I have often thought in the past few years about bigger, stronger and faster football players at Oregon. I guess that’s because of the success and the overall upward trajectory of the UO football program over the last seven or so years. Some of that thinking was propelled by Chip Kelly’s “big guys beat up little guys’ illustration. Some of it was induced from the linkage of improved performance as the Ducks teams have become bigger, stronger and faster. Maybe some of the realization and logic came from my own limited encounters with 6′ 5” high school opponents that manhandled me like a Labrador Retriever’s dummy.
Oregon Football has, for many years, done a great job of recruiting and coaching players in the skill positions of running backs, quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs. Ducks fans have taken satisfaction and pride in lineman and linebackers who played with great heart and improved beyond their perceived ceilings. But to compete at the championship level, how do we get players and build linemen like Alabama, Georgia, USC and Ohio State have fielded consistently over the last several decades?
We hear that getting the top players begins with recruiting. The advantage some say is in the South and Southeast. There are more people (population) and recruits, and a higher grade of talent in those regions, than in the West in general. That is true and we know it. So, okay, let’s get to the point … that’s where the cornbread and chicken comes from. In the song below, “Where I Come From” Alan Jackson says,
Well I was rollin’ wheels and shiftin’ gears
‘Round that Jersey Turnpike
When Barney stopped me with his gun
Ten minutes after midnight
Said sir you broke the limit in this rusty ol’ truck
I don’t know about that accent son
Just where did you come from?
I said where I come from
It’s cornbread and chicken
Where I come from a lotta front porch sittin’
Where I come from, tryin’ to make a livin’
And workin’ hard to get to heaven
Where I come from
Some of you may think, “why do I care what it’s like where you come from? This is Oregon.” I have been thinking a very different way. If we want 5* high school kids to move from the South to Oregon, and to stay here for five years and play football, then we need to think about what it takes to get them here, and keep them here. Cornbread and chicken. And grits. And shrimp and grits, fried fish, collard and mustard greens, and oh, don’t forget the macaroni and cheese. Lots of cheese. And BBQ. Jackson’s song continues:
Well I was south of Detroit City
I pulled in this country kitchen
To try their brand of barbecue
The sign said finger-lickin’
Well I paid the tab and the lady asked me
How’d you like my biscuit
I’ll be honest with you ma’am
It ain’t like mama fixed it
‘Cause where I come from
It’s cornbread and chicken…
If you are the mother and the family of a 17-year-old it is hard to think about sending your child 1,000 or 2,000 miles away from the South to Oregon for four to five years. You will think hard, and I’m not kidding, about what he’s going to eat. And will he be happy? And you quickly conclude that northern food just won’t do, and you begin to imagine him withering away in Oregon, becoming depressed having to rely on KFC, and all that effecting his ability to succeed in school and on the field. How could you send your kid into such a fate? It would be hard, and very likely, you just couldn’t do it.
The Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, with its first cabin amenities, may be missing something. Is there a section in the dining area devoted to “Meat and 3” southern cuisine? Not just the standard fare, but with the likes of country ham, handmade biscuits, red-eye gravy, catfish filets, dirty rice, hot dogs all-the-way and seasoned fries? Now that’s what I’m talking about. That fare is how a young man from the South feels at home, and grows and prospers.
Now, let’s lay out another aspect that is vital to recruiting the best players from the South. Official visits. More official visits will include both parents. Most of them will include Mama. I’m quite sure that the young man’s Mama will be well enough impressed with Autzen Stadium, the Marcus Mariota Performance Center, MKA, Oregon’s campus and so on. She will be thrilled by the learning opportunities her son will have, including tutors, both personal and group support. Then at some point Mama will be in the Dining Room of the H-D. It may be a defining moment. “Farm to Table” resonates well with some people, but to some others it might be a deal-breaker. “My baby is going to starve here. Where’s the Cornbread and Chicken?”
Some say, “you are what you eat.” Of course, there is truth to that. But when you have been raised eating certain things, prepared a certain way, facing a change is not comfortable or desirable. It might work out just fine, but Mama’s instinct is to protect her baby boy at all costs. In this case maybe Georgia, Alabama or Clemson would be a better choice than Oregon?
Possibly Oregon and the Hatfield-Dowlin needs a new menu section? And maybe the football program should focus on, and prioritize, recruiting some cooks and servers from the South that walk the walk? Maybe then it will feel a lot more like home? We are bringing lots of new kids a long way from their homes. Yes, it’s good to experience new things while at college, a dining room full of old just-like-home stand-bys just might go a long way too.
Where they come from – they like cornbread and chicken! Bring them in and make them feel at home–especially their Mamas!
Greenville, South Carolina
Top Photo Credit: keywordsuggest.org