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 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 seventh installment of an 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.
The members of Oregon's 2008 recruiting class have mostly moved on from the program, but a few key pieces remain.
They were right
Darron Thomas: After making the switch from LSU, who was likely going to move him to wide receiver, Thomas came to Oregon and was thrust into action as a true freshman due to injuries. He came into the game late against Boise State and nearly led an incredible comeback in the 4th quarter, giving Ducks fans a glimpse into the future. He redshirted 2009 as Jeremiah Masoli had control of the quarterback spot. Then came the offseason that saw Masoli dismissed from the team prior to the 2010 season.
Thomas beat out senior Nate Costa for the starting job and led the Ducks to the BCS Championship Game en route to a Second-Team All-Pac-10 season. He threw for an Oregon record 33 touchdown passes in 2011, giving him a school-record 66 for his career.
Thomas went 24-3 as a starter joined Matt Barkley and Andrew Luck as just the third Pac-12 quarterback ever to throw for 30 or more touchdowns in multiple seasons. After a record-breaking career, Thomas left school early to enter the NFL Draft. It was a questionable decision and Thomas was not selected.
LaMichael James: Like Thomas, James broke nearly every school record at his position. After a redshirt year in 2008, James took over for the suspended LaGarrette Blount in 2009 and was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and a third-team All-American. James led the nation in rushing as sophomore, winning the Doak Walker Awared and helping propel the Ducks to the BCS title game. James finished third in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy in 2010 while also being named a First-Team All-American.
James had an even more impressive season as a junior in 2011. Despite missing two full games with a dislocated elbow, James rushed for a school-record 1,805 yards and became the Ducks’ all-time rushing leader after the first game of his junior season.
James left the program as the Ducks’ all-time leader in points scored, rushing yards and total yardage, while also being the first Duck to be a unanimous first-team All-American. He finished his career No. 2 on the All-Time Pac-12 rushing list behind USC's Charles White (6,245), with 5,082 yards. Had James remained and had another healthy season in Eugene he would almost certainly have smashed White's Pac-12 mark and Ron Dayne's NCAA mark of 6,397 yards.
James was the No. 61 pick in the 2012 in the 2012 NFL Draft, as the San Francisco 49ers took him with their second-round pick.
Dion Jordan: As a highly recruited and oversized wide receiver, Jordan was a great signing by the Ducks' staff. After a potentially fatal accident that left a large portion of his body burned from an explosion, Jordan made his way to Eugene, redshirted as a tight end in 2008 and was a reserve tight end in 2009. He spent 2010 as a reserve defensive end.
Jordan exploded on the scene in 2011 and earned first-t All-Pac-12 honors while recording 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. With his frame and athleticism at 6-foot-7, Jordan has the makings of an elite NFL defensive end or outside linebacker if he continues to progress in 2012.
LeGarrette Blount: Blount turned down in-state Florida State and headed to the northwest as the top junior college running back in the country out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.His arrival gave the Ducks a true power back they hadn't had since Reuben Droughns. He teamed with Jeremiah Johnson to become just the second Oregon tandem to each gain 1,000 yards in the same season as he reached 1,002 yards after a breakout performance in the second half of the 2008 Holiday Bowl.
He was suspended for eight games (and didn't play in two others) after punching Boise State's Byron Hout after the Ducks’ season-opening loss to the Broncos in Chip Kelly's first game as Oregon head coach in 2009. He returned in the Civil War victory over Oregon State that secured a Rose Bowl berth for the Ducks. He had five carries for 36 yards against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, but his costly fumble late in the third quarter turned the tide of the game.
After a lost senior season Blount went undrafted but signed with the Tennessee Titans and eventually wound up in Tampa Bay, where he became just the second undrafted free agent to surpass 1,000 yards as a rookie.
John Boyett: Entering his senior season, Boyett is in the midst of one of the greatest careers in Oregon football history. After a standout high school career where he garnered multiple all-state and player of the year awards out of Napa (Calif.) High, Boyett redshirted the 2008 season.
Once starter T.J. Ward was injured in 2009, Boyett stepped in and started 10 games for the Ducks en route to becoming the first Duck freshman to lead the team in tackles in 50 years, earning him Freshman All-America honors. In 2010 Boyett earned second-team All-American honors while being second on the Ducks with 78 tackles. In 2011 he earned second-team All-Pac-12 and honorable mention All-America honors while leading the Ducks with 108 total tackles.
As any team leader should do, Boyett has been at his best in the biggest games. He has been a starter in three straight BCS games and has been at his best in the Ducks’ biggest games each year. He had a team high 12 tackles against Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl. In the BCS title game against Auburn, Boyett again led the Ducks with 11 tackles. In the 2012 Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, Boyett had perhaps his finest game, as he recorded a sack while setting a Rose Bowl record with 17 tackles.
Nick Cody: Cody has appeared in 34 games as a Duck, including 13 straight starts to end 2011. Cody will play a big role this year on the Ducks’ offensive line and could compete for all-league honors.
Kiko Alonso: Showed a lot of promise as a redshirt freshman in 2009, especially in the season's biggest games. Alonso played well in both the Rose Bowl-clinching victory over Oregon State and the Rose Bowl versus Ohio State.
Both injured and suspended for the entire 2010 season, Alonso worked to rehab his knee and earn his place back in the rotation in 2011. He did that and more as the Ducks main reserve linebacker. He was eighth on the team with 46 tackles, but one game changed the way Ducks fans will remember Alonso regardless of how 2012 goes.
In the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, Alonso made the most of his five tackles. He was all over the field, including the Wisconsin backfield, with 2.5 of his tackles in the backfield, 1.5 coming on sacks of Russell Wilson. Alonso also intercepted Wilson in the third quarter. That play sealed the Rose Bowl Defensive MVP Award for the rising star.
Kenjon Barner: Overlooked due to James and Blount, Barner started his career in Eugene as a defensive back. He is in line to be the lead running back for the Ducks in 2012. With a 1,500-yard campaign in 2012, Barner would become become the No. 2 all-time rushing leader at Oregon. He filled in admirably for an injured James last season and has had a number of game-changing plays for the Ducks in his career. Along with De'Anthony Thomas, Barner is up for a number of awards and is considered a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and might be a better NFL prospect than James.
They were wrong
Josh Kaddu: Virtually unknown out of Vacaville, Calif., Kaddu was a redshirt until injuries forced him onto the field in 2008 as a special teams player. He filled in nicely in spot duty, playing in seven games as a sophomore before starting all 13 games for the Ducks in 2010.
Kaddu blossomed into a star in 2011 as he started every game and was second on the team with 6.5 sacks as an outside linebacker. His size, athleticism and development prompted the Miami Dolphins to take Kaddu in the fifth round of this past April’s NFL draft.
The class casualties
Jeremiah Masoli: After becoming an unexpected starter in 2008, Masoli was a standout in 2009 while leading the Ducks to the Rose Bowl. In the offseason he was suspended and eventually kicked off the team for off the field issues.
Justin Thompson: A highly touted five-star prospect by some services Thompson signed with the Ducks out of El Camino Community College. Thompson was looked at as a stop gap in the middle for the Ducks after having a string of bad luck with defensive tackles. Thompson failed to qualify and never made it to Oregon.
Chris Harper: A highly touted athlete out Kansas, Harper fought the notion that he was an athlete and not a quarterback. With injuries piling up, Harper was given an opportunity at quarterback as a true freshman before moving to wide receiver as a sophomore, where he showed promise. Harper transferred home to Kansas State after the 2009 season, where he became a starting wide receiver.