BobRickert/OregonliveOregon's coaches have logged hundreds of thousands of miles to promote the program and recruit the nation's finest players over the past decade. But the flight they'll all take down to Arizona will have a longer-last affect than any. Because after January 10th, win or lose, the Ducks will have played on college football's biggest stage and that's something recruits won't forget for the next decade. This game won't change more than maybe one or two minds at most with this year's class. But unlike all those hundreds of flights before, this one will be remembered by kids in the classes of '12, '13, '14, and on and on. Especially if the Ducks win.
Taking a step back, I have to applaud Oregon fans, they're quick learners. When I started this gig a decade ago everyone clamored that Oregon didn't get enough local players. Some didn't understand the value of pushing for national exposure with Joey Harrington's billboard in Times' Square or the even more controversial (if you lived in LA) boards down in Southern California. But you learned quickly. I applaud you all.
Oregon's push to expose the program, and as a result, the school itself has paid dividends nationally. No longer are they constrained by the boundaries of Northern and Southern California and the luck of landing a few elite Oregon players who decide they don't want to embark on an out-of-state adventure (Mr. Suh? Owa? I could go on.) No longer are they as strongly bound by time zones and regional biases. The best evidence of that is the backfield that lines up this year in the National Title game. All that talk of, 'Why are they wasting their time recruiting all over the country?' is long long gone. Thomas, James, and soon Seastrunk and Williams, all Texans, will line up in the backfield. Tra Carson and Anthony Wallace will be key figures in a couple years as well.
Yes, Oregon's had it's struggles landing, and then keeping other distant players. Harper, Gilliam and Tucker Callahan come to mind quickly. As do Tahj Boyd and Bryce Brown in the recruiting process. But the ground work is layed over time. And Oregon's put in the miles and created the ties that bind for a long time with high school coaches all over the country.
And I can make equal arguments that landing Blair Phillips helps Zac Clark see how he can succeed. That Jairus Byrd's attending Oregon from St. Louis helps the Ducks push for players like special teams superstar and emerging DB Brian Jackson. (Neal's contacts in Alabama are obviously important as well there.)
The point is, each recruiting success from the Mountain time zone east builds on the next. Haloti Ngata helps Rickey Heimuli see how he'll succeed, and on and on.
Which brings us to Tacoi Sumler who is apparently taking other trips as well now. Okay, Oregon's landed Rahsaan Vaughn and has Devon Blackmon and BJ Kelley with high interest as well. (Very very high by the way.) Sumler wouldn't be the first kid to change his mind. Seems to me Ethan Grant did the same thing last year and instead, Oregon landed Josh Huff. That wasn't intentional but these things have a way of working out when you're recruiting dozens of terrific players at the same time. And the only way to do that, is to recruit great players wherever they live.
After January 10th, it may get a little easier for the Ducks. They'll return to Oregon and hit the phones. A couple coaches may spend a little time with Christian Westerman down there after the game I'd think, and there are a couple guys in California they'll swing over and talk to before coming back up to Eugene. Matt Court opens January 13th. A lot of football players will be on hand, along with at least a couple recruits including DT Kevin McReynolds from Washington D.C., and receiver B.J. Kelley from Fresno.
Oregon's found a way to get where they are without being on the biggest stage or getting constant exposure because they're in a major market like USC or UCLA. The halo affect of the game on the 10th will make it a lot easier in the years to come. They'll still get on a lot of planes. But oh the story they'll have to tell in those living rooms.
OregonliveQuieting the speculation about his future, Oregon running back LaMichael James announced Thursday that he will return for his junior season in 2011.
James, the nation’s rushing and scoring leader, met with Ducks coach Chip Kelly on Wednesday, and the official release came out late Thursday morning.
It was only part of the good news for Kelly, who said that James was one of nine Oregon underclassmen to test the NFL waters. All nine, after receiving an evaluation from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, decided to return, Kelly said.
The announcement caught some, including defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, by surprise.
“Oh, he is returning? Oh. … Awesome!’’ Aliotti said. “If I didn’t have two replaced hips, I’d probably jump up and do a couple of somersaults. So yeah, awesome! That’s good news – as you can see, the smile. I’m fired up about that.’’
Kelly and Aliotti refused to discuss what James heard from the advisory board, but Kelly said he prefers that any player who is considering the pros at all to put his name in for evaluation before the Jan. 15 deadline to declare for the draft.
“We encourage every person that is eligible – it’s up to them, it’s their decision – but we encourage everybody,’’ said Kelly, who said he didn’t believe the decision was a difficult one for James. “I don’t think a lot of decisions are very difficult for him. He’s a well-thought-out young man.’’
In the statement, James again said the decision was about academics.
“I came to the University of Oregon to get a quality education as well as to play football,’’ James said in the statement, “and feel I have yet to complete that goal.’’
The timing of the announcement has to please Kelly, as the Ducks do everything they can to avoid possible distractions before the Jan. 10 BCS National Championship game against Auburn in Glendale, Ariz.
“That was his choice,’’ Kelly said. “I don’t care – we don’t let outside distractions affect us.’’
Kelly said James came to him and asked if the department could “send out something so I don’t get asked that question anymore.’’
