I realize its been about a week since the new head coach was announced at the University of Oregon, but we fans have had his itinerary for him for nearly a month. There are some things that must be covered amongst all the signing of contracts and creating a staff and meetings and photo shoots, etc., etc. Recruiting for the Ducks needs to improve.
Welcome Willie Taggart! So far in this short week, Coach Taggart has done some great things to make me feel like I just received a scalp massage and hair cut at the man’s hair shop. You know that feeling of freshness and sudden jump of self-esteem in how good you look. “The wife will definitely look at me today.” Yes, that’s it.
Within, as it seemed, minutes of the ink drying on his contract, an offer to a 4-star defensive end from Florida was extended by Taggart. No messing around, which is similar to an ex-head coach that was rumored to return, and Taggart likes to recruit. I love this.
Then, within 24 hours of official word that he is the brand new head coach at Oregon, Taggart dives further into the future of the program and emphasizes an offer to a 2018 4-star wide receiver. My interest is peaked and enthusiasm is rising. Now the offers have flown in a flurry, but that’s the easy part. I need Taggart to bring them in now.
It has been nothing less than a whirlwind of contacts and offers that is blowing me away. The storm has begun and if your sails aren’t aimed toward Eugene, you will be left behind.
I’ve compiled my own top 10 list, or I should say, lists. One? Oh, no. I’ve got more to contemplate than that. Justin Hopkins on Duck Territory of 247sports.com derived his own list of “Taggart’s First Five Calls” a week ago and recently “Nine Offers Taggart Should Make Immediately.” On a side note, Hopkins only mentions five who don’t already have an actual offer. I’m going in a little deeper.
Restore Current Class
First order of business should be keeping the current commits intact. Of course, this begins with the highest rated prospect that decommitted the day Mark Helfrich was fired. Deommodore Lenoir is that first phone call or visit in person with regards to stabilizing the best recruiter and most vocal leader of the group Helfrich had. He wants to play ball and he likes Oregon a lot. With the right staff on board, Lenoir should be back. Oh wait! Taggart has already done that by his fourth day.
Rounding the rest of the top 5 are: Rutger Reitmaier (defensive tackle) — has been contacted and set to enroll early at Oregon; Tre’ McKitty (tight end); Jalon Redd (corner back) — has been contacted as well and things seem solid there; and Sampson Niu (linebacker). A focus on defense is necessary to bolster needed depth and McKitty was offered by Taggart while at USF, so the familiarity may help smooth any transition plus Oregon loses three tight ends this year.
The final top 10 in this group are: CJ Verdell (running back) — has had some contact with Taggart according to Hopkins; Popo Aumavae (DT); Nick Pickett (athlete); Moses Robinson-Carr (TE); and Demetrius Douglas (CB)/Alex Forsyth (offensive tackle). Keeping these 11 together is essential, plus making sure the future punter, Adam Stack, and the solo wide receiver commit so far, Johnny Johnson III, will also be expected. While in Hawaii, Taggart visited with Stack to utilize that flight to the islands.
Need Some Flips
New staff brings in new chemistry and enthusiasm. From Taggart’s first introduction, his optimistic outlook seems infectious and I know that committed players are mostly loyal. This next list will be identifying who, of the offered prospects, are where, with their solidified pledges at their current schools. Maybe some kids really like Oregon but saw the negative stigma placed on it and the off-course trajectory of the program and chose elsewhere. A new light may forgive doubt and re-establish hope.
The first prospects that need to receive an in-home visit are so close that it would take a couple hours’ drive for Taggart. Yes, I’m talking No. 1, Marlon Tuipolotu (DT) and No. 2, Elijah Molden (CB) who each have stepped out of their home state to select the bitter rival Washington Huskies. Getting one or both to flip to Oregon by signing day will be a relentless and tireless effort.
It’s crucial to keep top in-state talent at Oregon. Taggart has vowed to “build a wall” around the borders of the state of Oregon to keep the local talent local. These two were already attempted to be contacted by phone but neither seemed to be interested in anything Oregon. Looks like the winds of change have passed these two and they are anchored into the Washington program.
