The tight end position has been a vital key in the success of Oregon’s rise to fortune and fame. Oregon has seen a perpetual string of stalwart tight ends since the Rich Brooks Era. One tight end in particular made his presence felt in a unique way, and is remembered fondly by many Ducks for his contribution to Oregon’s turnaround & subsequent run for the 1995 Rose Bowl. Please welcome the great Josh Wilcox!
Son of the Oregon great and NFL Hall-of-Famer Dave Wilcox, Josh grew up just outside Eugene, in nearby Junction City. A ballboy as a child, Wilcox knew the ins and outs of Oregon football from the start. An outstanding career at Junction City High (both sides of the ball) began a true football career.
Q. WHAT WERE YOUR PRE-OREGON DAYS LIKE? WHAT SCHOOLS WERE RECRUITING YOU, AND WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BE A DUCK?
A. Only two schools offered scholarship: Oregon and Oregon State. Given I was a ballboy at Oregon and knew everyone so well, I chose Oregon.
EARLY DAYS AT OREGON
Wilcox redshirted his first year at Oregon (1992.) However, he learned a lot as a valuable scout team member during that year. Wilcox finished his freshman year (1993) having started three games as the team’s top reserve in statistics, with nine receptions for 110 yards and one touchdown.
Q. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE EARLIEST MEMORIES OF BEING PART OF THE TEAM?
A. My earliest memory is being a ballboy as a kid. My redshirt year (1992), the first game I got to suit up for was Hawaii. I just remember going from being a ball boy/local guy, to running out that tunnel as a player, was special.
Q. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR FIRST PLAYING EXPERIENCE?
A. My first game I got to play on special teams. Against Colorado State, Tate got hurt, so I played the rest of the game as the No. 1 tight end, as well as the next game. It was a good learning experience.
UNEXPECTEDLY BECOMING A STARTER AS A SOPHOMORE
Following spring practice of 1994; successful 1993 starting tight end Willy Tate left the team for personal matters. Wilcox became the full-time starter to begin the 1994 “Cinderella Season,” where he made his presence felt from the start. In the home opener with Portland State, Wilcox had the third touchdown of the game, as he made a miraculous backward rolling catch of a Danny O’Neil pass.
An upset for the ages, Oregon defeated USC for the first time in 23 years on Trojan turf. Wilcox played a vital role in that game with two great catches, including one on a third-down conversion, for a team season-high of 72 yards. Following the USC upset, Oregon slipped in its only conference loss of the year, 21-7, at Washington State. Thanks to Wilcox, the game was not a shutout, as he made the lone Duck score on what turned out to be the longest play – a 42-yard touchdown pass, to prevent the whitewash.
Wilcox and company returned home for a four-game home stand to begin a six-game winning streak & Rose Bowl run. In a 23-7 defeat of California, Wilcox had an impressive touchdown, appearing out of nowhere for a TD catch to tie the game.
Following the upset of heavily-favored Washington (recall “The Pick”), #9 Arizona (picked by many to win the Pac-10) came to town. Down 9-3 heading into the final quarter, Oregon would have to pull a fourth-quarter comeback for the second consecutive week. Wilcox was up to that challenge, as he beat his defender from the Arizona 15 to the end zone, to haul in a pass from O’Neil, giving the Ducks a 10-9 lead and the eventual ‘W’.
Wilcox and company went on to defeat Arizona State, Stanford and Oregon State to secure the outright Pac-10 title — and their first Rose Bowl in 37 years.
In the Rose Bowl, Penn State would score on its first play from scrimmage. Oregon, however, answered immediately to prove themselves no pushover; as O’Neil threw a strike to a wide open Wilcox, who faked his defender on the way to paydirt, tying the game. Wilcox finished the game with a season-high 135 yards receiving to help Oregon keep the game close through three quarters. To finish the year, Wilcox was the fourth-leading receiver with 30 receptions for 428 yards, and six touchdowns.
Q. DESCRIBE THE TEAM CHEMISTRY OF THE ROSE BOWL TEAM
A. The chemistry when I first got there, we really weren’t quite the team yet. Had talent, but not as much culture. The year we went to the Rose Bowl, a lot of sophomores and juniors stepped up. We had lots of other tight ends (Blake Spence, Chris Anderson, Jed Weaver, etc.) Linebackers (Jeremy Asher, Rich Ruhl, Troy Bailey) were very instrumental in getting us to be a good team.
LATTER HALF OF CAREER
The following year, his junior season, Wilcox wasted no time picking up where he left off. He had a catch in every game in 1995, starting with a touchdown in the opener at Utah to begin the Bellotti Era with a victory. In a remarkable shootout in Los Angeles over UCLA, Wilcox had the second touchdown among his three receptions. In a 52-30 road blowout over California, Josh had a career day with a ”hat-trick” of three touchdowns and more than sixty yards receiving. Oregon went on to a 9-3 record and a berth in the Cotton Bowl. Wilcox would finish the year as the team’s third-leading receiver with 36 catches for 456 yards, and five touchdowns
Wilcox entered his senior season having caught more passes & touchdowns than any tight end in school history (with 75 for 1000 yards, and 12 touchdowns) and was ready to add to his total. In the season opener at Fresno State, Oregon struggled to find a rhythm. After being pinned deep in Duck territory, Wilcox played a key roll in the comeback. He had several catches from QB Tony Graziani to help tie the game, sending it to the first-ever NCAA overtime tiebreaker. Fresno State struck first on a field goal. Wilcox, however, ended the game in style to begin his senior season, catching the very first pass from Graziani on Oregon’s possession for a 25-yard touchdown to win it, 30-27.