James’ future has become a hot topic as he finishes off one of the greatest seasons ever by any Oregon player. He leads the nation with a 152.9-yard rushing average and 12.0 points per game. He has gained 1,682 yards – 40 fewer than Jonathan Stewart’s school record of 1,722 in 2007 – despite missing the season opener due to suspension. He needs 69 yards to pass Derek Loville’s career record of 3,296 yards set in 1986-89. He won the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s best running back, and he finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Those numbers are plenty good enough to catch the attention of NFL teams, but James’ size (5-foot-9 and 185 pounds) figures to keep that interest in check. Plus, there is no great financial incentive to come out now, given that the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement ends in March and the new deal is expected to include lower rookie salaries.
So the Ducks’ stable of running backs in 2011 will be a full one, with James, fellow redshirt sophomore Kenjon Barner and highly touted youngsters Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams, both of whom are wrapping up their freshman seasons with redshirts intact.
"That's great,'' linebacker Spencer Paysinger said. "Great for the team, great for him, and it will probably help build his stock - even though I don't think he needs to build his stock any better. He's the best running back in the nation.''
The Ducks’ prominent underclassmen who are eligible for the draft (by being three years removed from high school) are James and Barner, quarterback Darron Thomas, offensive linemen Carson York and Mark Asper, tight ends David Paulson and Brandon Williams, receiver Lavasier Tuinei, defensive ends Terrell Turner and Brandon Hanna and Dion Jordan, linebacker Josh Kaddu and defensive backs Eddie Pleasant, John Boyett, Anthony Gildon, Scott Grady and Javes Lewis as well as punter Jackson Rice.
James has been projected by some analysts as a third-round draft pick. So was defensive back Jairus Byrd in 2009. But Buffalo picked Byrd in the second round, 42nd overall, and he made the Pro Bowl as a rook
“As dumb as it may seem, I told Jairus Byrd that he should go,’’ Aliotti said. “But I said it was not my decision. I basically stay out of it.’’
Stewart entered the NFL early in 2008, skipping his senior season, and was drafted 13th overall by Carolina.
In-case you Duck fans were under a rock today, here's some great news. LaMichael James is a great player and we are blessed to have him back for another year. He could change his mind, but for the moment it seems we have him for one more season
We have some new bandwagoners, Jimmy Fallon and Sebastian Bach sing a Ducks Ballad:
"Don't **** with the Ducks!"
OregonliveSpeedy four-star receiver Devon Blackmon committed to Oregon today at the Under Armour All-Star game. He's the third receiver in Oregon's class along with Florida's Tacoi Sumler and JC standout Rahsaan Vaughn. Blackmon is now 6' 1" and about 175-180lbs.
He said OU instead of the U of O, but at least this time he had a good-looking, modern Duck cap. Here are some highlights of Blackmon in action. The run he makes at about the 2:15 mark is ridiculous. And the ball fake and run at the 3 minute mark is almost better.
In-case you had not heard, we picked up another commitment that has pushed us to the 7th ranked class in the Nation per Rivals. Devon Blackmon and Tacoi Sumler being added to our other dynamic playmakers is incredibly exciting. I'll post the link to the highlight video below.
Devon Blackmon Highlights
Front page of SI.com today:
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/201...html?eref=sihpYou think you're into the games?
When Phil Knight gets to his suite at Autzen Stadium to watch his beloved Oregon Ducks, he can put on his headset and listen to the Ducks' coaches call plays. Then he can go over to the whiteboard in his suite and diagram the play for his guests -- before the Ducks run it.
Knight knows how to draw up his X's and O's, and for good reason. In the offseason, Oregon has been known to send its coaches to his office to give him a private tutorial: Offensive coaches one day, defensive coaches the next.
And Knight knows Oregon's talent, because when the Ducks get a commitment from a recruit, somebody is assigned to tell Knight. On National Signing Day, he sometimes stands around the fax machine in the Ducks' football offices, watching the letters of intent roll in.
Millions of words have been written to dissect the saga of Cam Newton, his father, Cecil, and whether Newton got paid to bring his talents to Auburn. But the more interesting booster story in this national championship game involves Auburn's opponent.
Knight's influence on Oregon is so great that calling him a booster is like calling the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a concerned citizen. Without Knight, Oregon would be thrilled to go to the Holiday Bowl. Without Knight, Oregon would be asking for money instead of printing it.
Without Knight, Oregon would be ... (gasp!) Oregon State.
Knight holds the key to Oregon athletics in his wallet, and everybody there knows it. The new basketball gym -- Matthew Knight Arena, named after Phil's late son -- is his project. The school's uniforms, more than any other team's, are a billboard for his company, Nike. There is a sense that every new building and every important hire needs Knight's stamp of approval.
Knight graduated from Oregon, but so much of his spending in Eugene is not about education. It isn't even really about athletics, because let's face it: After you spend your first $100 million or so, you probably have all the jockstraps and barbells you need.
No, most of Knight's spending is about recruiting. He spends to excess in order to impress high school kids. In the mixed-up world of the NCAA, schools can spend $50 million on gold-plated mouthpiece holders, but if they give a kid $1,000 to pay his mom's mortgage, it's a violation.
Knight has poured tens of millions of dollars into what amounts to makeup and jewelry for the athletic department. Consider the size and cost of new academic-support buildings at three big-time schools:
Miami, under construction now: 30,000 square feet, $13.6 million.
Michigan, completed in the winter of 2006: 38,000 square feet, $12 million.
Oregon: 37,000 square feet, $41.7 million.
