In light of the recent trend of elite in-state athletes deciding to stay home in Oregon for their respective college careers, it is time to take a look back at some of the iconic Ducks from the state of Oregon. Whether they were born here- or in a few cases- they just moved here early on;
Here is a collection of the most accomplished “Oregon” Duck athletes.
We start this list with our Honorable Mention selections. All of which are tremendous athletes hovering just outside the top 15:
Rich Ruhl- From Roseburg, played inside linebacker for the Gang Green defense from ’91- ’95. Not the first of his family to excel on the football field, his late father Dick Ruhl was a linebacker at Oregon State and played in the ’65 Rose Bowl . 30 years later, Rich would play in the 1995 Rose Bowl.
AD Smith- The fan favorite from Eugene starred at Churchill High and led the Lancers to the ’95 State title, and earned ’95 Oregon high school Player of the Year honors. After graduation, Smith enjoyed a career in the professional European basketball leagues until 2006. After breaking a bone in his face during a game, fans might recall the facemask he wore during the upset of #3 Arizona at Mac court the following week.
Chad Cota- The stand out safety from Ashland could do it all on the field and was a key piece of the ’95 Rose Bowl team. The talented safety was drafted in the 7th round of the ’95 NFL draft to the Carolina Panthers. For more on Chad Cota and other great Duck safeties, click here.
Brent Haberly- Originally from Roseburg, Haberly attended high school in Cottage Grove. The tough and reliable linebacker worked his way from walk-on to team leader. He might never have made more of an impact than with his game winning 34 yard fumble recovery for a touchdown at Arizona. That game in ’05 is also noted for being the game in which Kellen Clemens season ended due to a leg injury. Two plays later, Dennis Dixon suffered a concussion. The outcome of the game was in serious doubt when Haberly scooped and scored.
Jed Weaver/Dan Weaver- From Redmond, the pair of walk-ons made their mark at the U of O. Jed Weaver was an incredible tight end who simply refused to be tackled, and amassed big yards after contact. He was drafted in the 7th round in the ’99 draft by the Eagles. He was traded and played on the ’04 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. His brother Dan was a steady performer himself, and started 37 games at center from ’00-’03.
Chris Tetterton- You would be hard pressed to find someone who played with more heart than Tetterton. The Sheldon grad played early on the scout team, and finished his career as a key contributor from ’97-’01. Never the biggest defensive tackle at 6′ 275lb, it was his sheer work ethic and determination that highlighted his play.
Josh Bidwell- The pride of Winston, Oregon was arguably the best punter in Duck history. Bidwell had linebacker size at 6’3″ 220 and used it, making more than one crushing tackle in his career. Which, to say the least, is extremely rare for any player with a single bar facemask. His 43.9 yard average was enough for the Packers to invest a 4th round pick on him in ’99. He played for the Packers, Buccaneers, and was cut by the Redskins in July of 2011. He was All-Pac-10 in 1998, and made the All-Pro team in 2005.
Maarty Leunen- Born in Vancouver, Leunen led Redmond to a state title games in ’03 and ’04, winning the championship in ’03. He was named as the Gatorade State Player of the Year in ’04. Drafted 54th Overall in 2008 by the Houston Rockets, Maarty currently plays professionally in Italy. With great size at 6’9″, Leunen showcased exceptional shooting touch on 3 pointers and free throws.
15. Jordan Kent-
While it is difficult to imagine a recent player with more deeply rooted local ties, Kent was actually born in Saudi Arabia. He attended Churchill High in Eugene won a combined 11 indivdual and state titles in track and basketball, and was the 1st athlete to become a 4 event champion in track (100, 200, 400, and Long Jump) He broke a 41 year old state record in the Long Jump, besting the old mark- set by the great Mel Renfro- by a full 1 foot. Kent became the first 3 sport athlete in the pac 10 since 1970. Jordan lit up the “combine” style workouts and was drafted in the 6th round of the 2007 NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks despite playing only 2 years of Football in college.
