- 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 last 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.
The Ducks have slowly but surely increased their recruiting prowess over the past few years and most likely reached their peak in 2011. The Ducks made a statement by landing two of the top five players in California, including the top two athletes in the country in De'Anthony Thomas and Devon Blackmon.
The Ducks went head to head with the likes of USC, Texas, Alabama, Notre Dame and Miami (Fla.) and came away with the greatest Ducks recruiting class ever, at least on paper. Eight players who participated in either the US Army All-American game or the Under Armour All-American game signed with the Ducks.
The Ducks landed two high school five-stars for the first time in school history in 2011.
They were right
De'Anthony Thomas: Thomas turned the recruiting world on its collective head when he spurned USC on national signing day after being committed to the Trojans for over a year. After one season with the Ducks, Thomas is already setting records and being hyped as the best player in program history.
Thomas did everything in 2011 on his way to being named a Freshman All-American and Co-Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Along with sharing team MVP honors with David Paulson, Thomas set a freshman record with 18 total touchdowns to go along with his 2,235 total yards. He was the only player in the country to have 400 yards rushing, receiving and on returns.
While Thomas doesn't have a true position, he is good enough to be a star anywhere and everywhere, which is how Chip Kelly plans on using him in 2012. Thomas could emerge as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.
Colt Lyerla: Lyerla came out of high school as one of the best athletes ever from the state of Oregon. After turning down Oklahoma, USC, Miami (Fla.) and others, Lyerla showed why he was so sought after by averaging 21 yards per catch. Playing behind Paulson, Lyerla only had seven catches on the season, but five went for touchdowns.
His size, speed and overall skill set have him staring down a record-breaking career at Oregon. Of all the NFL tight ends the Ducks have produced, Lyerla is the best athlete of the bunch and has the potential to be an all-time great.
With a roster loaded with young talent, the majority of the class took a redshirt season, but there were some who made an impact for the Ducks.
Rahsaan Vaughn: Vaughn started four games and appeared in every game in 2011. He had four catches in the loss to USC and showed his talent on numerous occasions throughout the season. He’ll be looked to for leadership and production as one of two senior wideouts.
Anthony Wallace: The big-time linebacker prospect appeared in six games and began to be more of a presence as the year wore on. Wallace will be heavily involved in the rotation in 2012.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu: Appeared in every game in 2011 as a top reserve defensive back and is in a battle with two other sophomores for a starting cornerback position in 2012.
Christian French is another elite athlete that is most likely to make an impact on special teams this season while working to find his place on the field for the Ducks.