EUGENE, Ore. – From De'Anthony Thomas' electrifying kickoff returns to the futuristic, almost aerodynamic yellow font that graces the walls inside its administrative offices, everything about the Oregon football program is based on speed.
Why should success be any different?
Under Chip Kelly, the Ducks are 34-6 over the last three seasons, with three Pac-12 titles, two Rose Bowls and one national championship game appearance, all punctuated by last season's triumph in Pasadena, Calif.
This year, with a preseason ranking of No. 5 in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll, more of the same is anticipated.
Yet, given all of this prosperity, it's surprising to discover Oregon had only seven players drafted by the NFL over the last three years, none in the first round. In the same span, Southern California, Oregon's main rival and the former conference king, had 19 players chosen.
Even Stanford, whose players were razzed for being too smart by new Washington State coach Mike Leach at last month's Pac-12 media day, had 11 players drafted.
"If you get an opportunity to play at the next level, that's icing on the cake to me," Kelly says. "I don't go into houses telling kids about how they'll get to the NFL. It's never been part of the pitch."
That's because it doesn't have to be.
By the time Kelly reaches a prospect's house, there's obviously mutual interest. And according to Mike Farrell, Rivals.com's national recruiting analyst, the prospect is usually enthralled by those mix-and-match, Nike-designed uniforms and the Powerball numbers on the scoreboard.
In 2011, with all-purpose dynamo Thomas as the crown jewel, the Ducks' recruiting class was ranked second out of the conference's 12 teams by Rivals.com. This year it's No. 4.
"Kids are always telling me Oregon's uniforms are the coolest, no doubt, and they have the coolest offense, too," Farrell says. "Those are the two things driving kids to that region, because it's not for everyone."
To the last point, Kelly agrees.
"We're not an end-result operation," he says. "Our whole deal, why we're good, is because we're very, very focused on the process. If you come here, you'd better enjoy the process.
"It's not an end-result game. And if it is, then maybe this isn't the place for you."
Building on success
But as the wins accumulate, Oregon can afford to be more selective.
"I think recruiting is pretty parallel to winning," senior free safety John Boyett says. "If you're winning, kids want to come to your school."
Little has hindered the coaching staff's efforts on the recruiting trail, not even the hovering cloud of the NCAA's ongoing investigation into the program and its business connection to Houston-based talent evaluator/scout Willie Lyles. A resolution is likely during the fall.
Thomas Tyner, a Rivals five-star recruit from Aloha High in Beaverton, Ore., committed to the Ducks in November — about two months after Oregon received the NCAA's notice of inquiry. Since then, seven other players have given the Ducks their word, including two four-star pledges.
It wasn't always this way. Under ex-coach Mike Bellotti, there were players who were under-recruited because of a lack of ideal height, weight or speed. Nevertheless, the Ducks won.
There are plenty like that on the roster, players who are productive because their talents can be maximized in non-traditional schemes, such as Oregon's spread offense, which was third in points in Football Bowl Subdivision in 2011 despite being last in time of possession.
Someone such as LaMichael James, the Ducks' all-time leading rusher whom the San Francisco 49ers selected 61st overall in the NFL draft in April. Deemed too small to be an every-down player in the NFL, James, 5-9, 165 pounds, is the standard by which all future Oregon running backs will be measured .
Which is fine by DeSoto, Texas running back Dontre Wilson, who committed to the Ducks in May. He's roughly the same size as James at 5-10, 185. And he's quick; he says he runs a legit 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. Guess what drew him to Oregon?
"It was that every one of their running backs, at least the last four or five, have gone to the league," Wilson said. "We run a similar offense here, so I'll adjust fast to it."
The NFL is adjusting, too, with its scouting. After the draft's first two rounds, teams are taking gambles on players doing things that they might not have done before. For instance, James, who was selected near the end of the second round, won't be the focal point of the 49ers offense; he likely will be a third-down back or a change-of-pace option.
His role will be nothing like it was in the Ducks' spread, which has allowed Oregon to dominate a league in which USC's pro-style offense has long reigned. While the Trojans will always attract elite talent because of tradition and proximity — "USC is Hollywood," Farrell says — the Ducks have been forced to be creative to be competitive.
Which explains those garish uniforms. The kids love them, and other schools — Oklahoma State and Maryland, to name a few — have followed suit.
Then again, nothing is more creative than winning.
"That's the key element in recruiting," Farrell says. "Winning is No. 1, and Oregon has that down. Facilities are next, and they have great facilities.
"They're not big in the NFL yet, but they make up for it with the uniforms, their fan base. And their offense is considered by kids to be the coolest thing in college football."
Asked how much of a sales job is necessary for visiting recruits, Boyett, who came from Napa (Calif.) High because they were on the rise, says, "You can't tell a kid to come here. He either fits in or he doesn't. But the main thing is we win games. Winning speaks for itself."
Path to NFL sure to come
Farrell knows recruiting has improved, noting that within the conference, as recently as 2004, Oregon's recruiting class ranked eighth or ninth out of 10.
"You're starting to see more kids who project to the NFL," says Farrell, who identifies Thomas and sophomore tight end Colt Lyerla as candidates.
Kelly, who listened to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offseason offer to become their head coach, says he would be thrilled if it all works out for Boyett, senior running back Kenjon Barner and any of the other Ducks.
"If a kid coming out of high school wants to know how he's going to be in the pros, it's like, 'How about you play a down of college football first before we start talking about that?' I really think it's a huge problem," Kelly says.
Wilson, who was recruited by Oregon assistant coaches Scott Frost and Gary Campbell, confirms Kelly's comments.
"They were real clear about me focusing on Oregon first," he says.
Nevertheless, high school kids dream and dream big. That's not about to change, so what's the alternative? Ignore prospects with eyes on the prize? That's not going to happen. But it doesn't mean Kelly has to like it.
Kelly, who talks nearly as fast as his Ducks play, thinks everybody should slow down a bit.
"I think we live in a microwave society," Kelly says. "But I don't think anybody in this world would say, 'Hey, there's a brand-new microwave restaurant that opened up down the road — let's go eat at it.' No one would want to go to it. They want to go to a place where they enjoy the process in the kitchen and they take a lot of time in preparing the food for you.
"You'd better enjoy the process."