Football is just a game.

Nobody planned the way Oregon Football would start its 2004 season. No script or planning could have changed it or made it run more smoothly. The day had to run its course because by any measure, football is just game played and coached by people.

Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti, defensive coach Nick Aliotti and linebackers coach Don Pellum along with players Demetrius Williams, Charles Favroth, A.J. Tuitele, Jackie Bates, Cameron Colvin and Willie Glasper attended funeral services for Terrance Kelly in Richmond, Calif. The group had flown out of Eugene early Wednesday morning, the same day the 2005 fall camp had originally been scheduled to start.

The reporters who follow Duck football all were there at Autzen Stadium promptly at 11 a.m. While individual players were interviewed and photographed, a sense that something more important than football was going on and that the full meaning of the day dwarfed the questions of how was the summer workouts or what are the expectations for the upcoming season.

Perhaps it was symbolic that Kellen Clemens was the first to face the media and he answered questions in his typical, straightforward approach. He indicated he had met Kelly a couple times during the summer. Kelly along with his high school teammates from De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) had spent three weeks in Eugene during the summer. Clemens said he liked Kelly and was greatly saddened by the senseless death. Struggling to find any meaning to the event that took place last Thursday night in Richmond, Calif., Clemens felt the only thing he could take away from it was to live each day the best he can.

Other players echoed Clemens' feelings, and it was clear that the team was ready to get onto the field to do what they had come to Oregon for -- play football. Every player was anxious to get the season started. Oregon is starting late this year because of the schedule. The Ducks' first game of the season is on September 11th at home against Indiana and because of the scheduling there will be no bye week in 2004. Oregon will play 11 straight weeks.

Haloti Ngata, the giant defensive tackle said he felt bigger and stronger -- fully recovered from a knee injury he suffered in the early moments of the Mississippi State game, an injury that knocked him out for the year last season. He looked big, strong and intimidating. He was ready to go out and hit somebody on the practice field.

Tim Day was at Media Day too, this time in a walking cast. He had suffered an injury to his left foot that required surgery to have a pin placed. Day like the rest of his team is ready for the season and his case, the 6-5, 267-pound tight end will be available probably after the Indiana game.

Newcomer Terrell Jackson, a running back hoping to see playing time during the season was at Media Day. He, like everyone else from the team was shocked by what had happed to Kelly. Jackson had met Kelly during an all-star game last June and had started a friendship. They had exchanged phone calls and were looking forward to moving ahead with their lives in Eugene. Jackson will move on and looks forward to the year and to playing football.

The original schedule had called for the players being available until about one or 1:30 p.m., but Thursday was fluid in terms of time. Bellotti was thought to be available for questions at 3 p.m. but Dave Williford, the Director of Sports Media Information for the University of Oregon announced that Bellotti was delayed. It was understandable. Something more important was going on.

The Ducks took to the practice field at 4 p.m., first the defense in shorts and shirts without their helmets. The offense walked out onto the practice field sometime later, and the pace of the workout seemed to pick up. The Ducks were getting back to football and the attention of the reporters and onlookers from the sidelines were now focusing on identifying new players. Putting a face to a name and number. Of the incoming class of 2004, only Mark Asper (religious mission), Micah Howeth (did not meet entry requirements), T.R. Smith (did not meet entry requirements) and Michael Speed (delayed entry) were not present. Three players from last year's team were not included on the first roster. Ramond White (out with a shoulder injury), Rob Hamilton (recovering from a knee injury) and Kyle Weatherspoon (also recovering from a shoulder injury) and are expected to rejoin the team after the first game when the roster can be expanded. Linebacker Marcus Miller gave up football for personal reasons to forego his senior season.

At some point the Ducks started passing drills during the course of the workout Bellotti along with the group that had gone to California earlier in the day were back on the field. The day from that point was rather typical of a first day practice. There was no real contact. Coaches elevated their voice level to gain the attention of players. The day looked more typical.

A few of the more noticeable bright spots included wide receiver Jaison Williams, 6-5, 230, who showed his speed and athletic ability as he ran long post patterns. Wide Receiver Cameron Colvin, 6-2, 195 also showed his wheels as he ran under lofted passes. Clemens seemed in control of his passing and his leadership on the practice field was apparent. So too were linebacker Jerry Matson's leadership traits, as were Robby Valenzuela's and Marley Tucker's. Ryan Gilliam, was talking and enjoying himself. Footballs were back in the air.

Bellotti later answered questions about the day. He said the funeral services were inspiring and that on the plane trip back he had the feeling that football was going to be a way of healing for his team, and a haven against the cares and worries of the real world. When questions finally got back around to football he acknowledged that the linebacker position is an area of concern and that the coaching staff will look at a number of possibilities. He emphasized that it is still early and the staff would explore their options. Bellotti pointed out that the offensive line was the strength of the team with the four seniors and plenty of depth. Bellotti mentioned that Glapser was still in the process of meeting academic requirements for admission and that was why Glasper was in street clothes during practice. The coach was pleased that there were no injuries on the first day of practice. It was a day that was started off unusually, but ended up with a football program back on track.

And perhaps as Clemens suggested, done as well as possible.

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