Actually, that $41.7 million is a university estimate of how much the building cost. Knight paid for it himself and wouldn't say. The school may not even know.
What do you get for your extra $28 million? According to The Oregonian, the center features a three-story atrium, a 113-seat auditorium, "a room of bronze athlete-award statues commissioned by a Spanish artist whose sculptures are featured at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland" and a three-story-high etched steel mosaic of Albert Einstein. Naturally, it's not just any three-story-high etched steel mosaic of Albert Einstein. It is made out of thousands of photos of Oregon athletes taken by a photographer who followed them for a year.
Also: "In the second- and third-floor women's bathrooms, facing the stalls is a larger-than-life mirror etching of Knight."
(I'm so glad they're larger than life, because exact life-sized mirror etchings of Knight would just be weird.)
Do high school kids really choose a college because of this stuff? Hello? Have you ever met a high school kid? What 18-year-old wouldn't love having vents in his locker to dry his pads after practice? Ten years ago, Oregon noticed that kids would visit Eugene just to see the facilities, even if they weren't going to sign with the Ducks. Oregon kept spending, players kept visiting, and eventually the athletes started to come.
In 2000, Oregon joined the Workers Rights' Consortium, which has heavily criticized Nike's labor practices. Knight withdrew his donation for the Autzen Stadium renovation. Then the university withdrew from the consortium. And then Knight pledged his money again.
Knight's power over Oregon athletics is undeniable, but it is also mysterious. Knight is famously secretive. Does he really get to call one play a game? Is it true that Oregon holds one practice every fall that only Knight gets to attend?
Did Knight coerce longtime Ducks coach Mike Bellotti to resign so offensive whiz Chip Kelly could take over? All we know is that Knight, the marketing and new-idea maven, loves Kelly's fast-paced offense; that some other school was sure to snap up Kelly if Oregon didn't promote him to head coach; that Bellotti resigned to become the athletic director, a job he held for all of nine months; and that Bellotti has said he would like to get back into coaching. Connecting the dots is just speculation.
Did Knight get former Oregon athletic director Bill Moos fired? Moos told me, "I left on my own." But Moos acknowledged that "People said the relationship got strained. I made some decisions along the way that I think weren't necessarily in good favor. He never openly called me and criticized anything I did." Conveniently, Oregon replaced Moos with Pat Kilkenny, a Knight friend who does not have a college degree.
Moos still speaks glowingly of Knight. (As well he should: Moos is now the athletic director at Washington State, which has a Nike contract.) And Moos was the one who first tapped into Knight's heart in the mid-90s, which led to tapping Knight's brain and his wallet.
Most billionaires see their spending as a reflection of who they are. In Knight's case, he wants to be seen as a winner. Before he started pouring money into the Ducks, he needed to know the Ducks were serious about being the best.
"It was never 'Here is a (blank) check,'" Moos said. "It was 'I'll help you but you have to raise so much of it yourselves.' He was never, in those days: 'Hey, I'll take care of it.'"
Moos assigned an employee, Jim Bartko, whose chief responsibility was keeping Knight happy. Oregon could never compete with the tradition of Penn State or Alabama or Texas. So the Ducks went the other way. Fifteen years ago they were a quirky team with a Donald Duck logo and no real national profile. Now every college football fan knows Oregon is the school with the crazy-expensive facilities that uses new uniforms every week. The Ducks revealed their uniforms for the national title game a few weeks ago, and I found them disappointing -- I expected liquid metal, breathable diamonds and hand-plucked duck feathers. Nonetheless, when you create a wave of coverage simply by announcing what your uniforms will look like, you know your marketing.
Pretty soon Knight started to see the fruit bloom on his money tree. Spending begot winning, which leads to more spending. Now Knight takes care of almost anything Oregon wants -- as long as it's on his terms. Oregon is about to build a six-story, 130,000 square-foot football operations center, and of course it will all be top of the line. Right now, they're just figuring out where to put the hangar for the space shuttle. Nobody needs a 130,000 square foot football operations center -- that is more than 1,500 square feet per scholarship player. But you better believe that recruits will love it.
That facility, like the academic building, will be Knight's baby. The school will lease the land to Knight, whose chosen architects and designers will build what he wants. Then he'll give it back to Oregon.
People sometimes compare Knight to Oklahoma State turbobooster T. Boone Pickens Jr. But Knight has much more sway in Eugene than Pickens does in Stillwater. Pickens lives in Texas. Knight is the richest person in Oregon and runs one of the state's the most important businesses.
When the State Board of Education discussed whether to let Knight build the new football facility on his own, privately -- in possible circumvention of the open-bidding and public-records laws, according to The Oregonian -- school president Richard Lariviere warned them about the danger of saying no to Phil Knight.
"It really doesn't have much to do with the central mission of the University of Oregon," Lariviere admitted."If we don't accept this gift, what will be the negative consequences for the university's education and research mission. Probably not much -- immediately, in the short-term.
"But they could be really, really profound over the longer term. Really profound. This is an important gift for our future."
In other words: it's Phil Knight's money hose, and Oregon has to let him control the spigot. The Ducks are his franchise -- the fact that they play college sports, instead of pro sports, is a mere technicality. By the time Knight is done with this football facility, he will have spent more than $300 million transforming Oregon athletics. Thanks to Knight, the quality of facilities for the football team dwarf what almost everybody else on campus can use. Is it worth it? Some say no. Others say: Turn on the BCS championship game Jan. 10, and there is your answer.