14. Kellen Clemens-
Clemens led Burns High to a state 3A Championship in ’99. He was tabbed as a USA Today All-American and Oregon Gatorade Player of the Year. The memeber of a 6th generation cattle ranch family who still preside over their 3,500 acre spread. He set high school records for passing yards (8,646) and touchdowns (102). One of the toughest Quarterbacks in Oregon history, the only thing that seemed to slow him down was a broken ankle suffered during the ’05 campaign. He was selected in the 2nd round of the ’06 NFL Draft to the NY Jets. It seemed he would get his chance as a starter after the team traded away Chad Pennington, but the Jets instead signed Brett Favre.
13. Fred Jones-
Born in Malvern, Arkansas, Jones moved to Gresham in middle school and attended Barlow High School. The former Oregon Player of the Year played 4 years as a Duck and led Oregon to the Elite Eight during his senior year. Drafted 14th overall in 2002 by the Indiana Pacers, he initially sat behind Reggie Miller. His best production came in the ’04-’05 season when he filled in for the suspended-for-punching-fans Ron Artest. In his only appearance in the All-Star weekend event, Fred Jones won the ’04 Slam Dunk champion.
12. LaJourdain J. (JJ) Birden-
The Portland native and Lakeridge High alum possessed next level speed and game changing ability at just 5’9″ 160lb. Selected in the 8th round by the Cleveland Browns in 1988, Birden played 9 years, including stints with the Cowboys, and Falcons. Birden was perhaps best known as a Kansas City Chief and Tecmo Super Bowl legend from ’90- ’94.
11. The Wilcox Family-
Few families have had the impact at Oregon as great as that of the Wilcox’s. First with Dave Wilcox, an All-world linebacker from Ontario, Oregon who was drafted by both the NFL and AFL (Houston Oilers) drafts, and went on to play 10 seasons for the 49ers. He garnered 7 Pro Bowl selections, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. Next came Josh Wilcox, who set a superb standard for future Oregon tight ends, and played a crucial role during the ’95 Rose Bowl run. Justin Wilcox arrived in ’96 and played both safety and cornerback for the Ducks. Now an accomplished coach, he has worked at Boise State, California, Tennessee, and is currently on Steve Sarkisian’s staff as Defensive Coordinator at Washington.
10. Luke Jackson-
Born in Eugene, Luke Jackson grew up a few miles down the I-5 freeway in Creswell. The ’98 and ’00 3A State Player of the Year, Jackson finished his career at Oregon in the top 10 in 9 separate statistical categories. Versatile on the court, he is 1 of just 2 players in Pac-10 history with at least 1,900 points, 700 rebounds, and 400 assists. In one of the All-time great performances at Mac Court, Jackson went off for 40 points in an 2004 NIT game against Colorado. The Ducks rallied from an 18 point deficit behind Jackson’s 29 straight Oregon points in the 4th quarter and OT for the 1st round victory. He was selected in ’04 10th overall by the Cavaliers, and last played for the ’10-’11 Idaho Stampede.
9. Anthony Newman-
Born in Bellingham, Washington, the future star grew up and attended high school in Beaverton. Skilled in several sports, Newman chose to attend the University of Oregon and was on of the best defensive backs in school history. He was selected in the 2nd round of the NFL draft by the LA Rams, and went on to a productive 12 year career. To read more about Newman and other great Duck safeties, click here
8. Chris Miller-
Originally from Pomona, California, Chris Miller attended high school at Sheldon in Eugene. Miller broke records for both season and career yardage at Oregon, and was drafted by the Falcons 13th overall in the ’87 NFL draft. Miller played 10 seasons in the NFL and was selected to the Pro Bowl in ’91. Chosen by the Denver Broncos to take over after John Elway retired, his promising career was cut short in 1999 due to complications from concussions.
7. Terrell Brandon-
The Portland native and former Grant High School player won a 3A state title in ’88. Arguably the best basketball player in Oregon history, he was also the ’91 Pac-10 player of the year. Selected 11th overall by the Cavaliers, Brandon played 12 seasons in the NBA and was named to the All-Star team in both ’96 and ’97, the All-rookie team in ’92, and won the NBA Sportsmanship Award in ’97.
