Surprise Visitors in January Keep Oregon Football Recruiting Exciting
Coach Willie Taggart and his staff will sign 24-28 prospects for the the 2017 class. Oregon has 16 current commitments now and need at least eight more with less than one week left to do it. The three open weekends in January have been and will be peppered with potential future Ducks using one of five official visits (OV) to see what the buzz is about in Eugene.
If my math is close, Oregon had 19-20 more OV’s left to disperse before January. Luckily, the allotted OV’s are back to 56 this year after being allowed only 37 for the three years prior. Four of those OV’s were used the weekend of January 13-15. Oregon had six total visitors, but Jaylon Redd and Deommodore Lenoir both OV’d during the football season and paid their own way for unofficial visits to make six. The four new prospects were wide receiver commit Johnny Johnson III, JUCO defensive lineman Kamilo Tongamoa (currently committed to Iowa State), linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia from Hawaii, and the 5-star headliner, running back Stephen Carr (USC).
Not only was Carr’s visit a big surprise — and one that Oregon fans would not have seen under Mark Helfrich – but there were also unexpected (and secret) unofficial visits from Lenoir (who announced his top 3 just days ago — Oregon, Nebraska and Mississippi State) and Redd. Carr will probably stay committed to USC and thrive there with the loaded backfield. However, while Lenoir and Redd have been taking the rest of their OV’s, making it a priority to visit Eugene on their own dime speaks volumes about their intentions.
After those four (OV) visitors came and went, Johnson III became more convinced about his decision. Not much has been mentioned about Tongamoa since but it seems as if he left impressed. Carr went silent for a bit but seems good with the Trojans again. After his visit, Slade-Matautia made his commitment to the Ducks during the first Polynesian Bowl in Hawaii. That left Oregon with 15 or 16 more OV’s available.
This past weekend had six more official visitors. Three of them are from the state of Florida, where Coach Taggart has been making contacts. The only Oregon commit was athlete Darrian McNeal, who visited Eugene for the first time and claimed on Twitter that the big three universities in Florida had nothing on Oregon.
The other Floridians were athlete Bruce Judson, a USF de-commit who will decide between Oregon and Oregon State, and safety Billy Gibson, who was formerly committed to Miami Hurricanes. Both seemed to be blown away with Oregon, based on the updated Tweets during their visit.
The others were JUCO offensive tackle George Moore, 4-star Virginia linebacker Ellis Brooks and top athlete Greg Johnson from LA, who was once committed to Arizona. Moore is an athletic 6-foot-7 beast. Brooks is one of Oregon’s top uncommitted priorities at linebacker. Greg Johnson is versatile enough to play several positions on offense and defense. Taggart loves to have those kind of athletes and utilize them in multiple scenarios. Plus, Johnson would be the fourth Arizona de-commit to pledge to Oregon.
I haven’t confirmed it yet, but I believe there may have been one more visitor that weekend. I am guessing that Arizona State tight end commit Jared Poplawski was so excited to finally get an Oregon offer that he decided to take a trip to Eugene. If this turns out to be true, it would be a huge surprise. Keep tabs on this potential flip.
As far as surprises, the whole group visiting has been a big surprise. The only prospect with an Oregon offer prior to Taggart arriving was Greg Johnson, and getting him on campus was a big task. Getting the other four prep stars to travel across the country was no easy feat either. Then the short notice of Moore getting an offer and then visiting so quickly is quite remarkable.
The biggest surprise would have been 5-star receiver Joseph Lewis, who received an in-home visit from Oregon coaches prior to the weekend. Lewis agreed at the time to take an unofficial visit to Eugene last weekend, but either it didn’t pan out or he changed his mind. He must be all in on USC or Nebraska this late in the recruitment. He probably moved on from the Ducks long ago.
Just a quick note here about one official visit from an in-state offensive tackle. Jaxson Kirkland from Portland is committed to UCLA, but his recruitment is heating up in a big way. The local schools are finally coming back around and offering him. WSU is pushing hard and Kirkland now has an offer from Washington where his father attended.
Coach Mario Cristobal recently offered Kirkland and stuck around Eugene for a midweek visit from the local talent. Kirkland being so close may actually pay off for Oregon for once if he flips. I’m excited to see how Cristobal can transform a 6-foot-6 mammoth.
This weekend is the final weekend for official visits before the “Dead” Day on the 29th. Midnight of the 29th begins the “Quiet” period until signing day with phone calls the only mode of conversation allowed.