I Uncle Phil
A few notes about the article that is left out by the writer. Knight has given more to academics than is stated, he gave us our freaking college library, and I believe he built the Law School as well. Those aren't exactly things to push aside. We are very fortunate to have him, because we wouldn't be here without Knight writing the checks.
I will admit, the Jacqua is ridiculously lavish. I had a class there last year, and wow, just wow. The classroom had all yellow leather seats with the "O" symbol on every seat, and the wall lights up with neon lighting on one of the sides, and the window view has some gigantic pond/fountain..lol When I sat in the chair I felt like I was sitting in a Ferrari.
I just hope that President Dipshit(Larivierre) doesn't mess it up by straining the relationship between the athletic department and Knight. He's thrown digs at Knight that were unnecessary and false just because he has a liberal agenda. Larivierre does realize that Knight's contributions to athletics will have strong effects on academics, but he hates admitting it.
Where is the Jacqua on campus. I haven't been back since I graduated, and while I was there, the only major construction was to the new underground Science building. I'm planning on making a trip soon.
And BITM12- For the Fallon song: Who the hell goes to Steelhead? What does it take to get some Rennie's love? (other than from Neil Everett, he references Rennies and Taylors a lot on Sportscenter)
The Jacqua is on 13th just past Willamette Hall and across the street from Hamilton and Matt Knight Arena. I think the underground science building you are referring to is Willamette unless I'm mistaken. You definitely should take a trip out and check it out, the place is incredible. You walk in and there's wood floors, leather couches, and incredible architecture, there's even a big fireplace lol
I'm actually not familiar with Steelhead, I would agree that Rennie's and Taylor's are the bars of choice around campus. Great places to hang out.
The Journey of Darron Thomas
ESPNEUGENE, Ore. -- Once again, he's what's-his-name.
As the rest of the public swoons over Heisman winner Cam Newton -- and his linebacker body -- there's a relatively anonymous quarterback in Oregon who is just as likely to run through you.
His name is Darron Thomas, and even though he's probably just a year away from his own Heisman candidacy, he's the clear afterthought of the upcoming Tostitos BCS National Championship Game on Monday in Glendale, Ariz. Coach Chip Kelly might be the brains of the Oregon operation, but it's Thomas who gets the team to the line of scrimmage in 7 seconds. It's Thomas who whispers in each offensive lineman's ear. It's Thomas who's responsible for juking unblocked defensive tackles. It's Thomas who has the keys to the Oregon Lamborghini.
Which is peculiar, because he's been in the passenger seat all his life.
The early shift
Newton's father, Cecil, might be known for having his hand out, but Thomas' mother, Latina, always had her hand up -- flagging down a Houston city bus.
This is a woman who has worked the early shift at Target for 15 years. This is a woman whose alarm clock still rings every morning at 3. This is a woman whose daily bus ride home is two hours, plus a winding, 20-minute walk. This is a woman who taught her son to never loaf.
The last thing Darron Thomas ever has been, from his earliest days, is a prima donna. Growing up, he lived part time in his great-grandmother's two-bedroom apartment, along with a sister and 10 cousins. The ratio of kids to beds was 12-to-2, which meant Darron had to doze off each night on hard linoleum. "Nothing wrong with lying on a pallet and sleeping on the floor,'' Darron says. "Good moments.''
Latina and Darron's father, Darren Waters, never married, so Darron was the man of the house at a young age. He asked Latina where his father worked, and she told him: at a grocery supply warehouse. "Trust me, you never want to work there,'' she added. The kid conveniently lost himself in school and football. He was a certified tough guy, a defensive end, free safety or receiver. There was nothing quarterback about him. When he played football in the street or vacant lots, not once did he ask to get under center. Not once did he even ask to throw the football. That was for pretty boys, like the kid who was setting records at a nearby high school, a kid named Andrew Luck.
The shift to QB
At Aldine High School in Houston, Darron was a nameless wonder. At first, his coach, Bob Jones, knew him only as "Thomas," and just because the kid was mowing down people in the secondary didn't mean Jones was going to memorize his first name.
But at spring practice before Darron's sophomore season of 2005, Jones had the wild idea of sticking this "Thomas" at quarterback. The team was running a spread offense, and the kid showed signs of being a game-changer. He had high hips and small ankles and, according to Jones, "kind of ran like a young filly, right out of the fold.'' The only problem was his slow, wind-up delivery, so Jones decided he'd have him throw only quick passes into the flat. "You're our new backup quarterback,'' he announced to the kid. Thomas' understated response was, "Yes, sir.''
The truth was, Darron was hell-bent against it. Quarterback? When he went home and told his mom about it, she just about fell over. "You're playing with me, aren't you?'' Latina said. "You're too shy, too quiet. Quarterbacks gotta tell people what to do. They gotta be leaders. They gotta be loud.''
Darron was not only the opposite of loud, he was the unquestioned family introvert, overshadowed every day by the two motor-mouths of his household: his mom and his sister, Alexis. But this was a job for the vociferous Jones, who knew just how to rile up his players. Jones' first order of business was to make Darron carry a football all day at school, to every class. Soon, Darron could be seen strolling the halls with a ball either under his arm or in his backpack. He had to live, eat and breathe ball control, and when teachers objected to Darron bringing the ball into the classroom, he'd simply leave it outside the classroom door and pick it back up when the bell rang.