6. George Shaw-
The former Grant High School star was named as an All-American in both football and baseball for the Ducks. A dominate athlete in his day, the Baltimore Colts used the #1 overall selection in the ’55 NFL draft on him. As a safety, the great George Shaw had 13 interceptions for the Ducks in the ’54 season. And- for the last time- to read more about George Shaw, and other great Duck safeties, click here
5. Mel Renfro-
Renfro was born in Houston, but attended Jefferson High School in Portland. Perhaps one of the best football players of all time, there was very little that Renfro couldn’t do. A track and football athlete, he was the first african-american ever allowed in Rice University stadium. Dominating on both offense and defense, he led the Ducks to a 31-12 victory that day. A 14 year veteran in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys, he was selected to 5 All-Pro teams, 10 Pro Bowls (’70 Pro Bowl MVP), and played in 4 of the first 12 Super Bowls.
4. Howard “Hobby” Hobson-
Howard “Hobby” Hobson played high school basketball at Franklin High in Portland, where his team won the 1921 state title. As captain of the U of O basketball team from ’24-’26, the Webfoots won the conference title in his final 2 years. He began coaching in 1928 and took over the Oregon program in 1936. His teams rolled up 3 consecutive conference championships, and won the first ever National championship in 1939. His teams were known as the “Tall Firs” because the players averaged 6′ tall, a rare height for the time. His Ducks were also remembered as the first team to travel across country to play.
3. Joey Harrington-
The Central Catholic graduate had an Oregon letter of intent signed by Len Casanova at birth. As a 3 year starter, Joey led the Ducks to unprecedented success in Bowl wins over #12 Texas and #3 Colorado. An All-American and ’01 Pac-10 Player of the Year, Harrington was featured on the famous “Joey Heisman” billboard in Times Square. He finished 4th in the Heisman voting and the next season was selected to appear on the cover of the EA Sports NCAA football video game in ’03. Harrington had a career 25-3 record and led the Ducks to several thrilling come from behind wins. He was selected as the 3rd overall pick of the Detroit Lions in the ’02 NFL draft.
2. Steve Prefontaine-
A rare and special talent that could captivate an audience just as well as he could beat opponents on the track. “Pre” was among the most influential athletes of all time. Behind one of the best moustache and hair style combinations ever, Prefontaine once held the American records in 7 events ranging from the 2,000 to the 10,000 meters. Hailing from Coos Bay, Prefontaine was recruited by over 35 colleges, but decided to remain in-state and train under Bill Bowerman. His aggressive style was predicated on a gutty, all-or-nothing mentality and a refusal to back down. While peaking physically and training for the 1976 Olympics, Prefontaine crashed his MGB convertible into the rocks near the corner of Skyline Boulevard and died tragically at just 24 years old. Two films, “Prefontaine” in 1997 and “Without Limits” in 1998 detailed the life story of the famous Duck.
1. Phil Knight-
Growing up in Portland, Phil Knight attended Cleveland High School before enrolling at the University of Oregon. A middle distance runner and 3 year letterman under the legendary Bill Bowerman, Knight was a 1959 graduate with a PR of 4:10 in the mile. A motivated entrepreneur paired with Bowerman and a waffle iron, together laid the foundation that transformed Blue Ribbon Sports into the Nike empire that stands today. Phil and Penny Knight have been noted for their generous philanthropy and significant nine-figure contributions to Oregon, Stanford, and OHSU.
At Oregon, Mr. Knight has an athletic building named after him, the library is named after his mother, the law school for his father, and Matthew Knight Arena is named after his late son.
While there are names across this list that were blessed with more athletic talents than Knight, none have come close to having his overall impact. His blend of hard work, vision, loyalty, and business acumen have elevated the profile of the entire University over time, and has cemented the Ducks’ place on the national map. Taking his innovations in footwear, apparel, and athletic facilities into account; It would be a supreme challenge to find any figure who has impacted any University, and for that matter, modern global sports culture as much as he has.
**Despite our best efforts, We realize that some deserving athletes have most likely been left off. Leave a comment and tell us, Who did we leave out?