This weekend could be a really big recruiting net for the Ducks to catch some big fish. However, there will only be seven or eight slots left for visitors. It helped that 4-star quarterback Braxton Burmeister flipped from Arizona without taking an OV before enrolling early. Also, fellow early enrollee Jordon Scott did not take his OV before signing to Oregon.
So, with only seven or eight OV’s left and seven prospects scheduled to OV, things might get tricky and will probably change some between now and Saturday. One of the recent commits, Austin Faoliu (once committed to Arizona), has his OV planned, but that may get canceled to allow an uncommitted player to get his visit in this weekend.
Tuesday night was when Oregon fans were popped with another surprise. Linebacker and USC commit Juliano Falaniko was assured that his scholarship offer was still open, and was invited to cancel his planned trip to Utah this weekend and visit Eugene. He accepted and might feel like the Trojans are sweeping him out the door with the surge in their recruiting efforts.
It’s fortunate to get Falo to Oregon for his final visit. He tends to favor the latest memory, and visiting Oregon last might be the boost needed to have him forget USC and Colorado and get his signature on the first of February.
Two USF commits in receiver Davis and athlete Burch (now a soft commit to decide between the Ducks and Bulls on signing day) seem really excited to visit Oregon, and may be on “quack watch” immediately. Under-ranked Artis has great size for his linebacker spot and flipping from FSU may be easier now after a very recent de-commitment. Speed is a 3-star cornerback who is currently leaning toward Georgia and Virginia Tech. This weekend may end with at least half of the visitors “quacking” and signing Wednesday.
Duck Territory on 247sports.com has confirmed that Alex Forsyth will drive down to Eugene for an unofficial visit to help the coaches recruit the uncommitted guys.
That’s seven. Is that it? Will Oregon be done?
Well, there may be some backup plans engaged if there are some last-minute changes, which I’m betting on. Someone will change his mind and go somewhere else to visit, and someone who would love to come to Oregon will replace him.
One that I’m particularly excited about is a high 4-star receiver out of Illinois. Jeff Thomas is currently a Miami lean, but a recent in-home visit from the Oregon coaches may have been enough to get him entertain an OV. At this point, Thomas would be the biggest surprise and he wouldn’t be this close under the previous staff. Taggart is showing that he will go after the highly sought blue-chips even with less than a few weeks left until signing day.
Virginia offensive tackle Mekhi Becton missed his scheduled visit last weekend and may make it in this weekend instead. Alden Tofa is a defensive end from Utah who has Oregon in his top four and hasn’t visited yet. Finally, the longest shot is Aubrey Solomon, a 5-star defensive tackle from Georgia. Solomon de-committed from Michigan a while back. Michigan is still in the hunt, but Alabama seems to be the team to beat.
Solomon might be teasing Oregon with the dangling carrot to get a free trip, but it looks like Alabama will get another 5-star on their team. Even with a beyond full class already, the Tide has a way of getting higher priority prospects and dumping the waste at the end, leaving some guys committed without a scholarship promise.
A couple of names are in discussion for scholarship offers. In-state offensive lineman Cody Shear (committed to Arizona) is in communication with Cristobal and waiting to see how other targets are panning out before him. He hasn’t received an offer yet.
Another name of interest to keep close tabs on is Anthony Pandy, another Arizona commit. This tough-hitting defensive end out of California would love an Oregon offer. Again, whether he gets one depends on who pans out on the target list above him.
Arizona’s head coach Rich Rodriguez is getting a bad taste in his mouth with this Taggart guy taking his targets (or “Taggart targeting”). This may be the beginning of another heated rivalry. In fact, Zack Rosenblatt for the Arizona Daily Star posted a recent article on tucson.com about this exact subject. Not only did Oregon get the aforementioned players from the Wildcats but Rosenblatt states that Thomas Graham was a “silent commit” to Rodriguez before he enrolled early at Oregon. Ouch!
One final name to mention before signing day is 5-star offensive guard Wyatt Davis. Yes, he is committed to Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes. However, Davis apparently had contact with Cristobal at Alabama and was very interested in the Tide then. I believe Cristobal has not lost all contact with Davis. Davis is from California and may like to keep to the West Coast and play for his favorite positions coach. Perhaps it’s a stretch, but this might be the signing day flip that demonstrates Cristobal’s recruiting prowess. Can you say “Goosebumps”?
No matter how you look at it, Taggart and his new staff have shown that the future of Oregon football recruiting is aggressive, talented, insightful and confident, and won’t give up until signatures are faxed to their destinations to be made final. Now we wait. Things could change again at any moment, and the next few days will show us how well this staff can close.
Oregon Football Recruiting Analyst
Follow me on Twitter @buzzbrother2
Top photo by Kevin Cline
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