The kid was a project. During practices, the coaches would put blinders on the sides of his helmet so he'd learn to turn his head and not have tunnel vision. They'd tell him to "see the field,'' to look for secondary receivers, although they knew it might take light years for him to grasp that.
The ensuing fall, Darron got into his first varsity game, in a mop-up role. On a third down, Jones called for a safe pass play to the fullback, just to get the kid's feet wet. Instead, Darron saw another receiver flash open on a backside post and hit him for a long touchdown. "We never throw the backside post route,'' Jones marvels. "I mean, I talk about it, but we never throw it. And he's hitting it for a touchdown. I'm going, 'How'd he see that? This cat's got something.'"
Right then, Jones stopped calling him what's-his-name and began calling him Darron.
Looking at LSU
The quarterback position was growing on the kid. Vince Young had come out of the same city to reach celebrity status at Texas, and it showed Thomas the endless possibilities. By his junior year of 2006, he was Aldine's starting quarterback, lining up across the field in the district playoffs from … Andrew Luck.
Luck, at nearby Stratford High School, was the talk of the town, the son of former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, groomed since childhood to line up in a shotgun formation.
And here was Thomas with eight high school starts under his belt, groomed since childhood to play defense.
Andrew Luck and Stratford won the game 49-32, but Thomas had a couple of picturesque touchdowns to add to his highlight reel. Jones began sending Darron's film around to Division I programs, and one of the first schools to respond was LSU.
The kid was overjoyed. His mother had family in Louisiana, and Baton Rouge wasn't terribly far from Houston. The Tigers were gearing up to make a run at the 2007 national championship, and when he took an unofficial visit to the campus, Thomas imagined himself running through the H-style goalposts.
But during Christmas of '06, it was back to reality. Needing extra cash, he asked his mother to pull some strings and help him land a job at Target. Every morning, he'd catch a bus to work at a local superstore. He'd round up shopping carts and clean bathrooms; he was at the beck and call of just about everyone. One day, in fact, he was paged to the bathroom after a child had defecated all over a restroom wall. "I'm not cleaning this,'' he said. "Y'all better call my momma. I'm not cleaning this.''
Darron ended up quitting right then and there. If nothing else, it made him yearn even more for a college education, and he took extra classes that summer so he could graduate early and attend his college's spring football practices.
What college? It was a no-brainer. On Houston TV, he made a beaming announcement that he was committing to LSU.
Looking the part
It didn't necessarily mean he was a quarterback yet.
Quarterbacks tend to have a certain swagger, and Darron was clearly missing the pompous gene. He kept his letterman's jacket in his closet and used to beg Latina not to yell his name at games. "He'd say, 'Don't shout, Go Darron,'" she says. "He thought it was embarrassing.
"There was no just emotion with him. He doesn't talk at all. You have to pull it out of him. I'd say, 'How was the game?' and he'd go, 'It was all right.' This boy is shy.''
Only on the field did he look the part. The difference between his junior and senior seasons was that he'd become a reliable passer in Jones' no-huddle, spread offense. Rivals.com rated him as the nation's sixth-best dual-threat quarterback (whereas Luck was the fourth-rated drop-back-style QB), and that had a lot of college coaches doing double-takes.
Florida coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen were at Aldine one day to scout the high school's mammoth tackle Daniel Campbell when Jones popped in Darron's game film. A minute later, according to Jones, Meyer asked Mullen, "Why aren't we recruiting this guy?''
"Well, we've got that kid named Tebow,'' Mullen said. "And that other kid, Cam Newton.''
USC's Pete Carroll also blew into town with assistant coach Ken Norton, and Jones says when Carroll asked Norton why they weren't recruiting Thomas, either, Norton mentioned Matt Barkley and shrugged his shoulders.
It showed how under the radar he still was. The premier senior quarterbacks in the nation were Terrelle Pryor, Blaine Gabbert, Dayne Crist and Luck, so Thomas' all-or-nothing moment was another late-season game against Luck and Stratford. But Aldine lost 34-24, and Thomas began turning his full attention to LSU. He didn't even know that Chip Kelly, the new offensive coordinator at Oregon, had also been in Jones' office, drooling over his highlight reel. "He's perfect for our offense,'' Kelly told Jones. "I love this kid. I love him.''
"Yeah, Coach,'' Jones told him. "But he's a hard commitment to LSU.''
LSU was all Thomas thought about. But that was half the problem -- he was so obsessed with the Bengal Tigers that he was on all their Internet fan sites, looking for the inside scoop. He found out the staff was chasing another standout quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, and the online speculation was that Thomas might be moved to receiver or defensive back. Two years earlier, he would have embraced that, but the only place he wanted to be now was under center. Thomas was studying Michael Vick on film, studying Vince Young. He'd cringe when recruiting services labeled him an "athlete.'' He was a spread offense quarterback or bust, and that was why he couldn't wait to go to the 2007 Arkansas-LSU game over Thanksgiving weekend. He wanted clarification from coach Les Miles.
Jones' entire family accompanied Thomas on the trip, and the morning of the game, Thomas got an audience with Miles. "Coach Miles talked to him about playing at LSU and what a great athlete he was,'' Jones says. "He still said he'd compete to play quarterback. Les was great to Darron. But all Darron heard was, 'What a great athlete you are.' And as soon as Darron heard that, it was over.''
