What if I told you that the Ducks aren’t finished adding pieces to their program-best, seventh-ranked 2019 recruiting class?
While most of the news has revolved around the Ducks’ 2020 class, an elite 2019 prospect has re-entered the fold. Four-star cornerback* Chris Steele is back on the market, entering his name in the transfer portal after enrolling at Florida earlier this year. (*All rankings according to 247Sports’ Composite.)
There are plenty of variables that make Steele’s “second recruitment” a complicated one. But if everything works out, there’s a good chance that the Ducks’ 2019 class gets a big-time, last-minute addition.
Steele’s Initial Recruitment
Steele has always been hard to get a read on. The former top-50 prospect played his high school ball at the talent-laden St. John Bosco, less than an hour away from USC, the top football program in California. But unlike a lot of southern Californian prospects, Steele had his eyes on a variety of schools, many of which were much farther than a mere stone’s throw away.
Initially, in 2017, Steele committed to UCLA, a school that was close to home. At the time, his offer sheet was relatively small, and the young star likely wasn’t aware of just how many options were available to him. Few eastern schools had shown significant interest in him, and among Pac-12 schools, UCLA seemed like a logical choice, as it was both local and a prestigious program.
But then schools like Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma offered the elite cornerback. With a lot more options on the table, he decommitted from UCLA to re-evaluate them.
His next verbal commitment was to USC in July of 2018. This was expected, as the Trojans rarely miss on prospects from their own backyard. Although Steele had shown interest in leaving California by exploring, and apparently silently committing to, a handful of different programs, he always maintained that USC was his dream destination.
But in the end, the pull to travel east was too strong, despite his parents reportedly preferring him closer to home. Steele decommitted from USC in October, and re-opened his recruitment once again. This time, a new, surprising contender emerged from the pack of challengers: Florida. The Gators had been consistent in recruiting Steele, despite his pledges to USC, UCLA and however many other programs he gave silent commitments to. That persistence paid off, as the Gators beat out USC, Oregon and a handful of other last-second finalists to land what turned out to be the top player in their 2019 recruiting class.
Trouble in Paradise
On the surface, Steele’s first spring with the Gators seemed to be going well. He had been consistently practicing as the starting cornerback in a very talented secondary, and was a lock to see the field early and often in his true freshman season.
But behind the scenes, Steele wasn’t so pleased with his time in Gainesville.
Steele had been assigned a troubled roommate, four-star quarterback Jalon Jones, another early enrollee. According to multiple reports, Steele had requested a different room, but he was told that a move would not be made until the summer. That decision would come back to haunt the Gators.
According to police reports obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, Jones was accused of sexual battery by two different women. The incidents both took place on April 6th, mere minutes apart from each other. Although neither victim decided to pursue charges, Jones has since transferred from the school in light of the circumstances.
Steele, as well, made the shocking decision to enter the transfer portal. The Gainesville Sun cites the school’s inability to move Steele to a different dorm room sooner as the primary reason that he’s looking for a new destination.
This time, most expect him to go west. And the team in the lead for his services is one that nearly landed him in the first go around.
Oregon Is in the Driver’s Seat
When it was announced that Steele was transferring, the first two schools that came to mind as potential destinations were Oregon and USC. USC is naturally a candidate, simply because Steele is a southern Californian kid, and regardless of how poorly the Trojans play, they’ll always be a factor for local prospects.
But in this case, another notch in USC’s favor is the fact that this recent incident has scarred Steele’s parents to a certain degree, and they want him as close to home as possible. They obviously came around on his decision to go to school clear across the country at first, but considering what happened, they’re not as likely to back a similar decision a second time.
But that’s about all that the Trojans have going for them right now. In his initial recruitment, there’s a reason why Steele decommitted from the program: he began to fall out of love with them, especially after Florida and another program from the West showed what they had to offer.
Of course, that “other program” is Oregon. The Ducks were the runner-up to the Gators when Steele made his final decision, and if he had gone to a west coast school, it would have been Oregon. The Ducks became a factor pretty late in his recruitment, but they made a big impression on him. As is the case with a lot of recruits, Steele puts a lot of stock in his relationship with coaches, and Oregon cornerbacks coach Donte Williams just might be his favorite.
In an interview with 247Sports, Steele said the following about the Ducks’ ace recruiter:
“Coach Donte … Our relationship is known. Me and that dude, he’s like a big brother to me. The opportunity to play for somebody who is going to care about me off the field, but at the same time is going to (develop me) better than other people … It’s a win-win situation.”
Both ScoopDuck and 247Sports report that the Ducks are one of the top contenders, if not the favorites, for Steele. Although getting the parents on board may be a challenge, the Ducks have already reached out to his camp, and the two sides have been making progress.
Unfortunately, there are a few hurdles that Oregon will have to overcome. The first is the scholarship count. The Ducks are right up against their limit of 85 scholarship players, and they may need a couple players to transfer in order to fit Steele in. That’s not inconceivable, but it’s an obstacle nonetheless.
The second is the fact that Steele was named in the police reports by one of the victims. Now, he was not cited as a suspect, but of course, any team looking to land him will want to do due diligence to ensure that he was nothing more than an innocent bystander (which, to this point, appears to be the case).
Finally, the biggest challenge that the Ducks will face is the threat of a program that was seemingly out of the picture in Steele’s initial recruitment: Stanford. According to ScoopDuck, the Cardinal might be Steele’s top choice if he gets admitted. This comes out of left field, as the school wasn’t even among his finalists earlier this year. But somehow, David Shaw and company have crept into the fold, and may well snag him when all is said and done.
And they’re not the only ones closing in on Steele. Oklahoma and UCLA, two schools that are very familiar with him, are also strong contenders. But this is far from over. The Trojans have too much clout to be counted out, and the Ducks made too good of an impression on him to be considered underdogs.
It’s not common to have such a big battle over a prospect from the previous recruiting cycle, but Steele is a can’t-miss player at a premium position, so every potential candidate is throwing out all the stops to get him on to its roster.
If the Ducks do indeed land him, and 247Sports re-ranks their 2019 recruiting class accordingly, it would give them the fifth-best recruiting class in the country. Not too shabby from a program just a few years removed from a 4-8 record.
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.
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