players. But, they would be nowhere without character.
Character, not his athletic prowess, is what determines a young man’s future. While the Ducks have been on an unprecedented run on the field, they have extended that run to the classroom. Not everyone of those players completed four years at Oregon for a variety of reasons, but they made it. And it should not be discounted just how difficult it is to get over 110 consecutive players to sign a National Letter of Intent and subsequently qualify for entry into the university. This accomplishment is as rare as four consecutive BCS Bowl berths.
In a Rivals article last year, Jalen Brown’s family commented on this very topic. Despite a bit of misinformation about the nature of the relationship between Will Lyles and the Oregon football program, Brown’s family recognized that the coaches at Oregon care about character. Take a look at the commitment list for 2014; then look at each individual player and something will jump out at you – character. Take a look at 2015 and you will see more of the same. The Ducks have 11 early commitments and you would be hard pressed to find a program which signs the same high-character class as the Ducks.
One needs to look no further than the performance of Travis Waller at the recent Elite 11 QB competition and his subsequent performance helping to lead his team to the 7-on-7 championship at The Opening. He is not the highest-rated quarterback in the nation and doesn’t have “standard” mechanics. But he is a leader. He makes teammates want to perform better. “The conversations don’t call into question the integrity of the people that are still there.”
There are some notable exceptions where character concerns during recruiting continued after the players arrival on Oregon’s campus. Some, such as Cliff Harris and Colt Lyerla, simply could not escape some of their issues, while others such as Kiko Alonso, were able to pull it together and get past struggles and become both stellar players and leaders.
Recruiting is an inexact science and sitting in a person’s living room can fool anyone. It’s easy for a family to put their best foot forward, selling the coaches on their character. But Oregon coaches don’t just sit in that living room talking with families. They talk to high school coaches, high school teachers and counselors. They talk to Little League coaches and elementary school teachers. They talk to neighbors. Oregon coaches talk to everyone within earshot.
But while recruiting may be an inexact science, character is not – and the coaches believe that a person’s character is shown by their actions. Sometimes young boys make mistakes – but do those mistakes become a lifestyle? That is a character question that has to be followed through. It is not all about academics. These are, after all, ‘student athletes’, and it can be debated which term should come first in that phrase, but Duck coaches recognize the duty they hold to guide these young men from scared high school students to University of Oregon graduates.
So — how are games won? With great athletes. But clearly with the examples of schools such as Texas and USC, great athletes alone do not guarantee success. Not only is there great coaching, there must also be great leadership. The success stories of Oregon players over the past five seasons far exceed the failures. Oregon coaches cannot save everyone, some must simply go out and learn their own lessons.
The Duck staff has done things the right way and that has been recognized by more and more families. With the continuity of the coaching staff, Oregon fans can expect that focus on character to continue. After all, character counts — and character wins.
Top photo by Scott Reed