- Brandon P. Oliver, Reporter, DuckNation
Oregon Ducks fans have been witness to 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 all of college football. 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. 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.
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 eighth installment of a 10-part 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.
They were right
Cliff Harris: Even though he is no longer with the program we will include Harris due to the enormous impact he had in his brief Ducks career. A top-10 cornerback and U.S. Army All-American coming out of high school, Harris proved his talent as a sophomore.
Harris was named first-team All-American and All-Pac-10 as a kick returner after running back an NCAA leading and school record four punt returns for touchdowns. He was also named an All-American and All-Pac-10 performer at cornerback, as he led the Pac-10 with six interceptions. Harris also led the NCAA with 23 passes defended and 17 passes broken up.
Off-the-field issues forced Oregon to dismiss Harris during his junior season. Harris was signed as a free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles in April.
Michael Clay: Clay made his way on the field as a freshman among a crowded linebacking corps and has become the team’s defensive leader. He was the top reserve linebacker for the Ducks in 2010 as a sophomore with 42 tackles.
As a junior, Clay exploded with 102 tackles to rank second on the team. Clay is at his best in big games. He had six tackles, two sacks a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the Pac-12 championship game and followed that with a 13-tackle game in the Rose Bowl that included two tackles for loss and the game-clinching fumble recovery.
Clay should contend for all-league and all-American accolades this season.
Bryson Littlejohn: Coming in as a junior college transfer, Littlejohn enrolled in the spring and found his way on the field for 11 games in 2009. In 2010 he was a regular part of the linebacker rotation with 31 tackles and two fumble recoveries. Littlejohn had the size and talent to be make a bigger impact, but he walked into a group that had three current NFL players and a couple others who are likely to make it to the NFL.
Boseko Lokombo: Still raw as a player, Lokombo is steadily improving. He tied for the Pac-10 lead as a redshirt freshman with three fumble recoveries while contributing 36 tackles in a reserve role.
As a sophomore, Lokombo continued to show his play-making ability as a reserve linebacker when he returned both of his interceptions for touchdowns to go along with 33 tackles.
They were wrong
Diante Jackson, Tyrece Gaines: Both Jackson and Gaines had the size and talent to become Oregon's go-to receivers but neither lasted more than a year due to academic issues.
LaVasier Tuinei: An unknown out of junior college, Tuinei quickly made the transition to the Pac-10 level as he had 24 catches for 217 yards as a sophomore. Tuinei steadily improved as a junior and was third on the team with 36 catches for 396 yards and two touchdowns.
Tuinei became the Ducks top threat as a senior, leading the team with 48 receptions for 599 yards and 10 touchdowns. He capped his career with an eight-catch, 158-yard performance in the Rose Bowl en route to being named the game's offensive MVP.
He signed a free-agent deal with the Seattle Seahawks after going undrafted in 2012.
Wade Keliikipi: After a redshirt season in 2009, Keliikipi has appeared in all 27 games the past two seasons. His size and strength have added a much-needed element to the Ducks’ defensive line. His development at defensive tackle leading into the 2012 season will be crucial as the Ducks will need to draw attention to the middle to allow for Dion Jordan and the other edge rushers to get to the quarterback.
Daryle Hawkins: Hawkins hasn't done anything in particular to stand out in Eugene but his versatility has been beneficial for the Ducks. He was committed to an FCS program, Northern Iowa, until Oregon hired away his recruiter and future coach (Oregon WR coach Scott Frost). Hawkins started off playing quarterback, running back and wide receiver during the first three games in 2010.
Hawkins was second on the team with an average of 20.4 yards per catch in 2011, while also contributing on special teams. Had three catches, including a 25-yard touchdown, in the Pac-12 Championship Game against UCLA.
He has been impressive in the offseason, as the coaches have raved about his improvement, and could be a key contributor for the Ducks in 2012.
Oregon Ducks fans have been witness to 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 all of college football.