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Insider

Kelly's culture: Ducks are all for one

9/28/2012
Oregon coach Chip Kelly commands instant respect from players -- and recruits often feel it so keenly they commit rather quickly. Steve Dykes/Getty Images

EUGENE, Ore. -- "Family atmosphere" is a term commonly used by recruits when discussing the feeling they get while visiting a college campus. While nearly every program has it to some degree, some programs take it to a whole new level.

The Oregon Ducks have done just that during Chip Kelly's tenure. The special thing about the Ducks is that, for them, it's not just about the family atmosphere -- it's the overall attitude that permeates the football program that makes them tick.

Everyone knows about the flashy uniforms, the first-class facilities, the aggressive style of play and the success the Ducks have had since Kelly took over the program. What most don't realize is how focused the team is on being the best.

It is hard enough to change the culture of a program. Doing so while maintaining the core of the coaching staff from the Mike Bellotti era is a testament to Kelly.

With a gunslinger's attitude and a wit faster than his offense, Kelly has done an incredible job of creating chemistry among the Oregon coaches and players.

The fans see it, the boosters see it and, most important, recruits see it.

Recent Oregon commit Tyrell Robinson (San Diego/Lincoln) said that was one of the biggest things that he and his brother, Tyree Robinson (San Diego/Lincoln) took away from their visit.

"You just get this vibe that everyone there has a job to do, and they go about their business to get it done," said Robinson, a four-star athlete who epitomizes the type of player the Ducks now recruit.

"They are all about business, but they do it in a way that keeps things loose. It's a perfect fit for us," Tyrell said. "My brother and I are serious about growing as people and athletes, but we like to cool out and have some fun."

The twin brothers felt so good about the program, they made things official before leaving Eugene.

"That's why we committed before we left campus," Tyrell said. "It doesn't get any better than that. They have everything to offer, including the internal support and passion that most people don't see."

Things have changed since Kelly's arrival, but not as much as one might think. Kelly decided to retain longtime assistant coaches Steve Greatwood (offensive line), Don Pellum (linebackers), Gary Campbell (running backs), Nick Aliotti (defensive coordinator), Tom Osborne (tight ends/special teams) and Jim Radcliffe (strength and conditioning).

The end result has been an unbreakable bond and chemistry from the top down.

"That's the crazy thing about it up there," said Chris Seisay (American Canyon, Calif./American Canyon), another versatile athlete who committed to the Ducks for 2013.

"The coaches have been there an average of 17 years," Seisay said. "That's basically double any other staff in the country. They are like a family, and they make everyone in the program a part of it the minute they meet you."

From Kelly to the interns, from the All-Americans to the walk-on kickers, they are all in it together.

In a game that often puts star athletes on a pedestal, Oregon's best players keep a level head. They have to, or they won't fit with the program.

When Oregon's biggest star, De'Anthony Thomas, spurned USC just before signing day to ink with the Ducks, he had many reasons for doing so. The biggest might come as a surprise.

"When I got there, everyone was calling me 'Baby DT'. They already had a DT [former Oregon QB Darron Thomas] on the team," Thomas said. "They treated me like a little brother from day one. I wasn't 'Black Mamba' or even 'De'Anthony Thomas from Crenshaw.' I was just another guy trying to make it."

For someone who had been in the spotlight since he first touched a football, the way he was treated in Eugene was just what he needed.

"I liked how they didn't treat me any different than they treated anyone else," Thomas said just after signing in 2011. "Everyone was on the same level no matter who they were or what their role was. I had schools telling me everything they thought I wanted to hear and trying to get me to sign by promising me the world. I knew that if I went to Oregon I would have to work and earn it just like the next guy."

Now a sophomore, Thomas is one of the top players in the country, but you would never know it if you asked Oregon commit Matt Wogan (Indian Trail, N.C./Porter Ridge).

Wogan, a three-star kicker, and Thomas, the can't-miss prospect turned Heisman contender, couldn't be any more different on the surface. But Wogan got the same treatment Thomas did when he made his official visit to Eugene two weeks ago.

Wogan, raised in the country and a self-proclaimed "good ol' southern boy," and Thomas, a local legend from South Central Los Angeles who has been connected to stars like Snoop Dogg since his Pop Warner days, struck up a friendship.

Even though Wogan could go back on his verbal commitment to the Ducks between now and February, it didn't stop Thomas from welcoming him with open arms.

"On my visit, De'Anthony Thomas came up to me and introduced himself as De'Anthony," Wogan recalled. "I was like, 'Wait, you're De'Anthony Thomas! Man, I love watching you play.'"

The Heisman hopeful's response to Wogan's wide-eyed wonder?

"Nah, man. Around here, I'm not the guy they talk about on TV," Thomas said. "You're my teammate now. I'm just De'Anthony to you."