That Sunday, Darron told Latina, "Mom, I'm not going to LSU.'' Latina was appalled. She said, "Yes, you are,'' and he said, "No, I'm not. … I'm not going to be a quarterback if I go there.''
Latina had just spent the entire high school season wearing a purple LSU jersey with her son's name on the back. She'd already made plans to commute to all the Tigers' 2008 home games. She told him to sleep on it. But the next day, Darron was in Jones' office looking for a new school.
Jones wrote Thomas' options on a chalkboard, and the first school he scribbled down was Nebraska. The Cornhuskers had just hired LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, so Pelini knew all about Darron. But out of loyalty to Miles, Jones says Pelini backed away from the kid.
That was when Jones asked, "Darron, what about Oregon? Chip Kelly loves you. They run a lot of the same stuff we do. I think it might be a good fit.''
"I do like their uniforms,'' Darron said.
They called Kelly, who announced, "I'll be there tomorrow.'' Kelly was being groomed as the Oregon head coach and was looking for someone to replace Dennis Dixon. "We wanted a quarterback that's an athlete, not an athlete that plays quarterback,'' Kelly says. "[LSU] was recruiting him as an athlete. At least that's what Darron told me. We were recruiting him solely as a quarterback. Our quarterback has to be an athlete, and we have to be able to make plays with his feet as well as his arm. But he has to be able to throw. Some people think we're not looking for that. Some people think we want a running back that can throw the ball every once in a while, and we don't. When we're playing [well], we're throwing the ball for 300 yards a game and running the ball for 300 yards a game. So you need a quarterback with athletic ability, and that's what Darron had.''
Thomas listened as Kelly gave him this same mile-a-minute spiel and agreed to visit Oregon for the Civil War game against Oregon State. The crowd was so loud, Darron's ears were ringing for days. He was sold. His only worry was breaking the news to Latina.
He waited until he and a buddy were riding in her new car, a beat-up Ford Explorer.
"Mama, I'm going to Oregon,'' he said.
"Oregon? That's too far. You can't go to Oregon. We can't get there fast. That's too far.''
Latina started sobbing, which had Darron's buddy taking her side: "She's right. Listen, Darron, your momma knows. She's grown. She knows.''
Darron said nothing. Not that night over dinner when his mother was still weeping, and not the next day when the letter of intent showed up at his home.
He signed it poker-faced; she signed it in tears.
The charisma of Masoli
Chip Kelly taught Darron the Oregon offense. But a Samoan from the Bay Area taught him how to be a quarterback.
No one had charisma like Jeremiah Masoli, who in the summer of 2008 transferred into Oregon from City College of San Francisco. Masoli had just carried CCSF to a mythical national title, amassing 30 touchdowns and 3,500 yards, and he strolled into Eugene with an air of bravado. He was the anti-Darron.
Thomas was seen but not heard; Masoli was seen, heard and worshiped. Masoli's dorm room was about to become a team meeting place, and the huddle was about to belong to him, too. Darron had come to Eugene expecting to compete right away for the starting job. But he wasn't the leader Masoli was nor the sage Masoli was. Masoli, three years earlier, had spent almost three months in a juvenile detention center for his small part in a group robbery -- a wallet grab he didn't initiate but didn't stop, either. The incident shaped him; he'd seen the harsh side of the world. So lining up against USC's defense wasn't going to faze Masoli at all.
He and Darron were naturally paired up in the quarterback meetings, and Masoli began to preach to him about toughness. He told him to never run out of bounds or slide, told him to throw blocks on running plays. He told him to mash defensive players before the defensive players mashed him. He told him to be loud and definitive at the line of scrimmage, to be barrel-chested as you stand over center. But you're either an extrovert or you're not, and no one knew whether Darron could command a huddle, much less a locker room. Coach Mike Bellotti decided to wait a year to find out -- he planned to redshirt him.
But by the fourth game of Thomas' freshman season, against Boise State, Oregon was almost plum out of quarterbacks. Before the season, the team's presumed starter, Nate Costa, blew out his knee. In Week 3, Costa's backup, Justin Roper, also wrecked his knee, leaving the popular Masoli as the starter against Boise State. But Masoli suffered a concussion in the first half and was replaced by true freshman Chris Harper.
Harper was lost out there. He was 0-for-3 with two interceptions as Oregon fell behind 37-13 heading into the fourth quarter. Bellotti told Darron to loosen up; he figured the guy couldn't be any worse, and they were going to need him during the season now, anyway.
Just a few weeks earlier, Darron had been fifth-string, and just a day earlier, he'd been running the scout team. The last time he'd actually executed an Oregon play was in fall camp, and those were mostly vanilla passes into the flat. He had no business doing anything but handing off, but Kelly calmly described the plays he was going to call, and Darron calmly listened.
Maybe Darron didn't have Masoli's aura, but he had one thing going for him: a slow pulse. Darron wasn't panicking. He had receivers telling him, "Just give me the ball, just give the ball,'' and he had senior offensive linemen who barely knew his name. It was his freshman year at Aldine all over again. But a half-hour later, Thomas had thrown three touchdown passes.
No one saw it coming. Fortunately, his two veteran offensive linemen -- Max Unger and Fenuki Tupou -- helped him with his line calls, and Boise State barely held on for a 37-32 victory. Darron had completed 13 of 25 passes for 210 yards. Now, he was officially Masoli's backup.
