National Signing Day is, by now, a distant memory. We silently fist-pumped (probably at work) as preps across the nation used something called a “facks machine” for the first (and probably last) time to send their NLIs to Eugene. We looked over the tremendous haul of new Ducks recruits, nodded in approval, and said things like, “THAT KID IS A BEAST.” We made our Duck Face (this one, not that one) as we counted all the “recruiting stars” our new preps had to their name. We watched their highlight videos, and joyfully watched them outrun, embarrass, and truck poor defenseless zero-star recruits over and over. We imagined these new Ducks donning the Green and Yellow (and Black and Chrome) and making big hits, clutch catches, or game-breaking runs on some not-too-distant Saturday afternoon.
Well, we can keep fawning over the “stars” that hang next to each of the new recruits’ names, or we can wait and watch this spring and fall to see what kind of players they REALLY are.
Because as entertaining as the recruiting process may be, I would wager that recruiting projections are just as often wrong as they are right. How often do we see a four- or five-star “sure thing” flame out? Or a two-star “dark horse” become an all-conference performer?
While projections based on high school performance are helpful, it’s an incredibly difficult task to project how a 16-year-old will perform in 5 or 6 years as a college senior. High school skills are step 1 of this process. Steps 2 through 10,347 involve what happens after players get to campus. Some programs develop players post-arrival well, and some others do not.
Since Chip Kelly arrived, Oregon has done an outstanding job of squeezing more “stars” out of their preps. Admittedly, a ton of this success has resulted from the caliber of people – not players – that Oregon has recruited. After all, “Rudys” don’t become stars just because coaches tell them to work hard. Only special people make the hard choice to buy into the system and work their butts off. Oregon recruiters have found a lot of those special people.
However, I also give immense credit to Chip Kelly and his holistic approach to teaching. Schedule and pace of practice, diet, academics, the Xs and Os themselves, and a thousand other things: each plays a role in developing raw teenagers into wily veterans.
It just so happens that there are a TON of Rudy-like Ducks who’ve performed far beyond their (fairly) low hype after high school. And it just so happens I put some of the best of those in a list for you to read (and probably critique!).
Behold: the Most Overachieving Oregon Ducks of the Chip Kelly Era.
–Spencer Paysinger was but a two-star recruit….at wide receiver! He developed into a multi-year starter at linebacker: a great cover-man, fantastic blitzer, and a solid presence for the Ducks over the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He now has a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants.
–Casey Matthews stood in his older brother’s shadow as a three-star linebacker. Some time later, he did this.
–Mark Asper may be best known for his life-saving talents at the Lawry’s Beef Bowl before the 2012 Rose Bowl. He was also started in four straight bowl games for the Ducks (’08 Holiday Bowl, ’09-’10 Rose Bowl, ’10-’11 BCS National Championship, ’11-’12 Rose Bowl). A starting anchor for a then-unprecedented four-year run? Not bad for a two-star recruit from Idaho Falls.
-Jeff Maehl was a two/three-star rated safety. This is all I have to say about that.
–Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay were both three-star linebackers out of San Jose. They became one of the finest linebacker tandems in the nation for two straight seasons, and were responsible for two of the biggest turnovers in Oregon Ducks history: Did-That-Just-Happen?-No. 1 and Did-THAT-Just-Happen??-No. 2. Biggest thing I’ll miss about Michael Clay: “Number 46 in your program, but number 1 in your heart.” Biggest thing I’ll miss about Kiko: him doing this.
-The massive and very skilled Wade Keliikipi (one of yours truly’s favorite current Ducks) was only a two-star recruit out of high school. Say what?
-Hroniss Grasu was rated as a three-star center. After what he’s already accomplished (won Rose Bowl, won Fiesta Bowl, on watch list for Rimington Trophy), can you believe this dude still has two more years of eligibility? I think you all can join me in saying: “SUMMON THE HRONISS.”
–Jake Fisher was but a three-star recruit out of Michigan. The outstanding young lineman played right away as a true freshman on 2011, and has only gotten better since (and, like Mr. Grasu, he still has two years of eligibility). And he was able to fortuitously keep up with DAT at least once this past fall.
-Marcus Mariota: Super Mariota, the Flyin’ Hawaiian, the Throwin’ Samoan, Pineapple Express, Saint Mark, and – of course – Mario…TAH. (Conventional wisdom says we need to choose just ONE nickname, but I reject convention and choose them ALL.) 8MM was a skinny, little-known three-star quarterback with only one year of starting experience under his belt when he arrived in Eugene. Care to reevaluate, starmakers? How about now? (I’ll heap even more credit upon our young quarterback who completely spoiled this young sir’s senior campaign.)
– Kyle Long was rated as a three-star JUCO player. After a truly impressive one-year stint at Oregon, he’s now one of the highest-rated linemen in the 2013 NFL Draft.
If you enjoyed this trip down memory lane, you have the impeccable Duck coaching staff to thank. Again and again, they’ve taken rough pieces out of the gravel quarry that is high school football, and buffed ’em into diamonds. I can’t wait to see the next generation of Oregon’s “Rudys.”
Put YOUR favorite rags-to-ridiculously-good story in the comments section below.