This past weekend, the Ducks hosted a bunch of high-ranking recruiting prospects — including an unexpected surprise — in what turned out to be a very eventful couple of days. But this upcoming weekend is even more critical.
With loads of premier prospects scheduled to visit, the weekend of the spring game has become one of the largest recruiting events of the year for the Ducks. Last year, they used this weekend to gain momentum for what turned out to be a historic class. This year, they hope to use it to make their spot as the conference’s recruiting champion a recurring one.
Let’s recap some of the events that have taken place and preview the exciting weekend that the Ducks have ahead of them.
Last weekend, the Ducks had arguably their biggest recruiting weekend of the year so far. Big-name targets came to watch the Ducks’ scrimmage on Saturday, and many of them left with very positive impressions of the school.
The headliners of the weekend were a couple of five-stars, Kelee Ringo and Sav’ell Smalls. Ringo, the 12th-ranked prospect overall and the second-best cornerback in the country according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, notified the staff that he was visiting at the last minute, according to ScoopDuck. Needless to say, Mario Cristobal and company found a way to squeeze him into their schedule.
Ringo has the Ducks as one of his 15 finalists, but in a race that looks to be between Texas and Georgia, they have never been thought of as favorites. And while his visit may not have changed that fact, it does suggest that his interest in Oregon is higher than many initially anticipated. In an interview with 247Sports, Ringo mentioned that one of the reasons that the Ducks made his most recent cut was that he liked the Oregon coaching staff:
“I’m looking for great coaches. I like Coach (Keith) Heyward and Coach Donte (Williams) a lot … I’m just building a relationship with them (the coaching staff).”
Again, Ringo’s visit doesn’t make the Ducks favorites, but it does give them a shot. He wouldn’t have taken the trip to Eugene if he wasn’t at least considering them as a serious option.
But perhaps of greater significance, Ringo’s comments hint at something that could have major ramifications for the Ducks moving forward. A consistent theme among recruits is their praise for the genuineness and likability of the coaching staff, regardless of which coaches are their primary recruiters. That is to say, Ringo’s comments shouldn’t just be taken as “coach speak.” The Ducks may not win this battle, but the influence of the Ducks’ staff is something that should be noted, as it may be enough to sway prospects who are on the bubble in the future.
Five-star linebacker Smalls also visited last weekend. Smalls is the seventh overall prospect and the top outside linebacker according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.
The Ducks have a much better chance at landing Smalls than they do Ringo. Smalls is one of the Ducks’ most realistic high-profile targets at any position. And his being from Washington and a top Husky target as well makes this recruiting battle even more important for Oregon to win.
Smalls’ visit looks to have been a big-time hit. In an interview with 247Sports, he raved about his time in Eugene, calling it “one of the best overall experiences I’ve had.” And he’s already gelling with new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, saying:
“Coach Avalos is a really cool guy, and he’s very knowledgeable about the game and so relatable since he’s a younger coach. I also had meetings with Coach Cristobal, Coach Joe (Salave’a) and Coach Avalos, but I talked with mostly every coach.”
This was not Smalls’ first time on campus. But the key to winning these high-profile battles is getting prospects to visit as often as possible. The fact that Smalls is continuing to do so, and continues to be blown away by his experience, is huge. His recruitment is far from over, but if there is a five-star that the Ducks are very much in the running for, Smalls is at or near the top of the list.
The list of prospects that will be on campus this weekend is through the roof. And the Ducks aren’t just hosting 2020 prospects; they’re welcoming a handful of 2021 and 2022 prospects as well. Recruiting is a multi-year effort, so it’s important to plant seeds early.
But for the 2020 class, there’s an obvious reason why this weekend is so important. Top-ranked quarterback and sixth overall prospect (according to 247Sports’ composite rankings) DJ Uiagalelei will be at the Ducks’ spring game. Likely the top target regardless of position for the Ducks, they are preparing to roll out the red carpet as a last-ditch effort to win him over. The staff has already been recruiting him relentlessly, but with Clemson, the Ducks’ primary competition, taking a sizable lead in the race, the Ducks are going to have to make up some ground this weekend.
Clemson hosted Uiagalelei for its spring game, and many were worried that he would shut down his recruitment then and there. He has been leaning towards the Tigers as of late, but he didn’t commit, so the Ducks still have hope.
Nevertheless, this is a long shot at this point, and that’s a tough pill to swallow. The Ducks threw the kitchen sink at Uiagalelei, went toe to toe with the best team in college football and even found themselves the favorites in the race for a while. But the relationship that he has with the Clemson staff and his affinity for the Clemson atmosphere seem to be obstacles that are insurmountable.
Anything is possible, though. And rest assured, the Ducks are going to make it very hard for Uiagalelei to say “no.”
Now, here’s some good news. Top-50 recruit and current “soft” commit Avantae Williams — the guy from Florida who hasn’t ever been on campus — is scheduled to visit for the spring game. This is a big development, as it appears that he has affirmed his commitment with the Ducks since speculation arose that he was looking elsewhere. His recruitment is another one that is far from over, but this is a very good sign that he is much more solid than he appeared to be just a few weeks ago.
So that’s where things stand with these top targets heading into the spring game. As is the case in this business, some of the returns aren’t promising, but others are surprisingly so. And who knows? If the Ducks put on a show Saturday afternoon, maybe some of those long shots won’t be as unattainable as initially anticipated.
Morgantown, West Virginia Top Photo From Twitter
And a special thanks to the experts and insiders at 247Sports and ScoopDuck, who provide fans with the best and most in-depth Oregon recruiting news in the industry. Subscribe to each of them for premium content and the most up-to-date recruiting news.
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
Joshua is an adopted Duck fanatic, originally hailing from southwestern Pennsylvania. His love for the University of Oregon began as a young child when he became mesmerized by the flashy uniforms and explosive offenses of the Chip Kelly era, and now, he follows the team religiously. His fondest memory of the team is seeing De’Anthony Thomas race past Wisconsin defenders back in the 2012 Rose Bowl. A true football enthusiast, Joshua loves studying the intricacies of the game, and he aspires to become a professional sports journalist. Joshua now resides in Morgantown, West Virginia where he works in customer service. When he’s not watching Oregon replays, Joshua loves reading, writing, and spending time with his family. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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