The Recruiting Enigma

Well let's see, it's November 8. High school football is starting to wrap-up. The University of Oregon's official visits for high school football prospects are just beginning to ramp-up. UCLA already has verbal commitments from reportedly 14 recruits, and with only Fountain Valley, Calif. defensive back Parris Moore, and Hunter, Utah athlete Tarrell Richards reportedly committed to Oregon...

...Duck fans once again are getting nervous about whether Coach Mike Bellotti and company can reel in a successful recruiting class.

This is getting just about as predictable as ground hog's day.

Never mind that Oregon is currently ranked 7th in the nation. Never mind that they have recorded more wins than any other team in the Pac-10 Conference since Bellotti took over the team beginning with the 1995 season. Never mind that Oregon has gone to a bowl game the last six out seven years. Never mind that last year they had their first 10-win season in the history of the school. Never mind that Oregon's recruiting classes have consistently been ranked in the second tier of the conference and have rarely broken the pundits' Top 25 lists. Never mind the fact that Oregon's classes generally boast as many "no-name", "sleeper", "diamond-in-the-rough" type players as they do players listed in recruiting services magazines. And never mind that these same players often end up playing, starting, winning and even getting drafted by the Pros in the Oregon system.

It is interesting that several years ago I was interviewed by a local talk show radio host who argued that Oregon could never compete for the national championship or get to the next level of being a perennial Top 25 team without recruiting nationally and recruiting consistently more highly ranked players.

Without question, as unorthodox as it may seem, Oregon has gone about recruiting and building its program in its own way. And, Oregon has been highly successful doing so.

I am losing count of how many so-called recruiting experts I've spoken to from Brentt Eads at Student Sports to Greg Biggins at PacWest Football to Allen Wallace at SuperPrep, who have all agreed that the Oregon coaches play their recruiting cards very close to their vests, that they are great evaluators of raw talent, that they are excellent coaches who get the most out of their players, that they are able, more so than other coaches, to locate the players with the most heart and who can excel within the Oregon system. But, most startling of all, these same recruiting gurus admit nearly every year that Oregon signed more than one player who they absolutely had no visibility into or at least not until it was very late into the recruiting process.

Certainly, if college recruiting classes were ranked by what they were able to accomplish with the least heralded players, Oregon would be in the Top-10 every year.

Now, with all that being said, there are some other good reasons to have patience concerning Oregon's recruiting efforts to date. First of all, according to the recruiting commitments database there are two Pac-10 teams who are showing no verbal commitments as of today, California and Stanford. The 14 UCLA commitments more than double the commitments held by other Pac-10 schools with Washington only showing four, USC with six, Arizona State with three, Arizona with five, Oregon State with four, Washington State with seven and Oregon with two.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Oregon 2001 Media Guide only lists 14 seniors on the team. Given circumstances such as holdover scholarships, departures, career ending injuries and other matters, the Ducks are likely to sign no more than 15-18 players representing their smallest recruiting class since 1995 when they took only 15 players. A small recruiting class could make the highly selective Ducks even more selective. Furthermore, Oregon is known for not offering players without first seeing them play, usually on film and/or in person. They also like to visit the players both in Eugene and in the players' homes. This ensures a correct fit for the players and the school. There is no denying that Oregon is near the top of the conference every year in terms of its graduation rates for its student athletes. Oregon takes its time in recruiting the players who will have the greatest opportunity for success at the school both on and off the football field.

Nevertheless, this year I am also detecting some very positive inroads the Oregon coaches are making in recruiting highly ranked players. Since I began following Oregon's recruiting efforts in the 1980s, I have never seen in one year so many nationally ranked players indicating an interest in the Ducks. For example, in PrepStar magazine's preseason Top 125 Dream Team, there are nine players who have reportedly indicated an interest in the Ducks. This is more than double the number of players from the same list indicating an interest in Oregon in years past. In SuperPrep magazine's Preseason Fifty there are three players looking at Oregon (16 SuperPrep All Americans) and in 101 there are six players listing the Ducks among their favorites. Furthermore, in the eDuck recruiting database, there are players representing 10 different states indicating an interest in Oregon. This would suggest that much broader awareness and preference for the Ducks exist this year than from the customary four or five-state recruiting base typical of past years.

The PrepStar Top 125 Dream Teamers looking at Oregon
Matt Gutierrez, QB, 6-4, 210, 4.8, Concord, CA (DeLaSalle)
Lorenzo Booker, RB, 5-11, 175, 4.4, Ventura, CA (St. Bonaventure)
Frederick Collins, RB, 5-11, 185, 4.4, La Quinta, CA
Loren Howard, DL, 6-5, 272, 4.75, Scottsdale, AZ (Saguaro)
Haloti Ngata, DL, 6-5, 305, 5.0, Salt Lake City, UT (Highland)
Reggie Cribbs, LB, 6-1, 220, 4.5, Chicago, IL (Hubbard)
Darnell Bing, DB, 6-3, 215, 4.4, Long Beach, CA (Long Beach Poly)
Quinton McCoy, Ath, 5-11, 175, 4.35, Phoenix, AZ (Valley Christian)
Mike Nixon, Ath, 6-2, 195, 4.49, Phoenxi, AZ (Sunnyslope)

The SuperPrep Preseason Fifty looking at Oregon
Lorenzo Booker
Haloti Ngata
Darnell Bing 101 looking at Oregon
Lorenzo Booker
Haloti Ngata
Darnell Bing
Jake Kuresa, DL, 6-4, 315, Hyrum, UT (Mountain Crest)
Donnie Mateaki, DE, 6-5, 265, Honolulu, HI (Iolani)
Matt Gutierrez

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