The rest of the top 5 will look like this: Zachary Carter (defensive end) — committed to Florida (I have him so high because Taggart’s first “order of business” was offering him a scholarship); Jaylon Kelly-Powell (safety) — committed to Michigan (loved his Oregon visit and wanted to return with his mother); and Nick Brahms (offensive guard) — committed to Auburn (seemed really high on Oregon early and guards are sparse).
The rest of the top 10 is mostly shooting for more stars with the following: Jaelan Phillips (DE) — committed to UCLA (smart young man who may be concerned his talent will go to waste in Westwood and my favorite West Coast DE); Najee Harris (RB) — committed to Alabama (rumors are that Harris may want to stay closer to home by signing day); Dylon Moses (OLB) — committed to Alabama (use Taggart’s ties with his home town to draw in this beast the likes Oregon has never seen straight out of high school); Salvon Ahmed (athlete) — committed to Washington (could play running back or defense and from the state of Washington, wouldn’t be far to go to get him); and Hunter Echols (DE) — committed to USC (let’s start stealing them from the Trojans now).
Of the 150+ offers that Oregon had out for the class of 2017 prior to Taggart’s arrival, some of them are still uncommitted and very elite and intriguing athletes. These are the next prospects that need to be contacted. The top 5 were all once committed somewhere and have recently changed their minds. The top and least likely is Joshua Kaindoh (DE) — decommitted from Maryland (more hometown ties could help pull Kaindoh across the country to dominate the Pac 12). Next is Aubrey Solomon (DT) — decommitted from Michigan (may have interest in new Oregon coaching staff and take final official visit to Eugene according to Ryan Bartow with 247sports).
The next three of the top 5 are definitely: Antjuan Simmons (OLB) — decommitted from Ohio State (doesn’t hurt to get Urban Meyer approved talent); Greg Johnson (athlete/RB) — decommitted from Arizona (a big Freeman-type back would be perfect replacement); and CJ Cotman (RB) — decommitted from Tennessee (or rather, Tennessee pulled his scholarship offer and Taggart was recruiting Cotman from USF).
The final five of the top 10 will look like this: Nate McBride (ILB) — top schools are Georgia and Oregon (new coach knows Georgia, I reckon, making this pull slightly easier); Josh Falo (TE) — Colorado and Oregon are two of his top choices (Taggart can influence Falo with using tight ends more than Colorado by a large margin); Thomas Graham (CB) — favoring Nebraska and USC (as a close friend to Lenior, Redd and Pickett, these four could play together and Graham can play either side of the ball and Taggart has made this contact already and may pick Oregon December 16); Austin Jackson (OT) — Oregon is in the top 7 list (make a play at top linemen and set yourself up for success); and Foster Sarell (OT) — Stanford and Washington are neck and neck (Sarell could have easily chosen by now if he was certain, enter Taggart and get new interest in the Ducks).
Taggart had over 200 offers out so far at USF. I expect the total offer count will jump from 150+ to close to 200 in a short time. I have a feeling that Taggart will swing for the fences. And why not? So that’s this top 10 list — new offers to go for broke and have no regrets about lack of effort. This gets tricky with high rankings compared to high character and ceiling. Giant, massive men are what Oregon lacks and are necessary to win in the trenches, so my top two would be Marvin Wilson (DT) — a Longhorns lean and Alex Leatherwood (OT) — committed to Alabama. Next would be a running back because Oregon missed on one in 2016. If Harris flips to USC, Stephen Carr may look for a new home and it would be convenient if Carr had an offer from Oregon in his back pocket, there’s a chance for a reward.
Rounding off the top 5 are: Colin Schooler (ILB) — older brother plays at Oregon (we’ve seen what brother Brenden can do on the field as a freshman and I want more of that); and Greg Rogers (DT) — committed to UCLA (need to bulk up on the lines).
The rest of the top 10 to extend immediate offers to are: Jalen McKenzie (OT) — leaning toward Tennessee (despite familial ties with the Vols, scout.com shows McKenzie has Oregon interest without an offer); Brandon Pili (DT) — moved from Alaska to get noticed (seems to be waiting on that Oregon offer before making a decision); and three Hawaiians to keep the pipeline alive in Isaac Slade-Matautia (OLB); Feleti Afemui (ILB); and Aliki Vimahi (DE).
