The recruiting period is over, and now it’s time to analyze and reflect on the 2017 class. Incredibly, in the midst of doubt and scrutiny, coach Willie Taggart and his staff assembled a very respectable class in just seven weeks.
It’s no secret that the headline recruits were the defensive ones, and they deserve a lot of recognition. Having young and athletic cornerbacks Deommodore Lenoir and Thomas Graham as well as some underrated stars such as Sampson Niu, should help Oregon in the long run.
While it is all well and good that Oregon will have some talented freshmen, as a fan it’s important to know who is going to make an impact and who will be a leader on the team. Also of note, the offense is going to look slightly different than previously thought, due to the dismissal of former co-offensive coordinator David Reeves. Replacing him will be Marcus Arroyo, who has had some savvy coaching experience in the NFL, helping offensive stars such as Keenan Allen, CJ Anderson, and Richard Rodgers.
In an interview with KVAL, Taggart said of Arroyo, “Marcus is a great coach and had West Coast ties. I thought he would do well with our guys here. That was big time for us.” Despite how terrible a thing it was for an Oregon coaching staff member to get charged with DUI, it hasn’t quenched the enthusiasm of some of the younger players.
Though he may not get a ton of playing time next year, it is clear that Cyrus Habibi-Likio is going to be a voice for this new-look team. The 3-star athlete from Mountain View, Calif., played running back in high school but will be looking to make plays on both sides of ball. His physique and playing style have earned him comparisons to Byron Marshall, a hometown hero for Habibi-Likio, who would love to follow in Marshall’s footsteps.
According to Duck Territory, Habibi-Likio could have a chance to showcase his skill on the offensive end as a kick returner or linebacker/safety. Perhaps the freshman linebacker sensation Troy Dye could teach him a thing or two.
Whatever position Habibi-Likio ends up playing, his vocal leadership will take him far. While Taggart and his staff were busy looking for recruits in early January, both Habibi-Likio and 4-star Popo Aumavae took to social media to express their disapproval with the Oregon recruiting staff’s lack of communication.
This prompted a phone call from Taggart to both Aumavae and Habibi-Likio reassuring them of their place in the 2017 class. In the end, they calmed down, and each claimed to be confident in Taggart and the coaching staff. Both of these young, talented players had been close with Mark Helfrich and his staff, so it’s promising to see them on board with the new system.
In fact, Taggart inspired Habibi-Likio so much that he apparently was on the phone for hours trying to persuade recruits to commit and even drove to Eugene with Aumavae to bring in more recruits. This speaks to his passion and desire to form a tightly knit team.
Every team needs a vocal leader, and while it’s hard to lead as a freshman, Habibi-Likio has the quality of character to impact his teammates on and off the field. Listen and watch him describe his senior season, his teammates’ success and his own mindset in this video by GetSportsFocus:
Another recruit who appears to be bouncing off the walls with excitement is 3-star wide receiver Darrian McNeal, who, you might remember, flipped from Arizona to Eugene without even seeing the Oregon campus. He came here purely because of the Taggart hire. As someone who recently went through the college process, I can tell you that takes an incredible amount of confidence.
McNeal’s enthusiasm for Taggart stretches back to Taggart’s days at USF. According to John Canzano of The Oregonian, he was so excited to arrive in Eugene last month for his visit that he was giving Canzano daily text message updates on his progress.
McNeal is one of the seven new recruits from Florida, which is remarkable considering there have been only five from there in the previous nine years, according to Duck Territory. It appears Taggart’s presence has had an immediate impact.
Oregon is making the most of McNeal’s decision to influence other recruits from his high school (Armwood High, in Seffner, Fla., a suburb of Tampa). So far they have extended offers to 4-star defensive end Malcolm Lamar, 4-star wide receiver Warren Thompson, and inside linebacker James Miller.
While Oregon makes the official offers, McNeal will obviously be a key factor in convincing his friends and former teammates to play for Taggart. “Everyone that’s got an offer, Oregon’s probably going to be one of their favorites,” McNeal told 247sports. McNeal will be with them from start to finish, making sure Oregon is never far from their minds.
So far, McNeal has told his former teammates that the campus “is an A-plus,” but they will still have to visit for themselves. For Miller, the offer from the Ducks has taken the top spot on his list, which includes Florida, FSU and USF. With more Florida recruits becoming comfortable joining Taggart in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon should start to become a serious contender for big-time recruits who are looking to play outside of the south.
Eugene, Ore. (From Half Moon Bay, Calif.)
Special thanks to Duck Territory at 247sports.com for sharing this information with FishDuck.com; check out their trial subscriptions for the best up-to-date daily information on Oregon recruiting.
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