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Looking back at the Class of 2002

7/12/2012
Haloti Ngata lived up to his five-star hype at Oregon and has brought that success to the NFL, where he is a Pro Bowler for the Baltimore Ravens. G Fiume/Getty Images

Oregon Ducks fans have witnessed one of the greatest rises in college football history over the past two decades. The Ducks have risen from cellar dwellers to one of the hottest names in the sport. The facilities, the uniforms and the Nike connection have all played a big role in the Ducks' rise to the top of the Pac-12.

Along with the success and the increased exposure nationally has come a major boost in recruiting elite athletes to come to Eugene. But it isn't always the high school All-Americans that turn into college stars. Oregon has made a living finding "diamonds in the rough" that have helped build a powerhouse in Eugene.

There have been some big names in the recruiting world who chose to play their college ball in Eugene, but how many of them have lived up to the hype?

The following is the first in a series that details:

• The players who came in as two-star recruits or were unrated coming into Oregon and far exceeded the expectations placed upon them by recruiting services.

• The recruits who were rated four or five stars by recruiting services coming out of high school, yet failed to match the hype due to injuries or lack of production.

First we’ll take a look at the 2002 class.

Five stars

They were right

Haloti Ngata: The Baltimore Ravens’ star defensive tackle certainly lived up to his five-star billing in Eugene and is among the top players in the NFL.

Not so much

Chris Solomona: The junior college defensive lineman was a top recruit coming in and had a solid career with the Ducks, playing alongside the likes of Ngata and Igor Olshansky. He made some big plays for the Ducks but never lived up to the five-star hype.

Kellen Taylor: Taylor came in with a lot of hype from juco powerhouse City College of San Francisco but never broke out as a Duck.

Four stars

They were right

Aaron Gipson: After a rough start where he was thrown into the fire as a freshman, Gipson came on late in his career as a three-year starter. In his final season in Eugene, Gipson earned second-team All-Pac-10 while leading the nation with seven interceptions.

James Finley: After signing with the Ducks out of high school as a top-ranked wide receiver, Finley failed to qualify and went the juco route. He took the roundabout way to Eugene but wound up a Duck and had a solid career. He had some tough catches and was a team leader with his competitive persona on the field. Finley had nine catches in the 2005 Holiday Bowl versus Oklahoma.

Not so much

Marques Binns: Binns came in to Oregon with a lot of hype out of Dorsey High in Los Angeles. Like Gipson, he was thrown into the mix as a true freshman and took some lumps. He too made some strides in his career but not to the level that Gipson achieved.

David Dixon: Dixon was a star coming out of high school and was again a top prospect out of junior college powerhouse Palomar in the San Diego area. He made it to Eugene but never amounted to what the Ducks had hoped for.

The underdogs

J.D. Nelson: The son of Stanford legend Darrin Nelson came in with little fanfare and turned in a solid career in Eugene. His high football IQ and thundering hits made him a fan favorite. Nelson was a second-team All-Pac-10 performer his senior season en route to earning an invite to the NFL Draft combine.

Matt Toeaina: Toeaina came in without much hype, as the Ducks recruited him from Pago Pago, American Samoa. The defensive lineman bided his time and learned from the likes of Ngata before drastically improving over his final two seasons as a starter in Eugene. He is currently with the Chicago Bears after being drafted in the sixth round of the 2007 NFL Draft by Cincinnati.

Junior Siavii: As a lightly recruited junior college player, Siavii slid under the radar prior to and during his career at Oregon. Playing alongside Ngata, Siavii was rarely the center of attention for the opposition. The Kansas City Chiefs saw enough to make him their second round pick in 2004. Siavii is currently a free agent after stints with Kansas City, Dallas and Seattle.

Anthony Trucks: Trucks came to Oregon as a wide receiver with little hype and left as an NFL linebacker. He transformed himself from a slender skill-position player to one of the most athletic and hard-hitting linebackers in the nation as a senior. Trucks had stints in the NFL with Tampa Bay, Washington and Pittsburgh.