In the third game, against Colorado State, Wilcox had 10 receptions for 180 yards, and two impressive touchdowns. Though Oregon had its struggles as the year progressed, they finished with their third consecutive winning season. Wilcox would go on to finish as the second-leading receiver with 28 for 425 yards, and three touchdowns.
Q. WHAT DID YOUR POSITION COACHES TEACH YOU THAT STICKS OUT THE MOST? ANY SPECIFIC STORIES?
A. HAD THREE: (Steve) Greatwood, (Neal) Zoumbukos, & Tom “Oz” Osborne. Greatwood during a class session one time was fired up at me when I wasn’t doing things right. Zoomer gave us words of the day, but would call and tell me I wasn’t doing things right. Osborne would give pep-speeches that I would score a touchdown every week. I took away [something] from all of them [about] the game of football. Remain close with all three of them, they were great coaches. Mentorship, coaches, and friends; I was very lucky to have three great tight end coaches.
Q. TALK ABOUT YOUR HEAD COACH AND THE TYPE OF RELATIONSHIP YOU HAD
A. Had two (Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti.) Both were intense guys; [I] was used to that. Bellotti handled things different than Rich. Coming in as a young guy, [I] would get screamed and yelled at by Rich — tough love! Where as Mike was a different type of love — very competitive, but more personable. Mike was a great offensive coordinator prior; and was great having him as head guy. They were two of the most successful coaches at Oregon, and learning from two different guys helped me become a better person.
COACH RADCLIFFE MEMORIES:
“He is someone who, if he ever needed anything, I would drop everything and be there. One of the few things I miss about football is the training days I had with him and his staff. He helps mold a kid for a shot in the NFL. I really had never lifted weights before I got to Oregon. He helped show me and teach me how to compete, as I competed everyday when I lifted with him. I also remember him opening up his house for the guys who would work out on Friday’s and have BBQ’s in the summer after working out. He is one of the main reasons the Ducks are where they are at today. Some of it for what he teaches in the weight room but more for helping shape you as a man. Along with all of the TE coaches, and some of the offensive coordinators, Coach Rad is a main reason I had success at Oregon. He will be a hard guy to replace — although he seems like a machine, so I don’t know when that day will be!”
Following his graduation from the University of Oregon, Wilcox continued his multi-talented athleticism on several levels for a number of years. First, he made the NFL as a free agent, going through several teams as the years went by. Starting with the Minnesota Vikings in 1997, he was cut and came back to Oregon to train. Wilcox also had a short stint in professional wrestling from November, 1997, until summer, 1998, when he returned to football. He played for the Amsterdam Admirals in the fledgling NFL Europe and happened to end up as Kurt Warner’s roommate.
Wilcox also played in the Arena Football League, for the former Portland Forest Dragons. Later in 1998, he received a call from the New Orleans Saints to join their training camp, where he played on the practice squad, before being promoted to the main roster in 1999. In 2000, Wilcox returned to wrestling, where he signed with the WWE to attend their developmental league in Louisville, Kentucky, before having to retire. “I had to come home after a few months in WWE. I would have liked to continue playing, but my body just gave out. I wanted to walk by the time I turned 40; but I did a lot in a little bit of time.”
Q. WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO MAKE A LIFE BEYOND FOOTBALL?
A. Football doesn’t last forever. Its kind of a transition to real world stuff. It helped to have a football family while there, but you’ve gotta grow up sometime; enter the real world and find something you like to do. But, having a good time while there is important.
Q. HOW DOES THE CURRENT TEAM COMPARE TO WHEN YOU PLAYED?
A. They’re more talented and much faster. Lots of guys with skill, gritty and tough; but we had lots of guys who were overlooked and not highly recruited [playing] with a chip on the shoulders, wanting to prove they could compete. Today, they can pick and choose 5-star guys. Though people come and go, so many assistants I had are still there (Pellum, Osborne, Aliotti, etc.) Helfrich is a great guy, and they have lots of potential.
Q. ANY FINAL MESSAGES FOR THE FANS?
A. THANK YOU! I enjoyed the opportunity to play, have fun, and entertain. Proving we could do what no one thought and entertain fans is what I enjoyed. But, today — don’t forget today where we came from, as 20 years ago we were lucky to have nine wins. Every good football team has a tough stretch. Whenever we do, don’t think the sky is falling!!
POSTSCRIPT — WHERE ARE THEY NOW:
Josh Wilcox remains in Oregon, currently in the Portland area with his wife Kara. He co-hosts a daily radio sports talk-show with a lot of talk about Oregon. He also appears on Comcast Network’s “Talkin’ Ducks” to give his viewpoint on the current team. Josh may not think so, but after such an outstanding career at Oregon at the most critical time of the Ducks’ rise to fortune and fame — he is equally as deserving of a place in the Oregon Hall of Fame as his father.
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