Oregon Offers a Dream for Incoming Recruits

New Oregon football coach Willie Taggart made another winning impression last week landing a consensus top-25 recruiting class on National Signing Day. Anxious Duck fans hungry for good news celebrated at gatherings all over the state, culminating with a star-studded, Oregon Club of Portland event held at the Convention Center. If the ear-to-ear grins on the assembled boosters, ex-players and Oregon coaches are any indication, it won’t be long before the Ducks are quacking again.

Jordan Kent, Anthony Newman and ESPN’s Neil Everett shared emcee duties at the Portland dinner. They were joined by a large contingent of former Duck greats, including Kellen Clemens, Arik Armstead, Alex Balducci and DeForest Buckner. Clemens told an amusing “welcome to the NFL” story about Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis. The fearsome Lewis tried to intimidate Clemens in his first start by standing right over center and screaming profane threats at the Burns bred quarterback, his friends, family and everyone he knew. “It’s a good thing I wasn’t wearing white pants,” Clemens quipped. The parade of familiar faces accentuated the Ducks’ rich tradition and emphasized support for the new staff. The entire evening was an exercise in congratulatory back-slapping and glad-handing as the excitement for Duck football has quickly returned.

After luring two high-profile assistants, Jim Leavitt and Mario Cristobal, from Colorado and Alabama, the indefatigable Taggart launched a nationwide effort to attract equally outstanding athletes to Eugene. Obviously thrilled by Oregon’s top-flight facilities and abundant resources, Taggart has looked like a lottery winner since his introduction. He’s repeatedly said there’s no player or region of the country beyond the Ducks’ recruiting reach. At the Oregon Club of Portland dinner last Wednesday, Taggart again enthusiastically declared the UO is a dream school with national appeal. His first class features players from six different states, including seven from Taggart’s home state of Florida.

Taggart’s self-professed top priority since day one has been rehabbing the Ducks’ porous defense. Convincing the well-regarded Leavitt to jump from rival Colorado was a strong first step. Leavitt unleashed his boundless energy at the Oregon Club dinner. He growled his proclivity for “guys who can hit” with a scratchy voice fatigued, he said, by laser tag. He paced and rocked and bounced with glee as he introduced his nine new defensive recruits with highlights of their bone-crunching tackles playing on large screens. Four defensive backs, three linemen and two linebackers make up the class, though there are three more athletes who could end up playing on either side of the ball. The Ducks appear to have reloaded with speed in the secondary and strength up front. Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir are two of the highest rated cornerbacks in the country. Rutger Reitmaier and Jordan Scott add a combined 600 plus pounds to the interior. Big hitting safety Billy Gibson received offers from Nebraska, Miami and West Virginia before choosing the Ducks. Leavitt’s animated presentation had everyone believing Oregon could and would soon become an intimidating defensive power.

On the offensive side, the Ducks secured four wide receivers, four offensive linemen, two running backs, and a quarterback along with the previously mentioned athletes. Like his Oregon predecessors, Taggart seems to favor hyper speed at the skill positions. The coach said if you ask incoming wide receiver Daewood Davis what his 40-yard dash time is, he’ll simply say “fast,” and the same could be said for many of these incoming freshmen. There are many intriguing options and it’s not yet clear where they’ll all end up playing. Bruce Judson, ranked the 22nd best athlete in the country, played quarterback in college, but the 5-9, 203-pound dynamo will likely move to running back or slot receiver at Oregon. The Ducks flipped former Arizona commit, quarterback Braxton Burmeister a Parade All-American and the seventh-ranked dual-threat QB in the nation according to Rivals.com. Oregon also signed ESPN’s 35th ranked guard in the country, the 6-4, 310-pound Popo Aumavae.

This only scratches the surface of the balanced, deep and highly touted class of athletes Taggart has delivered. He’s made no secret of his intention to win a national championship and he’s giving every indication he expects to get the job done here at Oregon. After an embarrassing and disheartening season, it was easy for Duck fans to forget how good they have it. But, seeing the program through coach Taggart’s refreshingly positive perspective has reinvigorated the spirits of the Oregon faithful. “Every place I visit,” Taggart proudly and insistently maintains, “some kid tells me Oregon is his dream school.” It’s not hard to imagine dreams coming true for Duck fans in the very near future.

CHRIS NAUGLE

Picture from Emerald Media Group.

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