Fair or not, Chip Kelly and Mario Cristobal will be compared to one another for years to come. The former was largely responsible for the most successful period of Oregon football, while the latter is trying to get the program back to where Kelly had it.
Although Kelly is long gone and attempting to rebuild a different program, his shadow still looms large over Oregon football. For Cristobal to finally break free of Kelly’s overbearing presence, he needs to put together successful seasons of his own. That starts with acquiring elite talent.
Cristobal has done that brilliantly. He has he Ducks currently on pace to land their second straight high-ranking recruiting class, one that significantly outranks Kelly’s with the Bruins. But Kelly’s not going down without a fight; he and Cristobal are currently facing off in a head-to-head battle for a key prospect.
Cristobal stomped Kelly in their first-ever meeting on the field. Will Kelly get his revenge on the recruiting trail?
Jackson LaDuke: Mr. Everything
Jackson LaDuke isn’t a five-star prospect, so his commitment to Oregon wouldn’t excite the fan base as much as one from Johnny Wilson or Sav’ell Smalls would. Nevertheless, LaDuke is a talented player who is near the top of both the Bruins’ and the Ducks’ recruiting big boards.
The 6’3”, 220-lb. linebacker has an .8900 rating from the 247Sports Composite, which nearly makes him a four-star. He’s already a top-400 prospect, and it’s entirely possible that he’ll get a bump and gain an extra star by the next ratings update.
LaDuke is an important prospect because of his versatility. His highlight tape shows him lining up at multiple positions, both off the ball and on the line of scrimmage. He’s utilized as an edge rusher against offensive tackles, as an A-gap blitzer against guards and centers, and also as a weakside linebacker in coverage or in “see-ball-get-ball” run support. He would thrive in Andy Avalos‘ aggressive defensive system: he’s a tenacious pursuer and plays with his hair on fire. If he doesn’t develop the size to play the “STUD” position, he could turn into a killer off-the-ball linebacker who can play the run, rush the passer and even offer something in pass coverage.
His competition has been less than ideal, and that might be the reason that he’s only a three-star prospect. But it’s not like LaDuke hasn’t had the opportunity to transfer to other, more talented areas of the region. According to an article by Nevada Sports Net, he received an offer to play for Bishop Manogue, a school in the southern, more talented part of Nevada, and also had an opportunity to play in a Sacramento suburb that’s known for harvesting Nevadan talent. He turned down both and stayed north, where he now plays for Spanish Springs High. On turning down the latter opportunity, LaDuke said the following:
“I didn’t want to leave my family here and my parents didn’t want to miss out on a big four years of my life. I stayed here. It was definitely the right choice. No matter where you are, if you have the talent and you promote yourself, they’ll find you. If you do enough, they’ll find you.”
His decision may give some evaluators pause, as they still haven’t seen him play against comparably talented players. But there’s no doubt that LaDuke is confident in his talents, and his commitment to his family and his school are things that suggest he’s just the type of player the Ducks are looking for.
It’s Oregon or UCLA (or Arizona State)
For a while, UCLA was the favorite to land LaDuke. UCLA is only a few hours from his home, but beyond that, he seems to really connect with Kelly. In an interview with 247Sports, LaDuke said:
“Coach Chip Kelly is one of the most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met. He’ll be the guy to tell you to go take all your visits; he won’t sit there and try to sell that UCLA will be the best fit for me because he doesn’t know. That’s what he told me and my parents when we sat down with him. No coach can really tell you what the best fit is because they don’t know. He’s sure in his program and wants (recruits) to make sure they are finding the best fits, to be happy and not be the guy looking to get into the transfer portal.”
For Oregon fans, hearing this approach from Kelly isn’t anything new. He has always been a self-proclaimed straight shooter who won’t wow prospects with sales pitches. He tells them like it is and lets them decide whether that’s good enough to play for him. It doesn’t always work to his benefit, as evidenced by the Bruins’ putrid start to this recruiting cycle. But sometimes, prospects prefer and respect straightforwardness.
Beyond his connection with Kelly, 247Sports reports that academics are a “big deal in [LaDuke’s] decision-making process.” Of course, UCLA is a very prestigious program, and it’s well known for its academic reputation. That’s certainly a notch in the Bruins’ favor.
But recently, the Ducks have been gaining momentum, surpassing the Bruins as favorites for him. At first, Oregon was in wait-and-see mode, as it was also targeting Carson Bruener and comparing his skill set to LaDuke’s. But according to ScoopDuck, Cristobal ultimately preferred LaDuke, factoring in his size and fit within the scheme. This turned out well, because Bruener just committed to “that school up north,” the same school that his dad played at.
LaDuke visited Oregon unofficially during the spring, and made an official return trip to Eugene this past weekend. Those in the industry didn’t rule out a potential “quack” either while he was on campus or shortly thereafter, simply because of how things have been trending.
Similar to his praise of Kelly, LaDuke was very complimentary of Oregon’s coaching staff. Following his first visit to Oregon, LaDuke said the following in an interview with 247Sports:
“For me, it was just about the people there and the culture they’re building. They make you feel at home and it’s a program that’s going to be a powerhouse again. There’s definitely a reason they’re going to have probably the best recruiting class they’ve ever had. They see me fitting into the defense there and it’s a big offer for me after the visit.”
The Ducks are strong contenders to land him, but there is a dark horse: Arizona State has been gaining some ground. While not many expect the Sun Devils to win out in the end, they’ve done enough to put their hat in the ring. Still, it looks like it’s primarily an Oregon-UCLA battle, with the Ducks having the edge.
This won’t be the last time that Cristobal and Kelly go up against each other. And though both coaches would likely brush off the thought of any rivalry between them, beating Kelly for a key recruiting target would be extra sweet for Oregon fans. For the sake of those everywhere who are ready for Cristobal to establish his own legacy, let’s hope he wins this recruiting battle in the same manner that he beat Kelly’s Bruins on the field in 2018.
Morgantown, West VirginiaTop 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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