Over the past couple of decades, Oregon has developed into a top Pac-12 program and a force to be reckoned with on the recruiting trail. Oregon’s unique culture, exciting style of play, success on the field, world class facilities, flashy uniforms, etc., have enabled the Ducks to pull in a number of blue-chip recruits from around the country including De’Anthony Thomas, Royce Freeman, Arrion Springs, Canton Kaumatule, and Terry Wilson to name a few.
However, as I wrote previously, the Ducks still fight an uphill battle in recruiting. Despite some success on the recruiting trail, the Ducks lag behind the tradition-rich college football programs that reside in the heart of recruiting hotbeds. Oregon will be hard-pressed to consistently out-recruit the likes of Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, Florida State, etc. The Ducks have successfully won a few head-to-head recruiting battles with these programs and others like them, but Oregon consistently falls around 10-20 spots behind these storied programs in major recruiting rankings.
Thankfully for the Ducks, success is determined by performance on the field and not by the “oracles” on recruiting websites. Many of Oregon’s best players both present and past flew under-the-radar coming out of high school before blossoming into incredible football players at the University of Oregon. Many people know the story of Marcus Mariota being overlooked by essentially every Division 1 program (including the University of Hawaii in his home state) except Oregon, but he is just one of many diamonds in the rough that Oregon has developed into stars.
Oregon’s current roster includes players such as Charles Nelson, Henry Mondeaux, and true freshman Troy Dye (Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week), none of whom could muster more than three stars from major recruiting services before becoming stars at their positions at Oregon.
Oregon’s ability to turn players that the more tradition-rich football programs in recruiting hotbeds passed over into outstanding playmakers at Oregon is most evident at the quarterback position. Going back through all the quarterbacks that have successfully led the Ducks since Chip Kelly took over in 2009, only Darron Thomas came to Oregon with more than three stars from major recruiting services out of high school.
Jeremiah Masoli carved out an excellent career on the field at Oregon leading the Ducks to the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season despite getting little to no attention from major programs coming out of high school. The under-recruited Mariota took over form Darron Thomas and developed into the greatest Oregon football player in history. Vernon Adams took over at quarterback last year and, like Mariota, led the nation in passing efficiency. Adams only scholarship offer coming out of high school was from Eastern Washington.
This year Dakota Prukop has taken over for the Ducks, and while Prukop had options coming out of Montana State as a grad transfer, he only drew interest from FCS schools as a high school recruit. Whether Prukop can continue the tradition of the Ducks getting strong quarterback play from unheralded recruits will be determined in the weeks to come but the early returns from the UC Davis game look promising.
Additionally, Oregon’s heir apparent to Prukop, who exhausts his eligibility at the end of this year, is true freshman Justin Herbert. Herbert came out of high school with only one FBS offer, from Oregon, but has already wowed his coaches and teammates in practice and sits second on the depth chart. Not every under-the-radar quarterback recruit has found incredible success at Oregon (see Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie’s struggles last year), but having a consistent top 5 offense in the nation being almost exclusively run by recruits with little hype coming out of high school is impressive.
This string of under-the-radar recruits running the Ducks high-powered offense year after year is even more surprising when considering the number of highly-touted quarterback recruits they have beaten out. Oregon has brought in highly-ranked quarterback recruits almost every year since Chip took over in 2009, they just keep losing the quarterback competition to their unheralded counterparts.
Bryan Bennett came in as a four-star recruit in 2010 and looked to be the guy when Darron Thomas left for the NFL, but Bennett was beat out by some unknown kid from Hawaii (Mariota) before transferring. Jake Rodriguez came in with a four-star pedigree in 2012 but was also beat out and transferred. Damian Hobbs came to Oregon in 2013 with an impressive offer sheet that included bids from multiple Big Ten and SEC schools but also found himself buried on the depth chart and transferred (are you seeing a pattern?).
Morgan Mahalak chose Oregon as a four-star recruit in 2014 and looked to be Mariota’s replacement but also failed to rise up the depth chart and transferred. The list continues with Travis Jonsen as the Ducks prized quarterback recruit in 2015 and the biggest competition to win the starting job from Prukop this year, but he currently finds himself sitting fourth on the depth chart.
Wilson came in this year as another four-star quarterback recruit and, like Jonsen, still has not had his Oregon story written, but despite coming in during spring ball, Wilson has found himself stuck behind his classmate Herbert who has only been on campus since fall camp started.
Blue-chip recruits have found great success at Oregon in recent years (e.g., Royce Freeman, Darren Carrington, Arrion Spring), just less frequently at the quarterback position. However, for Oregon to get back to the college football playoff, the Ducks need to continue bringing in the blue-chip talent from around the country that fits the Oregon culture while finding more under-the-radar recruits that might be getting overlooked by the top teams in their hometowns.
Oregon has built their program on finding and developing this undervalued high school football talent. Oregon will not determine playing time based on what people at ESPN.com, Scout.com, or Rivals.com think.
The best players regardless of high school pedigree will play at Oregon. Kelly and now Mark Helfrich know what it is like to be overlooked coming out of high school (they played college football at New Hampshire and Southern Oregon, respectively) and have built a meritocratic culture that despite the flashy facilities and uniforms is grounded in humility; a culture and process that should enable the Ducks to challenge for more Pac-12 titles and national championships in years to come.
Top Photo Credit: Kevin Cline
Writer for FishDuck.com
Salt Lake City, Utah
Aaron Lewis grew up 15 minutes from Autzen Stadium and has been a die-hard Ducks fan his whole life; he painted his chest for an Oregon football game for the first time at age 10. Aaron studied economics at Brigham Young University and after graduation worked as a management consultant for Bain & Co. in Dallas. More recently Aaron joined a mid-cap private equity firm in Salt Lake City. In addition to spending too many hours following the Ducks and college football more broadly, Aaron enjoys spending time with his wife and two girls, cycling, hiking, and following college basketball and the NBA.
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