Utilize Florida Ties
Coach Taggart is from Bradenton, Fla, and coached in the Southeast for the past seven seasons and the last four in Tampa. Taggart can offer some Florida studs a scholarship to those who wanted to be in a Power 5 conference and not go to USF but still liked him as a coach. This list could be lengthy with all the top prospects from Florida; however, this is a top 10 list.
The first has already been offered and mentioned above, Carter, who is committed to the Gators would be a huge get. Two more that have been offered already that made my list are Bruce Judson (ATH) — currently committed to USF and 4-star Devan Barrett (RB) — committed to Auburn. The fourth is a 3-star athlete, Darrian McNeal, who was committed to Arizona prior to receiving an Oregon offer from Taggart. It didn’t take long for McNeal to decommit from the Wildcats and jump on his dream offer and pledge to Oregon.
The fifth is a big-time wide receiver that Taggart needs to flip from Alabama. Jerry Jeudy just received the Oregon offer but seems pretty solid with the Tide. Another early offer to my No. 6 is VanDarius Cowen (LB) — a 4-star committed to Alabama as well. Can Taggart steal away any of these Bama commits?
Flying in at No. 7 is another that has received an offer from Oregon’s new head coach. Malik Davis (RB) — a 3-star committed to Florida. As I write this, the rest of the list include prospects that have not received an offer from Taggart (it could change quickly). The final three are as follows: Kadeem Telfort (OT) — committed to Florida; Jarez Parks (DE) — an athletic body for the defensive line; and AJ Davis (RB) — has USF in his top 5 list.
What I’ve Learned So Far
Coach Willie Taggart is not the marquee, or trendy-named coach that I thought would make a huge splash with recruits and fans alike. On the contrary, Taggart is a young and less well-known head coach (outside of the state of Florida). However, what Oregon has seen so far is a man who has rejuvenated a stagnant coaching staff that is energizing the Duck fan base from the U of O campus to Twitter. A new appealing era has arrived to a well-deserving program.
Taggart has an idea of what the Oregon brand is and it’s pretty great. From the press conference when Taggart was introduced by Oregon’s president as the new head coach, many quotes have floated throughout the social media and catching fire within one week. A few relating to the future that I enjoyed are, “The people I am associated with, they are going to have what I call ‘juice’.” and “You will see a football team that is competing for national championships each and every week.” and “You can dream big, and you should but it’s not just going to happen by dreaming; you have to get out and work.” and especially, “Buckle up.” referring to the craziness about to happen because Oregon is a program that doesn’t “…have to settle.”
Another tidbit that I have learned from Coach Taggart is he may have scoffed my lists of top 10’s. His first thought was to try to reach as many early enrollee prospects as possible and focus on getting them signed or flipped. Then welcome to the dead period of football recruiting. This is when the coaches cannot have face-to-face contact with prospects. Now offers can still be extended but must be through contacts like high school coaches etc. This is a good time to evaluate assistant coaches and get more staff to help cover more territory. Taggart already had the green light to go out and get a proven defensive coordinator. As priority number one, Taggart was able to pull Jim Leavitt from a much improved Colorado team – especially on defense.
Unfortunately, there has been a few losses of recruits with the coaching changes. The junior college (JUCO) transfer John Vaka had decommitted and already committed to BYU. Another loss is Langi Tuifua who may also choose BYU. However, the biggest loss is from the Idaho state Gatorade player of the year, 4-star, 2018 Couer d’Alene QB, Colson Yankoff.
Coach Taggart evidently has not reached out to Yankoff yet and the young slinger got jittery. I’m certain that as soon as Taggart gets a full staff, or at least an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Yankoff will be contacted again soon enough. When it’s a one-person staff trying to handle everything at once with a short amount of time to accomplish it all, it is tough to get to everyone. In fact, I’m not sure if Taggart has even looked at who has been offered in the 2018 class yet, which may explain why he offered wide receiver Jermaine Eskridge from Florida again.
Coach Taggart is sincerely anxious to be at Oregon and he genuinely wants the football team to succeed on and off the field. He’s like a kid who used to go to a candy store with $5 to spend each week, to now given extra chore money with $500 to spend. What do you buy first and most of? This is a wonderful breath of fresh air inhaling all this positive vibe surrounding the program. I’m excited to see how many prospects respond to this recruiting momentum and jump on board.
Oregon Football Recruiting Analyst
Follow me on Twitter @buzzbrother2
Top photo by Dylon Vibes
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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