He might have even started the next game, against Washington State, but a few days later, the question came up again: Was Darron a leader or a follower?
The Wednesday night after the Boise State game, Thomas hopped into teammate Eddie Pleasant's Ford Mustang, along with another teammate, Jamere Holland. It was after midnight and it was wet -- a bad combination. According to the Oregonian, Pleasant was racing and collided with a Dodge Caravan carrying a young couple and their toddler son. The woman was treated for a scalp injury, while Pleasant needed 75 stitches in his head and Holland suffered a concussion.
But Darron, who'd been in the passenger seat, who'd been on the side of the car that collided with the Caravan, had only a bruised elbow on his throwing arm.
He was lucky, and people joked that he was so quick, he jumped out of harm's way. But Latina wasn't laughing when she heard the reports. She called Darron wanting answers. He told her they had stopped at a light and that when the light turned and Pleasant revved up the motor, he lost control of the Mustang. "It wasn't a big wreck,'' Darron says now. "It was bang-bang. The car was worse off than any of the people in the car. At the time, they thought we were going fast, but we weren't really moving fast.''
Latina heard the explanation and went off on her son anyway. "I had a couple choice words that I usually don't say,'' she says. "But I was so scared. I said, 'Do you have to go up there and be the stupidest, most ignorant fool there is? Coming all the way from Houston to be that stupid?' I can't repeat everything I said.''
Latina called Bellotti, called Kelly and called the police. She wanted explanations. This is why she originally wanted him at LSU, so she could go see him at a moment's notice, keep tabs on him.
Her only solution was to save up to buy him his own car. Before long, she'd rounded up enough cash to purchase a used, metallic brown Chevy Malibu, and when she presented it to him, she said, "Now you don't need to ride with noooooobody.''
"Dang, Momma,'' he said. "I'm the only one driving a girl car.''
"Yeah,'' she answered. "A safe girl car.''
Back to being the backup
Darron didn't miss any significant time with the elbow injury, but it wouldn't have mattered -- Masoli wasn't giving up the starting job.
Masoli might have been only 5-foot-11, compared to Darron being 6-3, but he was thicker, feistier and unintimidated by the Pac-10. He was the conference player of the week after games against Arizona and Arizona State. He led a game-winning drive against Stanford and gained 170 rushing yards against UCLA. He was MVP of the Holiday Bowl against Oklahoma State, throwing for 258 yards and running for 106. He also broke the Ducks' season rushing record for a quarterback with 718 yards.
He and Darron would lobby Kelly to use them in the same backfield, and the coach acquiesced, dialing up a flea flicker against Oregon State that had Masoli pitching to Thomas and Thomas throwing to Jeff Maehl for a big gain. But Masoli was so much in command that Kelly, in his first year as head coach the following fall, decided to redshirt Darron in 2009.
Midway through that 2009 season, Masoli was in the Heisman conversation. He ended up being named first-team all-Pac-10 by Rivals.com. By January 2010, Masoli had Oregon in the Rose Bowl, and because Masoli had one year of eligibility remaining, there was a sense that Darron would be sitting until 2011.
Thomas didn't seem to mind; he was happy for his friend. But then there was news: Masoli had been implicated in a Jan. 24 burglary at a campus fraternity house. A laptop and digital projector were among the stolen items, and Masoli was seen with the main suspect, backup receiver Garrett Embry, at the frat house. The facts were sketchy, and the evidence against Masoli did not necessarily stand up. But the worst mistake Masoli made was lying to Kelly and saying he wasn't at the frat house that night. The coach subsequently suspended him for one full season and said that if there were any further transgressions, Masoli was history.
At the time, public opinion varied as to whether Kelly would lighten Masoli's sentence. After LeGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player in 2009 and was suspended for the season, Kelly reinstated Blount early for good behavior. There was a sense he might do the same with Masoli.
Through it all, Darron and Masoli remained close and continued to hang out at each other's apartments. Then, on the night of June 7, 2010, they decided to go for a drive together in a souped-up 1999 Cadillac.
Darron was in the passenger seat. Not again.
Another car incident
Masoli pulled into a gas station that night, and after filling up the car, he drove back onto a main thoroughfare without coming to a complete stop.
A nearby police officer pulled Masoli over for the traffic violation. Police then decided to search the car and found marijuana cigarettes in the glove compartment.
"Nobody got arrested,'' Darron says. "They just took the car from us, and we had to walk back and tell the guy whose car it was what happened. But the first thing Jeremiah said to the police was, 'It's not Darron Thomas' [marijuana].' He took all the blame because he was the driver. Jeremiah, he's a cool guy.
"It wasn't his car; the car wasn't even under his name. He took all the heat. Didn't blame it on his friend back at the house who was waiting on us to come back. Like I say, he was a big guy for taking everything. A lot of people didn't know the real story.''
Says Masoli: "I protect my guys, whoever I care about. And I know they have my back, as well.''
But Kelly didn't want to hear any excuses or innuendo. He had given Masoli a zero-tolerance edict and quickly decided to kick him off the team. "Darron was mad just like I was mad,'' Masoli says.
But Latina was angrier than all of them and made another terse phone call to her son:
"Why you riding in someone else's car?'' she asked.
"I don't know.''
"That's why I got you a car -- what's wrong with your car?''
