Friday, February 8, 2013
Helfrich makes good first impression
By Brandon Oliver
When a university hires a head coach who is under 40 years old -- especially one who has never been a head coach -- to take over a major college football program, it is fair to expect there might be some doubters.
New Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich learned that recently but came through his first three weeks on the job looking better than some might have expected. Helfrich managed not only to keep Oregon's coaching staff and 2013 recruiting class mostly intact, he also added to both with the savvy of a coaching veteran.
When Helfrich took over for Chip Kelly on Jan. 14, many thought Oregon's class -- ranked No. 22 in the ESPN Class Rankings at the time -- would fall apart, and for a while, it looked as if those skeptics might be proven right. Many of the Ducks' top recruits were wooed by ace recruiters like Urban Meyer at Ohio State and Tosh Lupoi at Washington, along with a host of other programs. By signing day, the Ducks had lost one of their two ESPN 150 commits -- ATH Dontre Wilson (DeSoto, Texas/DeSoto) -- to Meyer and the Buckeyes.
Losing Wilson will never be viewed as a good thing, but led by Helfrich, Oregon capped off the 2013 recruiting class with a bang. The Ducks added six commits after Helfrich took over, including ESPN 300 members OL Cameron Hunt (Corona, Calif./Centennial) -- a former Cal commit -- and DE Torrodney Prevot (Houston, Texas), who flipped from USC. When rumors began to circulate that Prevot would not sign with USC, speculation was he'd wind up at Texas A&M. Ultimately, though, the nation's No. 236 player chose Oregon.
After Helfrich took over, the Ducks went after some recruits that Kelly had been hesitant to offer. Oregon added a quarterback in Damion Hobbs (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill), two offensive linemen in Hunt and Elijah George (Las Vegas/Arbor View), a running back -- which turned out to be a necessity -- in Kani Benoit (Phoenix/Thunderbird), a defensive end/linebacker in Prevot and a dynamic player in ATH Juwaan Williams (Tucker, Ga./Tucker).
Benoit and George might be considered sleepers, but there is a reason they were offered. The Ducks always liked Benoit but liked their chances with other running backs, so they waited to offer him. George is raw but has great athleticism and the ability to grow into an ideal offensive lineman.
Hobbs was committed to both Arkansas State and Utah State, two of the hottest non-AQ programs around. Perhaps more importantly, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Hobbs held offers from Nebraska, Mississippi State, Missouri, Minnesota and more. Helfrich and the Ducks saw something in him and feel that he can develop into something special in Oregon's high-octane offense.
Adding Hunt -- an Under Armour All-American -- was huge, because aside from OL Evan Voeller (West Linn, Ore./West Linn) -- also an Under Armour All-American -- the Ducks signed three other linemen who are likely destined to redshirt.
Prevot -- a US Army All-American -- was always a high priority for Oregon, but after his commitment to USC in July, the Ducks backed off. He kept in touch with the staff because, in his words, "Oregon felt like home." In the end, Helfrich hired former Arizona Cardinals' defensive line coach Ron Aiken to the same position at Oregon. Aiken and Ducks' linebacker coach Don Pellum helped to bring Prevot on board.
The bottom line is that in spite of the coaching change, the constant rumors and negative recruiting tactics by other programs, the Ducks and their new head coach turned in a very promising final act in the 2013 recruiting cycle. Oregon fans should be thrilled with the job the coaches did in the final weeks and look forward to an even better class in 2014.