"I don't know.''
"You could've lost everything, everything. Jeremiah was up for the Heisman. And if they took it all away from Jeremiah, they'll take it away from you. Because you haven't done nothing but gain a few yards. So you better make a choice. Because if you come back here, there's nothing waiting for you. Nothing but a grocery supply job with your daddy. Or a job at Target pushing baskets.''
Assuming Target would take him back.
Great read on Thomas. Thank you Les Miles! I will post the rest of the article in another post since it's too big to fit in one post.
Last edited by BradyIsTheMan12; 01-07-2011 at 04:36 PM.
ESPNSomething to prove
On his way out of town, Masoli acted as if he were passing a baton to his star pupil. He told Darron he was ready to be the man, told him, "It's your time now. Do your thing.''
Actually, there was the small matter of Thomas beating out Costa for the starting job, and the two seemed to be neck and neck throughout summer practices. But whereas Costa had more experience, Darron had the legs and arm of a prototypical spread-offense quarterback. The competition really wasn't close.
Darron had come completely out of his shell. At summer practices, he was barking out signals over the loud music Kelly played to simulate game conditions. He was also at ease telling the linemen what to do; the days of Unger and Tupou covering for him were over. If he was still an introvert, you'd have never known it.
The marijuana incident seemed to have changed him. He rented his own apartment, and when he didn't want to drive to campus, he took the bus. He rarely went out at night and was seriously dating Oregon's top female track athlete, Amber Purvis. He was either in the film room at the football facility or on his team-issued laptop studying the offense. Of course he was going to win the starting job.
"I'd had two bad incidents in the passenger seat, and now people were saying, 'Can he drive our team?'" Thomas says. "That's what I had to prove.''
In the season opener against New Mexico, he led the Ducks straight down the field, until Kelly called for a jailbreak screen to the right. His pass into the flat was intercepted. The defender was about to turn it into a pick-six when, of all people, Thomas chased him down to make the tackle.
"And then Darron gets up like it was no big deal,'' says Jones, his coach from Aldine. "He just says, 'Here we go, next series.'"
It was all uphill from there, obviously, because Oregon won 72-0. Darron had 30-yard and 60-yard touchdown passes that day, and the Ducks began their run to the national championship game. There was the second-week win at Tennessee, where they scored 45 straight points; there was a 53-32 romp over USC and Matt Barkley; there was a late 9½-minute drive against Cal, preserving Oregon's closest game, 15-13; and there was Darron going 20-of-29 with three touchdowns against Stanford, giving him his first victory over Luck.
"I was at that Stanford game,'' Jones says, "and as soon as it was over, I made sure to go out on the field. I found Andrew first and congratulated him. And then I come around the corner, and there's Darron. He gives me a huge hug and goes, 'Coach, I finally beat Andrew. I finally beat Andrew.' I knew that was a big thing for him.''
By early December, all the Ducks needed was a victory in the so-called Civil War against Oregon State to earn a trip to the BCS championship. All of Latina's co-workers at Target were Oregon fans now, and Latina was in love with Eugene, too. She called Darron to say she was already trying to book a hotel in Phoenix for the BCS title game, and he shouted, "Don't do that yet! Wait! Wait! Please wait.''
A few days later, the Ducks hammered Oregon State 37-20, and Latina found a place in Phoenix. Masoli, who had played the season at Ole Miss, texted Darron to say congratulations. They had been texting regularly anyway, but now they could finally talk about Auburn. Masoli had played the Tigers during the season; he had some thoughts on whom to pick on. Darron took notes.
Later, Darron sat and watched Newton win the Heisman Trophy, and all that did was put him under the radar again. In the title game, all eyes will be on Newton, when actually, Darron will be arguably the most important player on the field. No one all season has been able to block Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley, so maybe Oregon won't even try to block him. Maybe the Ducks will block everyone else and ask their what's-his-name quarterback to out-quick Fairley by himself. Kelly has been known to do that. Maybe the college football season will come down to how many quasi-car wrecks the kid can survive.
Funny how it all worked out in the end: Darron Thomas in the driver's seat.
^^wonderful read. from all accounts I've heard Darron is a standup kid, I'm really proud of him.
Or like Deady Hall. I mean I appreciate the history of that building, because it was the ONLY building on campus for awhile. It was the classrooms and the dorms. But ****, I took so many Math classes there it was brutal. Uncomfortable chairs and no air conditioning. Sucked major balls.
Yeah, Steelhead is downtown on 5th. No one really goes there for the bar scene. But yeah, Rennie's was my spot (and Max's gotta love the popcorn and peanuts), I tried to avoid Taylor's mainly because of the crowd that hung out there....
Where do you live man? Dorms still or are you off campus now?
I actually don't hit up the bars too often yet since I'm not yet 21(and don't want to get my fake hole-punched!), but from time-to-time I go to both of those places.
I live off-campus with friends, couldn't stand living in the dorms again haha.
Word up to off campus. The dorms BLOW. I lived in Bean (literally rated the worst dorm in America by the Princeton Review, it was originally built as a juvenile detention center, but the U of O got too big too fast, so in the middle of the construction the made them into dorms). I moved off campus ASAP, first year up on Moss St. by Prince Pucklers , 2nd year on Emerald by the track, and senior year in an apartment off of 12th by the hospital. I never thought I would say this but... God, I miss Eugene